Oh, BBC America. I’m a television fan, and I have enough respect for the medium to demand a certain sense of identity from my networks and a minimum of false advertising. We’ve always had a rocky relationship, you and I; when I first got DirecTV I was beside myself with glee to get to know ya, and since then I’ve forgiven you a lot – your days of interminable blocks of back-to-back Changing Rooms, your caving to the cliché of what broader American tastes for British comedy are and actually airing Benny Hill (shudder). But lately you’re really trying my patience, in the form of actually angering me by airing some of my very favorite scifi material – namely, Star Trek: The Next Generation (five nights a week!) and, amongst your “Big British Movie” selections, Blade Runner. As Jean-Luc Picard once hissed himself, “The line must be drawn HEEE-AAAH!”
Why does this anger me so? Simple: They are NOT British. You are using them to cheaply fill your airtime based on the tenuous UK connections of their star (Patrick Stewart) and their director (Ridley Scott), respectively. That each of those dudes has a knighthood is neither here nor there, they could be Elizabeth II’s long-lost bastard sons for all I care. The point is, TNG and Blade Runner are as American as apple pie; TNG, the brainchild of true American visionary Gene Roddenberry, may have featured some wonderful international talent from time to time over its seven-year run but it is still a U.S. production through and through, as are all the Trek series. Blade Runner, despite Scott’s inimitable direction, is based on a great American sci-fi writer (Phillip K. Dick’s) work; scripted by Americans Hampton Fancher and David Peoples; shot by the late, great American D.P. Jordan Cronenweth; deeply informed by the American film noirs of the 1940’s; features a predominantly American cast (with the notable exception of one bad-ass, wild-eyed Dutchman)… need I go on?
Look, I understand your desire to keep your numbers up, BBCA. I get that you’ve had great success with Doctor Who, Being Human, Torchwood and other genre shows so you are looking to retain that audience. That’s understandable, but you cannot grasp at straws – quality straws though they may be – to accomplish that at the expense of making your entire operation a laughing stock. When you make genre fans who love these series and films scratch their heads and wonder “Hey, I thought I was watching BBCA, not Syfy or G4… the HELL?!”… well, then you’ve got serious problems. Problems that doing something rad like, say, not making us wait for months after the new Doctor Who episodes air in the UK (Thanks for that, honestly) are bound to help with in the short term. Still, it’s time to rethink the strategy. Your slogan is “The Best of Britain in America” – PROVE IT.
Many of the same sci-fi nerds you’re courting are also massive fans of British comedy. Dip into the archives and give us what we LOVE; from time to time you’ve pleased us, showing awesome stuff like Peep Show, Steve Coogan’s I’m Alan Partridge and Saxondale and the first series of The Mighty Boosh. (Though you abandoned and lost the Boosh to Adult Swim, who’ve since made them the cult stars they deserve to be on these shores… there there, live and learn.) One thing you need to realize is that despite the brevity of most UK series in terms of episodes, we will watch the stuff we love over and over… we’re NERDS, it’s what we do. Show us more Blackadder, more Young Ones, more Spaced (Which you did help to finally get a Region 1 DVD release, we haven’t forgotten. Still, you aired it once. Shenanigans, BBCA!) If memory serves, you used to air Red Dwarf… great googly moogly, people, that show ran forever and is aimed squarely at your target audience. GET IT BACK!
What about dramas? Bring back the classic actioners, like The Avengers and The Prisoner. You’ve got some cool stuff lined up, including the sci-fi original Outcasts which sounds awesome, but it doesn’t all have to be genre. For easy ratings bait, there’s no excuse for you not to be airing Law & Order: UK; yes, it’s an ITV program, but you’ve aired those before, and though some would say the last thing we need is more L&O (What with the L.A. one plugging the hole left by the flagship in the fall)… dude, it’s Law & Order with British accents and funny wigs! And it’s quite good, and even has a bit of nerd cred in that it co-stars Jamie “Lee Adama” Bamber and Freema “Martha Jones” Agyeman. You took way too long to air the second series of Ashes to Ashes, so give us Series Three immediately after and make it right. You’ve also got tons of original BBC movies to choose from, many of them excellent like the two-part adaptation of Martin Amis’s Money in which Nick Frost is a god-damn revelation.
If we have to negotiate a worst-case-scenario compromise, you can air a few more soaps; hell, in my opinion the pure-British-concentrate of Eastenders is preferable to V For Vendetta three times in a row. (And I like that movie! Settle down, Moore purists, we’ll take this discussion outside…)
I could go on, but I bet there are plenty of Nerdist readers who’d love to sound off/offer suggestions of their own. Anyone? In what other ways are BBC America self-sabotaging themselves? What could/should they be airing that they aren’t?
Images: Warner Bros./Paramount/CBS