The main distinguishing factor of British television for me was its unique scheduling practices. Shows aren’t on at the same time every day, and with the short-run seasons sometimes appearing with breaks of multiple years, you can never really expect the familiarity of a channel’s line-up you get in America. It’s interesting that the premiere dates of shows can be announced just a couple of weeks before they air, and that certain shows are pushed forward or back with little notice so they won’t compete with more popular programs. I remember flipping on the TV when I studied abroad in London and not really taking to it while I was there. It was really difficult to get myself set in a TV routine, as I had no idea how to adapt to a mere 20 channels with ever-shifting scheduling. I think now that I know the channels’ brands, understand this scheduling, and can recognize many actors and show creators, I’d relish the chance to go back and give regular TV viewing a shot.
Throughout the semester, I also noticed that in a lot of our readings and many things I read in my research, British television creators and critics continually compared British shows to UK shows to American ones. While I figured this was something we did naturally because of our home base and our lack of British TV context, I didn’t expect the same from the Brits. Because Hollywood TV and films have been aired in a mainstream way in the UK for so long, British-made content has the opportunity to be distinctly British. Time and again, we’ve heard how British shows use UK-specific comedy (true-life awkwardness or surreality), slow, dark, character-driven plots, less than attractive actors, social realism (especially class wars), UK locations, etc. etc. Television in the UK, due to its unique public service/commercial structure and the existence of Freeview along with abundant online catch-up material, really is distinct form American fare, and I’ve noted how it is pedestalized culturally (while often simultaneously vilified).
This class has also encouraged me to seek out more British television. I’m a big marathoner, and watching short-run British shows all in a row gets you through quite a greater variety of shows in a shorter time than watching American TV does. This is a great untapped pool of quality content, and I can’t wait to keep watching!