We make some pretty shocking television in Britain. For those who live elsewhere, they see what the US has sent them – shows like Friends, Scrubs and CSI, and think “yeah, that United States really make some kick ass television.” Then they look at the programmes we export and find such titles as X-Factor and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.
Both those shows were created in the UK and both have been hugely successful in franchising to the rest of the world.
It’s therefore easy to look at the shows we have managed to export, while our true gems like The Office and Sherlock simply get re-made by the US, missing the genius of the people behind the original series which made it so great in the first place, not to mention the best television we put out, shows like Horizon and Human Planet being largely ignored, and become depressed about our success in selling our output to the rest of the world.
But there is one show which has successfully gone out into the big wide world and carved out an international relationship. Top Gear. And why not? It’s a fantastic TV show.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Top Gear. Its reinvention in 2002 was a stroke of genius – time after time people say “I love Top Gear! I’m not interested in the cars, but the rest of it is brilliant.” That’s the genius, especially with the specials, it’s a really cool travel documentary about three friends that happen to be driving cars at the time.
Even those that do object to the show are usually only objecting to the fact that Jeremy Clarkson is one of the most offensive people on TV at the moment. Granted, he does say a lot of inappropriate things but then his TV personality is set up to be controversial – he is a man who is paid to have strong opinions.
As a result, the British version of the show is one of the most watched TV shows around the world. It has readily topped the list of most downloaded TV shows, indeed in 2007 it was the second most downloaded show of the entire year, beaten only be Heros and topping Lost, Prison Break, 24 and Family Guy, the most popular shows coming out of the US at the time.
Add to that the spin-off franchies which exist in Australia, the United States, Korea, China and Russia and you have one of the most popular TV shows currently produced in the UK.
Of course, for a rather differing opinion, you might want to check out Stewart Lee’s opinion.