Review of US Drama on British Television – Part 1 BBC and ITV

Every year six of the main US networks (CBS, ABC, FOX, NBC, CW and TNT) hold their ‘Upfronts’ in the third week of May, normally in New York. An ‘Upfront’ is a presentation for the press and major advertisers for the purpose of promoting new shows and announcing the upcoming primetime (i.e. middle of the evening) schedules for the fall (i.e. autumn) and winter. This allows marketers to buy commercial airtime several months before the new television season begins. Clips of new shows are shown and there are guest appearances by various network stars and producers.  Most of the smaller cable networks present earlier in the spring.

Of the 53 new dramas from 2010, 24 were picked up by British Broadcasters. Just to demonstrate how tough it is to get a show past its first season in the US it should be noted that of the remaining 29 programs, 23 were cancelled and some of them were hardly even aired before being pulled.

At this stage all the shows that have been cancelled and renewed are known, so with glimpses of the new shows to come, it’s a good time to reflect on where each UK broadcaster stands as far as US drama is concerned. This first part starts with the terrestrial channels BBC and ITV.

Obviously with the economy showing very few signs of picking up there is a lot of pressure to save money and buy less content. This will probably mean that UK broadcasters take extra time to decide whether a new show is likely to be successful and long-running. The BBC in particular is under pressure to save money from the public purse.

The BBC does not have that many US drama shows at present and has had some bad news about some of the programs that they have been running. ‘Mad Men’ (AMC) has been now been bought by Sky after four seasons and ‘Rubicon’ (AMC) and ‘The Tudors’ (Showtime) have been cancelled. ‘The Tudors’ did at least run f or four seasons and had more or less run its course but ‘Rubicon’ only lasted one year. ‘Damages’ (DirecTV) has been renewed for Series 4 and 5 but was moved from the FX network and there has been no news about whether this has affected the BBC’s coverage. At least ‘Nurse Jackie’ (Showtime) has been renewed for a third series so I imagine that it will return on the BBC. ‘Torchwood’ Series 4 has become a joint UK/US venture with the Starz network and will be airing soon.

Given the failure of ‘Heroes’ it seems unlikely that the BBC will splash much cash on a big show from the US this year which leaves it looking at the smaller US networks for cheaper options.

I think there are three shows that the BBC would really like to take if they had the chance. The first drama is ‘Awake’ (NBC) which stars Jason Isaacs as detective Michael Britten who wakes up from a car accident in which his wife has died. The story turns when he later wakes up from the same accident in which his son has died instead and he ends up leading two lives trying to piece together what is really happening.

The second drama is ‘Homeland’ (Showtime) which stars Claire Danes as a CIA office investigating the circumstances of the rescue of aUSsoldier (played by Damian Lewis). Her boss is played by Mandy Pantinkin, playing his first major part in a TV drama since he walked out of ‘Criminal Minds’

The third drama is ‘Missing’ (ABC) starring Ashley Judd (‘Kiss The Girls’ & ‘High Crimes’) as an ex-CIA agent whose son goes missing whilst studying abroad and she ends up travelling around many countries tracking him down.

Others new shows of interest could be ‘The Firm’ (NBC), based on the book written by John Grisham which was subsequently made into a film and ‘Hell On Wheels’ (AMC) which is a contemporary western which rakes place after the civil war and is about a former confederate soldier seeking revenge. The BBC could also go after ‘Memphis Beat’ (TNT) which was one of the new shows from 2010 that has been renewed and is about aMemphispolice detective and the city he works and lives in.

ITV also has only a few US dramas and has never been a serious contender for many of the top shows coming from the US. The ITV prime time schedule does not leave a lot of room for US product so it generally looks for shows that fit the brand for ‘ITV2’, i.e. a younger audience and ‘light’ entertainment.

The good news from ITV’s point of view is that ‘Gossip Girl’ (CW) has been renewed for Season 5 and ‘Vampire Diaries’ (CW) has been renewed for Season 3. ‘Friday Night Lights’ (DirecTV) has been cancelled after 5 series and this was shown a little on ITV4, so they could show Series 3, 4 and 5 if they feel like it. Series 3 of ‘In Plain Sight’ (USA Network) is soon to be shown during the night on ITV1 (a horrible but typical piece of ITV scheduling) and this show has been renewed for Series 4 and 5.

ITV will show an interest in ‘The Secret Circle’ (CW) which is based on the books by L.J Smith who also wrote ‘The Vampire Diaries’. This drama is about a teenage girl who moves to a new town after the death of her mother and becomes entangled in a coven of witches at her new high school. Kevin Williamson (‘Dawson’s Creek’ & ‘The Vampire Diaries’) is one of the producers on this one and if ITV2 does not grab it then E4 will. Also of interest could be the new show ‘The Nine Lives of Chloe King’ (ABC Family) about a teenage girl who starts developing mysterious powers when she reaches 16.

Paul – The TV Drama Club

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