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Something Completely Different: British Television and American Culture

Jeffrey S. Miller
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Something Completely Different
    Book Description:

    Between Emma Peel and the Ministry of Silly Walks, British television had a significant impact on American popular culture in the 1960s and 1970s. In Something Completely Different, Jeffrey Miller offers the first comprehensive study of British programming on American television, discussing why the American networks imported such series as The Avengers and Monty Python’s Flying Circus; how American audiences received these uniquely British shows; and how the shows’ success reshaped American television.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8972-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    “Here not there.”

    So the poet William Carlos Williams admonished his many friends and colleagues who flocked to Paris as part of the international migration that characterized American intellectual life in the 1920s. Rather than run off in search of the courtly muses that had defined the past, Williams argued, American poets and artists would be better off rooting themselves in their native soil and drawing their resources from the culture of which they were a vital part.¹

    This is a study of transnational communication that follows Williams’s injunction. Although researchers and scholars of communication have traveled around the globe...

  5. 1. Here Not There: American Imperialists and British Invaders
    (pp. 1-24)

    Although separated by more than a century, the words of Herbert Schiller and Walt Whitman address the same concern: the subjugation of young and weak cultures to global empires through an unimpeded “flow” of messages and texts.³ That the United States would be the young and weak culture to Whitman and the global empire to Schiller says volumes about the changes in the world from the time immediately preceding the Civil War fought by Americans on their own soil to the civil war fought by Americans in Vietnam. Yet, as Whitman’s own career suggests, it is possible for participants in...

  6. 2. Danger Men: Secret Agent and The Prisoner
    (pp. 25-50)

    Although on the surface a textbook case of political economics at work, the arrival of British television in the United States during the early 1960s represented a field of shifting and complicated cultural relationships typifying Bakhtinian dialogue. The British side of that dialogue developed as producers in the United Kingdom sought to take advantage of a burgeoning transnational trade in television programming. One of those producers, Lew Grade, hoped to make his fortune in the United States by giving American audiences British programming unrecognizable as such: shows that employed American actors, accents, and settings but that were produced in Britain,...

  7. 3. Mrs. Peel Goes to Washington: The Avengers
    (pp. 51-74)

    Though Lew Grade’s spy shows made overt efforts to hail an American audience, they also included naturalized assumptions that made it all the more possible to respond. Perhaps the most naturalized of those assumptions was that the job description for secret agent, at least for the good guys, was male only. Women might be employed in Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but, like Fleming’s Moneypenny, they were assigned desk work—and were accused of being incompetent at that.² Female spies were employed by the enemy and accomplished their tasks with neither mental nor technological resources, but with the sexual use of...

  8. 4. Down the Up Staircase: The Forsyte Saga, Masterpiece Theatre, and Upstairs, Downstairs
    (pp. 75-110)

    With the departure of the secret agent imports from the commercial networks in 1969, a second wave of British programming came to American airwaves—and with it, a shift in signification from a mod sense of contemporary consumption to a historical and literary sensibility of aristocratic noblesse oblige.² The BBC-producedThe Forsyte Saga, which arrived on America’s nascent noncommercial public broadcasting system in 1969, was followed by various programs presented asMasterpiece Theatrethat were similarly based on canonical fiction and constructed as serial dramas. As had been the case with secret agent shows, American viewers found meanings in the...

  9. 5. (Naughty) Bits of Limey Eccentricity: That Was the Week That Was and Monty Python’s Flying Circus
    (pp. 111-138)

    The relationship between British television texts and American audiences in the 1960s and early 1970s developed primarily along one line: whether action-adventure or serialized historical, the programs that made their way into circulation in the United States were hour-long dramas. Little in the way of “British wit,” save for the clever and bitchy repartee ofThe Avengers, made its way to American screens. Some of that wit came to America in the early 1960s in the American reproduction of the British satiric revueThat Was the Week That Was. After its demise in 1965, however, it would be another ten...

  10. 6. All in the Anglo-American Family: Hollywood Reproductions of British Originals
    (pp. 139-168)

    One set of utterances assuming primary significance in the relationship between British television and American culture in the 1970s has yet to be explored: the “our-own-ness” provided by producers of American programming as they encountered and worked with the “otherness” of imported British shows and genres. As Horace Newcomb and Paul Hirsch observe, the television producer, in constructing a representation of social reality, is “seeking and creating new meaning in the combination of cultural elements with embedded significance... respond[ing] to real events, changes in social structure and organization, and to shifts in attitude and value.” That meaning, they continue, is...

  11. 7. British Television and American Culture: Something Completely Different?
    (pp. 169-184)

    Although it was J.R. Ewing who was shot in the 1980 cliffhanger episode ofDallas, it was prime-time network television that was mortally wounded. At the beginning of that season, ABC, CBS, and NBC had 92 percent of the viewing population. By the end of the 1980–81 season, that figure had dropped to 81 percent; by 1988, only 67 percent of prime-time viewers were watching network programming.² Reasons for the decline included greater numbers of local independent stations and the growth in popularity of VCR technology, but the most visible and plausible cause was the availability of new viewing...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 185-236)
  13. Index
    (pp. 237-250)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-251)