The US Should Co-Produce TV Shows with the UK
by Jason Hughes, posted May 1st 2010 6:28PM
A few years back, a bold co-production initiative was launched with Canada. So far, it's produced underwhelming ratings performers like 'Mental' and 'Defying Gravity.' Meanwhile, thanks to BBC America, US fans are falling in love with new UK shows, only to find ourselves frustrated when the powers-that-Beeb pull the plug. It's a lot like foreign fans of US material must feel when we cancel shows on them: powerless.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Most recently, BBC America finished running the first and second series of the BBC post-apocalyptic drama 'Survivors,' back-to-back. Before it finished, the BBC announced that they weren't going to commission any more episodes, due to slipping ratings in the UK. 'Survivors' wasn't failing miserably, but BBC programming doesn't get advertising revenue like shows in the US, so expectations are different.
I don't know if US ratings were considered for the show, but I know it was one of the more popular series on BBC America and that it has a pretty loyal and faithful following on both sides of the pond. Could US support have saved it?
Why couldn't a US network step in and offer to help finance a new season? It's not an unprecedented notion, as NBC has been working with DirecTV to help finance 'Friday Night Lights' for a while now. Because of the fact that we share a language, successful UK productions don't need to be remade for US audiences. We could just get invested in the originals, saving money on both sides.
If 'Survivors' could be saved by someone in America throwing money at the BBC, then surely there's a network out there who might be willing to do that. Paying even up to half for a television production means you can profit with far lower ratings. NBC was making a profit off of the terrible performance of 'The Jay Leno' show in primetime because it cost them so very little to produce.
'Doctor Who' does very well in the US, but can you imagine what a terrible mistake it would be to reboot that venerable franchise into an American property? 'Who' spin-off 'Torchwood' has been making the rounds in the states trying to get a US version of the series off the ground. However, it's not clear if it would be a part of the existing 'Doctor Who' continuity, or a total relaunch. Considering original series star John Barrowman is attached, a reboot would be detrimental to the original franchise in a major way, as a fourth season is hanging in the balance in the UK.
I'm hopeful that it's an attempt to get some of that Hollywood money into the original continuity. In the case of 'Survivors,' you're talking about a show that doesn't cost very much to make. Almost everyone on the planet is dead, and there are no major special effects needed. Syfy, or someone else, could easily jump in and agree to co-finance a third series so that fans won't have to deal with that cliffhanger ending.
The UK already got creative once in finding international joint funding to bring 'Primeval' back from cancellation. With BBC America ratings on the rise, US fans are clearly falling in love with British programming, so why not not let us help keep our favorites alive. The advertising revenue received on most US stations alone would offset some of those production costs. BBC America runs commercials, and I'll admit I'm not sure if any of that money makes it back to the UK productions of the individual shows they run on. Actually, I have no idea how that network and the UK originals work together financially.
If it's possible to share the costs, though, shows with respectable and loyal audiences on either side of the ocean might benefit. If a US-based show is performing below its network standards, but doing great in Great Britain, a similar deal could be struck. Perhaps 'FlashForward' or 'V' could benefit from British love. As part of the arrangement, the shows could be simulcast in both countries, thus giving the fans the best reward they could hope for, new episodes in front of their eyeballs as soon as possible.