Should imported TV programs be shown on terrestrial TV?

Heroes has just started on BBC2. But do big, flashy, hyped up American shows really have a place on our Beeb? Rob writes an open letter to the British Broadcasting Corporation

Heroes

The first two episodes of Heroes were shown on BBC2 last night, and now I find myself wondering if shows such as this should really have a place the five main terrestrial channels?

The reason for this thinking is simple. Most people now have access to a multitude of media that cater for specific tastes. So if you switch on your Sky and you’re a sci-fi fan, there’s of course Sky and Sci-Fi and Bravo to choose from,; if you’re a fan of cult cartoons, well, Jetix and Toonami are there for you. If you have broadband, you can download or view video content from Japan, China or the US with a simple click of a mouse. If you have a multi region DVD player, imports from other counties are as easy as ordering a book off Amazon, with the added bonus of earlier release dates and a better price.

So with all these various methods of getting genre-specific content, and with most fans of fantasy/sci-fi etc being media and computer-savvy (come on, you know it goes with the lifestyle) then the audience for shows such as 24, Lost, Galactica and Heroes etc is catered for via these channels. All in all, it seems to me that putting these shows on ‘normal’ telly is a big old waste of money.

To spend the best part of half a million quid of licence fee payers’ money on Heroes is insane. For the BBC to import a show that most fans of this genre have seen right through to the end is madness. Where is the profit or audience going to come from? TV shows needs both an audience and some sort of revenue stream (be that merchandise or advertising) to be a success and shows like Doctor Who prove that home grown talent can achieve both.

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When fans know the Beeb are spending that amount of money for a show that is probably made for less per episode and the fact that you know that an episode of Doctor Who could be (and probably is) made for half that is kind of galling, since when it comes to it, it’s your money they’re spending. Doctor Who is a great model for the stuff that SHOULD be showing on terrestrial channels. It has an audience of kids and adults alike and can make revenue from them in DVD sales, books and beating the Americans at their own game by selling it onto them.

And Doctor Who isn’t this isn’t a one off. We’ve produced many good sci-fi shows recently with Sea of Souls, Ultra Violet and even Primeval all being great examples from the past ten years. We used to do it so well, with Sapphire and Steel, Blake 7, Doomwatch, Quatermass, and a hundred and one other shows over the years that have become cult hits. Stick with these types of shows, they are not that expensive to make and certainly won’t cost £400,000 to produce. This reliance for imported shows at vast prices to fill terrestrial channels is lazy and really just an easy solution to a problem of 24/7 entertainment.

Especially since once a broadcaster does pay for the shows, they just don’t seem to know how to use them. Imported shows take commitment, both by the broadcaster and the viewer. A half hour or hour a week is fine to fit in your ‘nearly’ favourite show, you can miss an episode of Casualty or Have I Got News For You without a thought – there is no continuity for shows such as these from week to week and you don’t really feel like you have missed a lot.

But with sci-fi or genre imported shows there is nearly always a over-arching story and developments that you simply cannot miss. Hardcore fans need to have their ‘fix’ instantly and as soon as possible (week in and week out); you need to have a guarantee that once you have fobbed off your mates with an excuse as to why you are not going to the pub that when you sit down to watch your show of choice that it is actually on when it says it is – and with shows such as Lost, Buffy and Angel shown on terrestrial it just doesn’t happen. With Sky, or American channels you know that you will get to see the shows that magazines, news boards and web forums are covering in a matter of days of weeks.

With the Beeb, you might have to wait months or years to see the show and once its on, it’s pot luck if they show it at a fixed time, on a fixed day or even renew it for a second season. I am sure that those reading this will remember how badly the Beeb used to treat good old Star Trek the Next Generation; it was the ping pong ball of the schedule. If the golf/tennis/snooker overran than it was ‘bye bye Picard’ and hello to hours more of Sue Barker. It was the same with Buffy when that was shown and don’t get me started to what Channel 5 did with Angel… some friends of mine still have hopes they will eventually show the final season!

It takes time and dedication to watch an American TV show and fans of these shows know that. You cannot be a casual viewer of Battlestar Galactica or Lost but the terrestrial channels seem to think that you can pick a show mid-season You just can’t do it. American shows nowadays are designed to be 24 hour films, with a finite beginning middle and end, with character development and story arcs. Fans and viewer know this – they want to see the conclusion of what is ‘down the hatch’ or whatever the cliff hanger is – they don’t want to be left mid season or hunting around listings to find out when the next episode is.

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This is what terrestrial channels do: they buy a show that seems to be popular, exploit it, get the fan base and then sort of lose interest if something else takes precedence or revenue figures plummet or aren’t up to predicted figures. The shows get shunted, moved or altered, fans get angry and leave the show. This model is repeated a great deal: see how Channel 4 handled Lost, a hugely popular show that was castrated by the American advert template they used to get in revenue to pay of for the show. People turned off in millions, the show got moved around and was eventually abandoned. Now, it has a nice cosy home on a set date at a set time on Sky.

Us genre loving fans are a fickle bunch – we like our shows here and now and not messed around with. We have a passion for television and film and can easily make or break a show by our commitment to the cause or our resounding cries of anger from message boards around the Internet. There is nothing like getting a geek angry and as such terrestrial broadcasters should take note. This is a message coming from a hardcore geek that sees the error of your expensive ways. You have no need to buy in expensive imports, we have already seen them all, thank you. Keep your money and just keep producing home made content with the quality of Torchwood and Doctor Who and we will be happy. Maybe even take a look at re-doing Blake 7 while you are at it.

Honestly, you will be saving yourselves a fortune – with the added bonus of not having to spend many hours deleting a million messages from the Beeb website as the Buffy/Angel/Star Trek appreciation society rallies around to e-mail bomb you as you have just over-run the snooker again and cancelled the season finale of their favourite show.

See, everyone’s a winner!