Why British TV is Getting Bigger in The USA

In a recent article on The Telegraph website, author and columnist, Josie Ensor, took a stab at explaining American viewers' new-found love for television made in the UK. And according to the article, a lot of it has to do with British funny man, Ricky Gervais; when The Office' first made the trip across the Atlantic Ocean, the show was changed to depict a small-time manager in Pennsylvania. Much like the setting for 'The Thick of It' was moved from Westminster to Washington.


But Ensor says the days of British shows undergoing the Hollywood makeover treatment are gone and Americans have finally got a taste for British television. She appears to be right. Shows like 'Sherlock', 'Downton Abbey', 'Broadchurch' and 'Call the Midwife' attract a regular viewing audience in the millions. And as if to prove the point, NBC, one of America's largest cable networks has just bought three seasons of 'Merlin' and has already allocated the fantasy/adventure a prime time viewing slot. A feat previously unknown in US television history. This brings the value of British TV imports to the US from this year alone to more than $500 million—an all time high.


Executive Vice president of Sales and Co-Productions at BBC Worldwide, Matt Forde, explains the success came while presenters such as  Gervais, Gordon Ramsey, John Oliver and Simon Cowell, “...were unapologetically British and that seemed to go down well. It was the ultimate validation - having our home grown stars on US prime time network television.” Forde goes on to say that, "Our funny accents were suddenly accepted, and our shows were no longer written off as niche and eccentric."


And now BBC America, the cable network operated by BBC Worldwide, has bowed to the high demand and commissioned 'Almost Royal'--its first original British comedy series ever. Last month's premier starring Amy Hoggart and Ed Gamble as two confused aristocrats on an unofficial tour of the US was watched by millions.


John McVay, chief executive of the UK trade association PACT, said the change in the viewing market began to change back in 2007 when British productions companies began setting up across America to re-make reality TV formats such as 'Super Nanny', 'Who Wants To Be a Millionaire', 'Wife Swap' and 'X Factor'. "At first they were only really interested in having our stuff re-produced,” said Mcvay, “then they saw what we could do and wanted more of our finished programming.” He added, “There is now a rush towards quality TV, driven by the young, highly educated, middle-class American viewers who were sick of the formulaic rubbish they were being served."


But Ensor concludes with the reminder that while Brit TV has never been more popular across the pond it cannot be denied that the success of Brit TV exports to the US is due in part to online streaming services like Hulu, Amazon and of course, Netflix.



Leave a Reply