Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pilot Episode

Growing up in 1970s Britain wasn't a barrel of laughs. Everything about the country was depressing, 3 day work weeks, strikes, violence, crime and the guy who lived opposite with a green mohican who scared the life out of 7 year old me. The one escape I had was television, I loved the Cartoons like Hong Kong Phooey and The Flintstones, I just wasn't aware that they were imported. Unfortunately they were only on once a week and the rest of the time I was stuck with these rubbish English shows like Camberwick Green, Rainbow and Bagpuss, they were just too 'safe' and never interested me.

The shows my parents were watching looked like they were made in our shed. Take the Onedin Line, a big favorite of my Dad's, a show about boats that seemed to always take place in an office! Z Cars is another I remember enduring, I'm pretty sure no-one had told the producers that color broadcasting was now available, but then one night something fantastic happened.

It became the treat of the week. I was allowed to stay up on a Saturday night, sure I had to sit through Saturday Special first but then I could watch the amazing Starsky and Hutch. A show that our PYE 17" Television seemed unable to contain, it burst out into the living room in glorious color and was just BIG! It was like watching a movie at the cinema, a new movie every week, with people in it who didn't look like Physics Teachers. Amazingly at this time I never realized that this wasn't made by the BBC, the accents and location should have been a giveaway, or the fact that there was a Black guy in it who wasn't Lenny Henry, but I was young and nobody thought to mention it to me.

It was shortly after first finding Starsky and Hutch that a show appeared on kids TV called Big John, Little John and this was the one that truly started my life long love of American TV. Just what on earth were the BBC thinking by scheduling something like this between Play School and Newsround? Chloe Ashcroft and John Craven just could not compete with the 25 minutes of madness on offer here. If you don't know the show (which is quite likely as they only made about a dozen episodes) it's about a 40 year old man who keeps turning into a 12 year old kid without warning. It also started my love of Florida, as Big John had drunk some of the magic water whilst there, causing his temporary changes. Wow, if Florida could do that it must be the place for me, but that's another story.

More American shows appeared on kids TV and I was hooked. The BBC continued to spend their time making films to scare the life out of me, showing how I'd lose my arm in a Combine Harvester or how best I should cross the road, whereas the kids in America depicted in the Red Hand Gang could wander the City and solve crimes. I wasn't allowed to go to the corner shop by myself, how come kids in the USA get this kind of freedom? How come they don't have to fear lurking farm machinery???

Then came Dallas and that was the final nail in the cuddly old UK TV coffin for me.

I know over the years the production values of British television programs have risen but with the sizes of the two countries there is no way they can ever compete with America. I'm not saying I've never enjoyed any British TV it's just that I love US TV, they understand it's about escapism, it doesn't have to be all depressing real life Eastenders style, it's about relaxing at the end of the day and enjoying yourself. Television is America's gift to the world, even if they didn't invent it!

In the words of the character Kenneth Parcell from 30 Rock...
"More then jazz, or musical theater, or morbid obesity, television is the true American artform."
And he's right!


Posted by Richard Charman

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