While it’s wise to try and avoid stereotypes in contemporary society, it’s fair to say that there are some which remain more durable than others.
Take the notion that British television is more intellectual than the American alternative, which represents a controversial point of view that continues to be debated at length. Whilst it’s an observation that is largely based on the perception of U.S. television during the early 1990s, it remains a popular assertion that many of the American networks struggle to shake off.
In this post, we’ll explore this idea further before determining whether or not this has a basis in fact or fiction.
The Main Differences Between American and British Television
U.S. television has evolved considerably since the late 1990s, with the emergence of premium networks such as HBO (we’ll have a little more on this and how it has challenged the perception of American television).
However, American television continues to face a number of challenges in the modern age, with the need to appeal to the mass market one of the most prominent. This is borne out of commercialism, which dictates that companies must produce popular programs that are widely watched and inherently profitable.
As a result, certain compromises must be made by production firms, who are often required to forgo their more creative instincts in order to create accessible programming.
Now while British TV is not immune from such issues, it has certain structural advantages that make the creation of unique programming less problematic. This is best embodied by the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC), which is chartered by the government and relies on licensing fees rather than commercial sponsorship for its revenue.
As a result of this, the BBC is not forced to compete as aggressively with rival corporations, while creatives have far greater influence the type of programs broadcast. This, coupled with the fact that the BBC is committed to producing content that promotes education and learning, lends itself to intellectual television that is not necessarily made for mass consumption.
How U.S. Television has Begun to Bridge this Perceived Gap
With this in mind, it can be argued that British television is inherently more intellectual than the American alternative. However, networks in the states have begun to bridge this perceived gap, with premium programmer HBO leading this charge.
Around 20 years ago, HBO triggered a sea change in American television, with the production of seminal hits such as Sex and the City and The Sopranos.
These two series were mature, non-commercial and incredibly expensive, while the creators of these shows were given their autonomy to shape their futures. This seized the initiative from nervous and often conservative advertisers, enabling HBO to push the boundaries of taste and intellect as they saw fit.
In many ways, these shows also set the template for the type of series and franchises now created on Netflix and Amazon Prime. In short, these companies invest millions in the development of new and innovative shows, with a focus on creating diverse and intelligent shows that resonate with viewers.
As technology has evolved and innovations such as VPNs have entered the market, viewers have also been able to access the BBC iPlayer in the states and watch British favourites like Dr Who and Eastenders and both have huge fan bases worldwide. In fact, VPNs have made it possible for audiences in the UK and the U.S. to consume geo-restricted content on a huge scale, blurring the lines between TV shows and influences from across the globe.
These changes have been seminal, particularly in terms of breaking down the stereotypes that once surrounded programs in the UK and North America. So while it can be argued that some U.S. programming remains less intellectual than the average British show, this is now a contentious issue that’s becoming less relevant with every passing year.