Competing to be the worst-dressed couple in America


The U.S. cable network TLC is putting on a special episode of What Not to Wear devoted to identifying the worst-dressed couple in America. It so happens that one of my friends knows one of the finalists, so we’ll be rooting for them. Or is it against them? Are you supposed to hope that your favorite is in fact the worst-dressed? Or should you be relieved that they’re only “sort of badly dressed but at least not the worst I’ve seen”?

Yes, the show is a rip-off of the original BBC show. It’s interesting how we yanks look to our British neighbors as examples of quality television (What Not to Wear, Changing Rooms, The Office) and bemoan how U.S. television producers can only come up with drivel. Meanwhile, the Brits look right back (Hill Street Blues, Cheers, 24) and bemoan the same thing about their own television industry.

The other guy’s stuff is always better.

Comments (24)
  1. ivanleo says:

    I actually think the BBC licence fee is very good value for money.

    http://www.astra2d.co.uk is an example, many people (for example me, I’m way out of the official BBC satellite footprint) are willing to pay for a huge dish to get it.

  2. you can’t forgive channel4 for that crime.

    Incidentally, a new C4 program is "demolish", to locate and then demolish the ugliest building in the country:

    http://channel4.co.uk/life/microsites/D/demolition/index.html

    the best bit is that the residents of "Cumbernauld New Town", a 1970s monstrosity in Scotland, have nominated the entire town for destruction.

  3. Nigel Harper says:

    "The other guys stuff is always better"

    With TV it’s probably true. The American shows that we in the UK get, and likewise the British shows that head west are presuambaly selected by the buyers for the respective broadcasters.

    Therefore, more or less, they represent the top x% of each country’s total output, where x is a fairly small number.

    Unsurprising then that the average quality of imports is higher than the average quality of home-grown.

  4. Anonymous Coward says:

    (Disclosure – I am a Brit living in California)

    Several years back I read an article about how many writers shows have and what proportion of budget was spent on them. IIRC the typical hit British show is one or two writers and a similar percentage of the budget. The typical hit American show has up to 20 writers and a similar percentage of the budget. Watch the credits of your favourite shows sometime and count them :-)

    So this comes down to who makes a better product – the loners or the teams. As with software development, sometimes its one and sometimes it is the other, with teams more predictable and not peaking as much.

  5. Stefan says:

    One interesting difference I’ve found though is that while most other countries are happy to show an American show without editing, British shows often have to be remade to fit the American audience. Two great British shows that come to mind are The Office and Coupling. In both cases an inferior remake, with a more bland but beautiful cast, was shown in America.

  6. Gareth Lewin says:

    I don’t think that british people bemoan the quality of television and hope it was as good as American drivvel.

    Sure there are some good American shows, but that’s more a product of mass, where as in the UK the %age of good shows is pretty high.

    Also, and it’s important to note, shows in the UK generally have 6 to 8 episodes a season, where as in the USA they have 22 to 24 episodes. So if a group of writers have x good ideas, distributing those good ideas across one third of the time leaves less time for rubbish.

  7. Dean Harding says:

    "One interesting difference I’ve found though is that while most other countries are happy to show an American show without editing, British shows often have to be remade to fit the American audience."

    It’s funny actually. It’s not just non-U.S. TV shows that are remade for a U.S. audience, it’s just about every popular media needs to be remade for the audience.

    I know an Australian (fantasy) writer who’s books get sold not only in Australia but also Britain, the U.S. and a number of other European countries. Now, they do get translated for the non-English speaking countries, but other than that, they’re almost identical. But the U.S. market often change the story substantially before releasing it there. It’s not always just a matter of changing the word "colour" to "color" (though U.S. books we get here usually still have the spelling as "color").

    And even the covers get redone for the Americans. From what he tells me, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fantasy novel in the U.S. which doesn’t have people on the cover. But anywhere else in the world and people on the cover often looks rather cheesy and so you see more abstract designs or more natural designs.

    Ah well, to each their own, and the U.S. market is probably big enough that they can get away with such things with impunity :)

  8. "Incidentally, a new C4 program is ‘demolish’"

    No pun intended, eh? :-)

  9. "Unsurprising then that the average quality of imports is higher than the average quality of home-grown."

    Using what metric?

  10. Jim says:

    "British shows that come to mind are The Office and Coupling. In both cases an inferior remake, with a more bland but beautiful cast, was"

    What/when was the US version of Coupling?

    Jim

  11. Dylan says:

    Having lived in the UK and Australia, I have no doubt that the programming in the UK is definately superior to the local content. I have pretty much given up on Australian TV now, and only occasionally switch it on. (By occasionally, I mean once or twice a month.)

  12. Jim Crawford says:

    Simple explanation: imported shows are always high quality, because if they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been imported. It’s the same reason the news makes the world seem more interesting the further away from where you are.

  13. James Schend says:

    As a Red Dwarf fan, I hate the BBC’s seeming lack of any kind of planning and/or scheduling. "Hey, that Red Dwarf show did pretty good, let’s make a few new episodes. How about… *rolls dice* 6 this time." "Show them next season?" "Nah, let’s sit on them for a few months for no reason first."

    Maybe US TV sucks, but at least we have reliable schedules. If you see something at 8:30 PM on a thursday, you can be almost sure it’ll be 8:30 PM next thursday, or the same thursday next year.

  14. Stefan says:

    The American Coupling aired in 2003 and was cancelled after four episodes. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338592/

  15. grouse says:

    After growing up in the U.S. I now live in the UK and I can confirm that almost all of British TV is utter crap. Some of it is really, really good, though, and as others have said, this is the stuff that gets exported, which is why many Americans think British TV is so much better.

    I’m not sure that the Brits, OTOH, think that American TV is better in general. But they do like particular shows, as mentioned before.

  16. Mike Edwards says:

    Ironic that there was an American remake of ‘Coupling’ – when it was announced as a new program in the UK it was ‘a British version of Friends with a bit more sex in it’.

  17. David Hall says:

    "I actually think the BBC licence fee is very good value for money.

    http://www.astra2d.co.uk is an example, many people (for example me, I’m way out of the official BBC satellite footprint) are willing to pay for a huge dish to get it."

    Does this mean you pay a licence fee?

    Anything is good value for money if it’s free :)

  18. There’s a large number of well-known UK shows remade for US television: Till Death Us Do Part -> All in the Family, Man About the House -> Three’s Company,Steptoe and Son -> Sanford and Son, …, Fawlty Towers -> Payne etc etc.

    I also bemused by futuristic SF TV and Movie productions made in the UK or Australia, where they import LH drive vehicles because apparently US audiences can accept all sorts of wild SFnal concepts but not driving on the other side of the road.

  19. Ben Hutchings says:

    Dean Harding wrote: "From what he tells me, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fantasy novel in the U.S. which doesn’t have people on the cover. But anywhere else in the world and people on the cover often looks rather cheesy and so you see more abstract designs or more natural designs."

    Terry Pratchett’s books have the reverse pattern: the original UK covers are full of people whereas the US covers are abstract (at least in the recent editions).

  20. Alex Blekhman says:

    Dean Harding wrote:

    “It’s funny actually. It’s not just non-U.S. TV shows that are remade for a U.S. audience,

    it’s just about every popular media needs to be remade for the audience.”

    I’d just correct it a bit. Media doesn’t *need* to be remade. It’s rather worth while to remake it, since US market is big enough and margin of profit can be orders of magnitude bigger using local adaptation rather than leaving media as it is.

    Owners of media always can say: “We’re artists of true genius and no letter will be changed in this masterpiece. We won’t let to mangle this beauty for these stupid Americans!” However, many of them actually prefer to change their work and sell better in US. That Australian writer could prohibit any changes to his books (including cover design). However, he found it acceptable to change them in order to achieve greater success in US.

    Dale Carnegie said once funny thing (and clever in the same time): “Personally, I prefer strawberries with cream, but when I go to fish I take with me can of worms.”

  21. It’s odd that the only two British shows to survive an American network remaking to date are "Sanford and Son" (originally Steptoe and Son) and "Touching Evil".

    Touching Evil has the unique distinction of being better than the British original. It really needed two-episode/two hour stories to be perfect though. Each episode was way too condensed, leaving not enough time for development of the story. But on the whole, it was brilliant.

  22. AndyB says:

    I find that Raymond has a funny idea of what is good TV though.. Changing Rooms?! please. He’ll be saying Junkyard Wars is better than Scrapheap Challenge next.

    Raymond, good modern UK TV.. Spaced, Little Britain, Never mind the Buzzcocks, Phoenix Nights, Early Doors…. One thing about them all is that these all fall into the ‘9pm’ slot on BBC2 or C4, never the ‘mainstream’ channels.

  23. Vince P. says:

    I’ll add Three’s Company to the other two shows Simon mentioned.

    It seems to me that when US TV folks try to reproduce UK shows because the UK shows were ‘too extreme (sex, language, etc (never too much violence :))’, that the US show fails. And it seems pretty obvious to me.. it’s the extremism that made the UK show a hot commodity to begin with, so why would teh idiot US TV guys think that if they blandisized it that it would be any good at all.

    I’m so glad that a US Version of Absolutely Fabulous was never made, nothign but the Saunders version would ever suffice.

  24. Raymond Chen says:

    "I’m so glad that a US Version of Absolutely Fabulous was never made…" Good thing you never saw "High Society" from 1995…

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