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April 07 2008

Who creates and enjoys Sci Fi and Fantasy more – Brits or Yanks? TV Guide’s Matt Roush defends the honor of American TV using Buffy, Angel, BSG (and others) as examples of US creativity.

UK - Hex and Hyperdrive
USA - Flash Gordon and Andromeda

Both nations are equally great at creating crap.
There's only one way to find out! FIIIIIGHT!

(I may have been watching too my Harry Hill's TV Burp for my own good lately.)
There are wonderfully creative people on both sides of the pond. The problem is, as with anything, money. America just has more money to spend on such things. Apart from the cost of sets, CGI and that sort of thing, there's also the episode count too -- the column mentions Life on Mars, which was great, but only had 8 episodes a series. (For those that haven't seen it, Life on Mars isn't sci-fi at all, don't be fooled by the name! but the point stands.. it seems like the show's getting an American adaptation too).

I think this is why we're starting to see far more collaborative efforts. Farscape, if memory serves, was filmed in Australia, and Galactica is filmed in Canada with significant(?) funding from Sky (a television channel in the UK), which is why the first series of Galactica actually aired in the UK before the US.

As for the question, on a personal note, I think us Brits have a lot to learn from America. In my opinion, the new Doctor Who and Torchwood are absolutely dire. David Tenant is about the only good thing about it. I'm a little biased however, because the whole Welsh-setting of Torchwood makes me cringe (I'm Welsh, so I feel a little more justified criticising that aspect of it). It's practically propaganda on Russell T Davis' part.
The difference being maybe we keep our crap within these fair shores more ?

I think Roush gets it spot on in fact, genre shows tend to have small but loyal followings and the UK TV landscape is just better suited to smaller audiences what with two of the five main terrestrial channels being publicly funded.

The Beeb has a history of nurturing shows and giving them every chance whereas the advertising funded US market is much more cut-throat (the flip side being, the US networks have much more money to spend so production values tend to be higher - though this is changing over here, with more expensive UK shows - 'Torchwood', 'Doctor Who', 'Spooks'/'MI5', 'Life on Mars', 'Hustle' etc. - being made with at least one eye on the international market).

(that said though, even the proportional audience seems higher over here - with 'Doctor Who' getting around a 30 share, something even 'American Idol' struggles to manage in the US)
Why cringe MattK ? I reckon Cardiff scrubs up pretty nicely for 'Torchwood', no offence but could that be a wee bit of national insecurity ?

I know if it was set in and around Glasgow I wouldn't blink, it's a large, internationally known city and in certain quarters, so is Cardiff now (thanks to RTD).
Saje:
Why cringe MattK ? I reckon Cardiff scrubs up pretty nicely for 'Torchwood', no offence but could that be a wee bit of national insecurity ?


Maybe there's some of that. I think it's more that the shows are just too silly. It sort of takes the "science" out of sci-fi. There's always a suspension of disbelief with any show, but it really seems to take it to the extreme. I don't mind some self-parody, humour and all that, but I'd just rather see the money spent on something Serious. (deserving the capital S).
Life on Mars is totally one of these. It involves either time travel or a fantasy world.

I have a Welsh friend who says she thinks it's ridiculous that there are so many aliens in Torchwood because there's nothing appealing about Cardiff.

I think the US has a tendency to beat us hands-down in terms of quantity, and the amount of money that is plunged into each programme. My personal top two science-fiction series of the moment are Doctor Who and BSG, and Who usually edges it because it's so much fun (whereas BSG is a lot more... involved).
What's wrong with Fun (capital F)? I love Torchwood, I don't expect it to be something shown on the Discovery Channel.
luvspike:
What's wrong with Fun (capital F)? I love Torchwood, I don't expect it to be something shown on the Discovery Channel.


Nothing wrong with Fun. Sci-fi shows are notorious for having large budgets, hence the BBC can't make many of them. If the BBC can only make one show I'd rather a serious one than a fun one, that's all. To be honest, I'm so psyched about the new series of Battlestar Galactica (only about a week left until it airs here!!), that any other sci-fi just can't compare at the moment.
I don't care where the sci-fi stems from as long as it is imaginative and well written. I adored the old Dr. Who episodes (Tom Baker was delicious) even though the budget allowed for only cardboard sets and the cheesiest special effects.

On the other hand, I'm not adverse to each side trying to outdo the other. Everyone would win in that sort of competition.

Simon, I agree with you on Flash Gordon, but I thought Andromeda had its moments (not often enough, admittedly, but there was very little sci-fi on the tube at the time). Even a bad Herc-Kirk is better than no Kirk at all.
Personally, I don't care where the show comes from, so long as it's good. In regards to the question about who enjoys it more, though... well, that's a tricky one. I'd imagine it's about the same, but I'm not an expert on our friends from across the pond, so I'm not even going to make a call.

But, if this question had to do with television in general, I'd probably give it to the Brits. American TV is overflowing with reality shows. Then again, Britain might be the same way.

Anyways, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't care where the sci-fi comes from, so long as it's good.
Much of a muchness is my opinion. I have to add, though it's not strictly relevant, I LOVE Cardiff. I went to Uni there for four years and even snagged a Welshman to bring home to Ireland with me. Ah, good times!
Just wondering...

For some reason I have the impression that SciFi is a little more main stream in the popular culture of Britain than it is here in the U.S.

I mean, for some reason the people I know (family, friends, coworkers)never share my enthusiasm. I have the feeling though that in Britain it wouldn't be the same marginalizing interest where I get the funny looks because its escapism or some such crap. Of course it could all just be due to my heartland experience here in Columbus, Ohio... (and Cincinnati, Ohio and Georgia and Boulder, Colorado)

So...wadda ya think? Just curious.
Maybe it is due in part to the fact that, in Britain, for the longest time, we only ever had three TV channels and two of those were BBC channels and, being state-funded, had to show a broad range of programming including sci-fi. Channel 4 came along in the mid 80s I think, and then Five in the early 90s. Anyway, point being, the choice of what to watch was never that great. Which is probably why the TV shows from yesteryear are such a shared cultural experience, since pretty much everyone would have watched them. Doctor Who is a nice example, it was cheesy and cheap, but it was well-written and, lacking any decent alternatives, people tuned in and enjoyed it. And I think people tune in now in part to catch some of that nostalgic glow.

It used to be quite fun chatting to friends about an evening's TV on the following day and sharing thoughts. Bring up TV now and it seems most people have never even heard of the program you were watching, let alone seen it. Luckily we have blogs now to fill the gap, I guess.
Nobody is going to outdo the last two seasons of Deep Space Nine on either side of that little pond they call the Atlantic.
MattK you have unleashed my automatic Torchwood defense system.
(Stop laughing, Saje)
;)

There is no more devoted BSG fan than me on the planet, but Torchwood is a close second. What's wrong with variety of style in SciFi/fantasy?
Torchwood reminds me more of a hybrid of The X-files and BtS, and I'm not the only one to pick up on that. It's a gloriously fun romp with lots of serious sub-text, great witty dialog and a huge heart.

And Cardiff is a big part of it's distinctive character. I know, every city you haven't seen would disillusion you if you actually walked it's streets, but I'm in love with the fantasy Cardiff I see on TW every week. Even my fellow native Californian James Marsters loves the city, and he's actually spent a fair amount of time there.

As for the surrounding Welsh countryside, you can't tell me that's not beautiful, the last episode of TW to air on BBCA was Adrift.

There's a reason that TW is the highest rated show ever on BBCA, and a darling of U.S. TV critics, even the ones who don't usually take genre shows seriously. It's great Sci/Fi.
Given the differences in population, I would have to guess that our friends in the U.K. have a much higher concentration of SF/Fantasy enthusiasm per capita ... because it's always felt like they punch equally with us in this arena, and that means ... given their smaller population and economy, that they're probably punching several times their own weight. There are also several British SF/Fantasy achievements that have no real parallel here (for example, I don't think we have our own equivalent to Terry Pratchett [Piers Anthony? Robert E. Howard?], let alone J.R.R. Tolkien).

So, from my entirely anecdotal and American perspective, I gotta say the Brits would win by rather a lot ... because it feels like a perfect tie, and that contradicts the relative scales.

[ edited by Ghalev on 2008-04-08 17:48 ]
Magnus Carnage

Oh you mean when it decided to become Babylon 5? :)

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