There are an awful lot of television shows being exported to the US at the moment, surprising as US audiences have shunned British entertainment for a long time. The occasional success of a film like Kinky Boots, Trainspotting, and Secrets and Lies, notwithstanding, British television has not been a hit in the US market since the days of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But some things have captured the imagination of the US viewing public these past few years. Even with the massive expansion of television in the US in recent years, the high quality of British programming has meant expansion into that market as well.
There was a time when Downton Abbey was so popular in the States there were parody sketches on Saturday Night Live, the most popular US comedy show at the time. The insight into the “upstairs downstairs” life of British culture in the early 1900s, was a revelation to US audiences. From the clothes to the food, and certainly the classism, the lives portrayed in Downton Abbey were completely alien to their understanding. Struggling maids and cruel aristocrats made the former colonial blood boil. This struggle of the working class characters meant it was great to chat around the water cooler at work, or more realistically, Facebook where discussions really took off.
The Great British Bake-off, or as it’s known in America for legal reasons, “The Great British Baking Show, is much beloved by the avid baker in the US. There are baking shows of all stripes on television there, but they tend to focus on the competitive aspects of the task. When observing how pleasant and supportive the feedback and relationships between contestants was, US viewers often remark how shocking kindness like that was to see on TV. US shows will give priority camera time to contestants who say mean things about other contestants, in an attempt to make the show more exciting and have the viewers come back after obligatory commercial breaks.
Doctor Who has a rabid following in the US. Many Who fans will attend conferences in scarves and long coats commemorating their favourite Doctor. Doctor Who has a distinction of being a science-fiction show that does not rely on computer graphics and CGI to carry along the plot.
Doctor Who draws in fans from different generations and is still making new ones. With the imminent release of the first episodes with the doctor’s new female face, audiences around the globe are over the moon with anticipation.
The runaway success of BBC’s Sherlock caught US markets by surprise, already having greenlit an American version of Sherlocks story in a simplistic procedural crime drama called, and this is not a joke, “The new adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. You can see why it stung to have a successful, rival show produced with a tenth of the budget and sixth of the title.
British television is showing that by concentrating on the writing first, views across the world are being captivated by the stories coming out of the UK.