Monday, January 16, 2006

TV Disgrace

One of the realizations that Americans have recently made is that there is a LOT of really good TV programming in the UK; something that UK audiences (CSI, 24, The Simpsons, ER, etc.) have long since recognized about the US. Indeed, many US shows are adaptations of British TV premises, often with varying success: Loving flopped in the US, but was a huge success in the UK; The Office has done well in the Americanized version after a great run in a UK version; Three's Company was based on a UK TV premise.

One advantage of expanded cable and satellite is that the BBC programs are often available in the US on BBC America, usually a few months after they air in the UK. But some American cable stations have made the choice to purchase BBC programs and re-air them in the US. The two most notable: Hu$tle on AMC and MI-5 on A&E. Those cable stations also offer a contrast in the proper and improper way to showcase these shows.

Hu$tle debuted Saturday night on AMC (its first-season run is done in the UK) and AMC treated it right. First, AMC aired the premiere episode about 4-5 times in succession (thus helping The Monk's taping options against the conflicting AFC playoff game and Syracuse's roadie at Cincinnati, I can tape 2 at a time, not 3). Second, and much more importantly, it ran the episode in a 75-minute time slot. That's important because BBC hour-long shows are ONE HOUR LONG, not 48 minutes, because BBC programming does not break for commercials. Thus, Hu$tle aired completely but AMC still got its commercials in by increasing the airtime alloted to the program.

Hu$tle is about a group of con artists, led by a known con man Mickey Briggs. It features some Brit actors, including the young guy who played the George Stephanopoulos doppelganger in Primary Colors, and American character actor Robert Vaughn. Smart stuff, quite stylish and definitely something to follow.

MI-5 (known as Spooks in the UK, but the name had to be changed for the US audiences) is a phenomenon across the pond. Its ratings exceed CSI, CSI: Miami and CSI: NY combined even despite a changing cast list that would make Law & Order blush. Season 4 is finished in the UK and you can obtain episode spoilers galore on the BBC website. A&E treats this excellent show DEAD WRONG. First, it will not air the fourth season until approximately this summer -- a longer delay than any other season ender in the UK to premiere in the US. Second, A&E CUTS 12+ minutes to make the show fit into the 60-minute timeslot A&E alots. Rent the DVDs and see the whole episodes and you'll realize just how much that 20% cut in the show's content means.

I hope A&E smartens up and starts airing the fourth season ASAP. This is a disgrace.

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