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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.

'Torchwood''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.

'FlashForward'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.

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Co-funding and co-production can work, but only if there's adequate promotion on all sides in all markets. Rome on HBO is an excellent example: HBO promoted the heck out of it, and it got not only decent viewership but plenty of nominations (including SAG, WGA, BAFTA, Emmys and Golden Globes) and even a few awards (Directors' Guilld, Emmys) -- all because people had a chance to find and see the series. This was patently untrue of Defying Gravity, a fine show that people had to find by accident because ABC here in the States couldn't be bothered to let anyone know it was on or put it in a timeslot when anyone might actually watch it, halfway through the worst season for introducing new shows (summer). Talk about stupid. I've stopped watching ABC over their abandonment of Defying Gravity. And it's even crazier that they won't show the last five episodes but won't release them to any other network. Why, when viewers in other countries have already seen them?? Doesn't make sense.

The second requirement for co-productions/co-funding to work is that at least one of the co-production partners has to be a big, major player in the States with big pockets and enough sense to market and promote the show or miniseries properly. If it's a cable network or public television, you have a chance; but heaven help you if your U.S. partner is one of the regular commercial broadcast networks -- they're just not reliable, as ABC and Fox have amply demonstrated.

May 12 2010 at 1:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with Rich. Defying Gravity was the best thing I've seen in years, and saying that ABC 'dropped the ball' is the understatement of the millenium. DG should be bought back and progressed to its intended conclusion.

How does ABC think that viewers view being loyal to a network that allows their customers to invest themselves in productions that the network never intends to finish!

Personally, for me right now, if it's produced by ABC, i don't bother with it.

Bring back Defying Gravity and complete it, and I might be tempted to re-assess my loyalties.

May 06 2010 at 7:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Defying Gravity was one of the best shows ever but it was poorly promoted and it just wasn't given a chance.

I had to buy the final eisodes because the network could not even finish the season! The final episode was the best of the whole series! Had me in tears!

This show was well written and the actors were perfect. This show really could have been big if given a chance...

If a network cares at all about there viewers then Do Not Cancel a Show with 3 episodes left!!

I say Bring Defying Gravity Back!!!!!!!

Anyone with me?

May 06 2010 at 2:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree! Defying Gravity was one of the best shows I have ever seen!!! I really wish a Canadian channel like SPACE or CTV would pick it up again and get it off the ground again! This truly was a fantastic show

May 05 2010 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Defying Gravity" is fantastic. Of course, a big name company (ABC) would drop the ball. The characters/politics of DG are progressive, smart & questioning. Perhaps, it's too close to reality for those in the position of making decisions about what the rest of America gets to watch.

May 05 2010 at 1:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I dunno... Defying Gravity was a GREAT show, despite network attempts to stunt it, then finally killing it. Anyone complaining about plot lines should look at ANY network or cable show. It's about the characters and the actors portraying them, too. And Defying Gravity brought a breath of fresh air (okay, canned air from a spaceship) to the airwaves for far too few episodes.

I wish they'd put up the last 5 episodes and finale, just so folks can get closure.

May 05 2010 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My view is quite the opposite. I've wasted my time watching various British "drama" shows for quite some time before I gave up completely and started indulging myself in American shows about five years ago. Nothing in the world can force me to watch crap like that again. If you think you're still in your "Golden Age" of television I pity you, but then again it's a peculiar British trait to act like the British Empire is still in existence.

And just so you know, I'm not from the US.

May 03 2010 at 7:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The only thing worse than "____ with the Stars" crap would be "_____ with the Royal Family" crap.

The average British person has a vocabulary three times as large as the average American. The attention span of the average American is so far below that of the average Brit that, as far as TV audiences go, they are fundamentally incompatible. Anyway, half of all Americans wouldn't watch a TV show made by/with/about British people simply because they're *French*.

May 03 2010 at 12:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"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?"

Yes, it was done in 1996 when Paul McGann portrayed the Doctor and Eric Roberts was miscast as The Master. It was horrific.

May 02 2010 at 3:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jimmy_MO's comment

Another example of a U.S. commercial broadcast network underpromoting a project, then abandoning it; but yes, it was also not that great. And yes, it IS an example of why we *don't need* a U.S. version of Torchwood -- just bring back the original, for heaven's sake!! And then you can concentrate on finding a new partnership to bring back Defying Gravity -- that would be SOooo worth it.

May 12 2010 at 1:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What?! No series 3 for Survivors?! Noooooo. I just finished watching series 2 and I want more, darn it!

I think it would be a great idea if SyFy would come in and co-finance series 3. With Battlestar Galactica ending, the only thing going for SyFy is Eureka and Caprica so a deal with BBC could be a great one.

May 02 2010 at 4:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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