I was so excited when BBC America first appeared in 1998. ‘Finally!” I thought, ‘I will get to see the latest and the greatest of BBC programmes.’ Yes, I thought they made a channel for us Britophiles in America. I was sorely mistaken.
It seemed to me that the BBC blew it again in determining what American viewers liked about British television in the first nine years. At first, I thought commercials from the very non-commercial (at least on-air) BBC would be the only part that would bother me. Once I saw how weak the programming would be, the commercials seemed not as big a deal.
They have given us a steady diet of DIY and reality show rubbish. Hello, BBC programmers! We have a plethora of DIY and reality shows and their own channels here. The comedies they have put on are usually rubbish as well. They seemed like the shows that could not make it over there, or they were classics already run to death on PBS stations. Even some of the classics that I was not that great a fan of are better than some of the modern Britcoms. One of the newer ones I that I can remember being very good on BBC America is “Dead Ringers”. This show is truly great British satire of current events. What many Americans over the age of thirty-five grew up on and loved were British comedies, science fiction and historical drama via our public broadcasting stations. BBC America seems to think we like sex comedies, lame soap operas involving the wives of footballers (soccer players), and a Supernanny.
Another thing Britophiles in America have always respected is the BBC news organization. I still believe them to be the world’s best. The great thing about BBC news either on radio or television is that it was just that, the news. You would hear the presenter say, “It’s nine o’clock. And now the news with, Michael Parkinson.” No gloss, no ridiculous ticker at the bottom of the screen, no flashy graphics or sets, and best of all, no agenda left or right, just the news. It is just reporting on what is happening, where and to whom across the United Kingdom and the world.
Like most of the medium since 1990, BBC news bulletins and longer programs have looked more and more Americanized. Never the less, BBC news has still maintained an edge at presenting more news about our world than any other news organization.
I am pleased to see that news programming is taking a larger share of the schedule this year. More bulletins from BBC World and as of yesterday a new newscast fashioned for the American audience. This will either be very interesting or a complete disaster. Titled “BBC World News America”, this programme will in the words of its American producer Rome Hartman, "bring the world home to Americans."
Now back around 2000 I believe, the radio BBC World Service tried something similar. They hired an American to be a presenter of a World Service broadcast from London. The show aired on NPR stations in America. An American reading British news was to me very irritating. Also, you really did not get that foreign, looking through magnifying glass, perspective of America, that I was wanting. In short, I hated that show. I guess other American listeners did also, as that program left NPR stations after not too long a time.
With “BBC World News America”, we at least have a British presenter (host). However, why hire an American most recently from the shaky re-vamping of the Katie Couric hosted “CBS Evening News”? Will this mean the dumbing down of the BBC’s approach?
The article from Yahoo News on September 30, 2007, “BBC to premiere an American newscast” by Associated Press Television writer David Bauer, gets into some of the details of what is planned. https://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070930/ap_on_en_tv/ap_on_tv_bbc_s_american_news
‘"What we have to do is use what the people come to the BBC for," Hartman said. "They come to us because they want a smart and sophisticated view of the world and that's what we hope to provide."
BBC America on Monday will also begin presenting a second daily newscast, "World News Today”, at 10 p.m. EDT.
One of the BBC's faults, Frei (presenter/host) said, is that it takes for granted a certain level of knowledge among its viewers. Hartman has been helpful in encouraging BBC reporters to make clear to viewers why a particular story is important.
Hmmmm. Does that mean a little condescension can slip through?
"We are British," Frei said, "and people have this impression of the British as being a bit stuffy, a bit haughty. We have to be aware of that. I personally don't think if you watch a BBC newscast now that you will feel you're being talked down to and I think the American audience will feel the same way."’
What is Mr. Bauer getting at here? He accuses the British as being condescending for expecting intelligence from its audience? Is that it? Do you know what is condescending? The daily diatribe of American news aimed at telling you that Britney Spears lack of wearing underwear today is more worthy of airtime than people struggling for freedom in Burma or an objective view of the war in Iraq. I find that attitude very condescending to the American viewer in general and to me personally!
With this new newscast, maybe it is time to give BBC America a few more minutes of my viewing time. I hope that it signals better things for the channel. Hey, at least they are showing “Doctor Who” again, even if they are just repeating the first two years of the new “Who”. Of course the new “Who” should have been on BBC America in the first place, not the SciFi channel. How the BBC has messed with “Doctor Who” over the years is a topic for another time.