When A Great Format Travels Across The Pond

by , Feb 21, 2008, 12:00 PM
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OK, so you all know my propensity for British television ( see http://blogs.mediapost.com/tv_board/?p=211).  And as we move toward a whole new television season this fall, I am chomping at the bit for the latest, great import from the U.K.:"Top Gear."

For the uninitiated, "Top Gear" started as a local show on the BBC in 1977 -- a sort of Motor Week meets Derby Demolition for television.  After about a year, it moved to a national platform and subsequently ran for 23 years with little change to the format. In 2001, the show was put to rest and retooled to fill a 60-minute slot, and in 2002 a new era for the show began.

Today, "Top Gear" is seen in over 100 countries, won an International Emmy in 2005, and is one of the top 10 most-pirated TV shows for 2007 (Source: TorrentFreak)  So why has it taken so long for the US to find this little gem? (NBC announced this January that it is commissioning a version of the show to air in the U.S.) You tell me.  As story arcs get told and retold, as audiences tire of the same old boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl formulas, why is it that such international successes like "Top Gear" take years to find a home in the U.S.? Good question. 

Could it be that there is an international sensibility that doesn't pass muster here in the U.S.? Maybe. Could it be that the licensing process has become so complex that Hollywood doesn't want to bother? Possibly. 

Could it simply be that the domestication of international formats kills the je ne se quoi of the show? Definitely. Case in point: "Coupling." Arguably one of the funnier half-hours to come out of the U.K. in recent memory (in my humble opinion), its short lived time on domestic television remains a mystery to many -- mostly me. Then again, I have to ask myself, how well would an episode like "Inferno" and "Circus of the Epidural" do in the middle of our domestic footprint? I don't know, but I would have liked to have found out. 

As for "Top Gear," let's hope that the brashness of Jeremy Clarkson is found in a U.S. host, that the caravan destruction segments find a life here and that all domestic cattle (alive or deceased) remain off the roof rack. Hold on, folks, you are in for a helluva ride.

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