|Confessions of an Anglophile|
Three years ago, Seattle native Howard Carson married an Englishwoman and moved to Nottingham, England for good--or so he thought. But now, for economic reasons, he and his wife have decided to move to the States, and last week Howard arrived back in Seattle. An avid videophile, his vantage of British TV from an American's point of view proves interesting.
Ryan: So what was your first impression of TV upon arriving in Britain after having lived in the land of 70-channel cable?
Howard: When I got to Britain first off I kind of knew what to expect, but the actual format they present it in is unusual. First, the BBC is a godsend, no commercials or beg-a-thons [pledge drives]. The best thing is the watershed, adult programs aimed at adults that are available, like Queer As Folk.
Ryan: How many channels did you receive?
Howard: At first I was in a listed building, we couldn't get satellite or cable installed, so just the five terrestrial channels. But we got cable when I moved and then we had 20-30 channels.
Ryan: What channels did you watch the most?
Howard: Terrestrially, BBC-1 and 2 and Channel 4. I fell in love with Film 4 on cable.
Ryan: What is the digital TV situation in Britain?
Howard: Quite advanced. They are pushing it trying to get it everywhere. OnDigital, off the air service, and Sky Digital are everywhere. Some of the standard channels like BBC Knowledge, BBC Choice are available via digital TV over the air where available. The one thing I'm missing is widescreen. My TV [left behind in Britain] was set so it would automatically switch to "wide," like when a movie was shown on Channel 4 and would fill the screen. Quite the cool thing.
Ryan: There has been a hot and heavy discussion in our forum for the past few months about whether the mandatory TV license fee to fund the BBC is fair. What's your impression?
Howard: I can see its place, but...I'm gonna have to say that's something that was necessary 20 or 30 years back when there were 3 or 4 channels. Now there is a wider choice... I think the BBC needs to go commercial to compete in the modern marketplace. They've been losing sports to ITV and Sky Sports.
Ryan: What are some of your favorite British shows?
Howard: Spaced, League of Gentlemen, Graham Norton, Armstrong and Miller, and Gormenghast, it was quite wonderful." My least favorite shows are those clip shows that are just an excuse to rerun bits of old programs and repackage them as the Top Drunken Moments of Oliver Reed or something.
Ryan: What sort of shows did you get into that you didn't watch in the US?
Howard: Cooking shows, I'm rocking on cooking now and it's Jamie Oliver's fault! He made it look so easy; I tried it and it worked. The other thing is the "fake" game shows like Nevermind the Buzzcocks and Have I Got News For You with celebrities and no real competition.
Ryan: Since you just got back, what's the latest thing you liked recently on British TV?
Howard: Trigger Happy TV, it's kind of like a car crash you have to stare at it. And Popstars [the UK version], especially when they were picking the contestants and getting booted out by Nasty Nigel.
Ryan: Did you watch Channel 4's Big Brother?
Howard: Yes I did. But more so than the original one, I quite liked the Celebrity Big Brother they did for Comic Relief. Jack Dee won that. It was kind of nice seeing the people in the group, although some I didn't care about. Vanessa went stark raving loony on the show.
Ryan: What do you think about The Weakest Link?
Howard: I actually auditioned for the show. Unfortunately, I moved and they didn't have my new number and couldn't get ahold of me! I drove all the way down to Cambridge to audition and then I moved and found out later they tried to reach me, which really pissed me off. I really enjoy watching it, it's addictive. I didn't think Americans would get Anne Robinson. There aren't commercials on the BBC version, it's a bit different. The money is much more here in the US, in Britain the top money is only 10,000 pounds as opposed to the million dollars here.
Ryan: What are you going to miss most about British TV now?
Howard: I'm probably going to say the relaxed standards, particularly in the evening being able to watch uncensored stuff on regular TV. Here you need to subscribe to HBO to watch The Sopranos or Sex in the City, but in Britain they are on regular terrestrial TV. I'll miss stuff like Right to Reply and Points of View where regular folks are able to air their grievances about television. You're never going to see something like that on NBC.