The British Are Coming…to American Telly

You may say that the title of this post is old news and, in a way, it is. British shows and actors have been making their way across the pond for quite some time with their main gateway being our favorite network, PBS.  In fact Masterpiece’s executive producer Rebecca Eaton estimates that since the early 1970’s, they have “put half a billion dollars into British drama. Either via financing it, acquiring rights or publicity, by flying over the casts to meet the American press.”

With the rise in popularity of British programming, premium pay channels have been following suit with collaborations on series such Rome and Extras for HBO, The Tudors and Episodes for Showtime and The Missing and The White Queen for Starz. It’s too complicated to tease the national origins of the money, locations and creative-types on any of the shows referenced above. Suffice it to say, American TV execs have sussed that their audiences like British stuff in general and they are doing all they can to cash in on that trend.

And if the beginning of 2016 is any indication, it appears it will be a banner year for British fare on American network and basic cable channels. 

Many of you have probably already discovered BBC’s War and Peace if only because it’s airing on three different channels here in the States; A&E, Lifetime and the History Channel. Why broadcast the same program on a trio of networks? I’m not sure; however, in the spirit of full disclosure, Lifetime and the History Channel are divisions or subsidiaries the A&E Networks which is owned by Disney. Still with me?

Anyhow, this new adaptation of the epic Tolstoy novel is chockablock full of British talent (despite the fact that the story’s main hero is played by the very excellent American actor, Paul Dano ). From hot new UK commodities like Lily James (Downton Abbey), James Norton (Grantchester) and Aisling Loftus (Mr. Selfridge) to veterans such as Jim Broadbent, Stephen Rea and Rebecca Front, you’ll see faces familiar to Anglophiles at every turn. 

 

The first two hour episode aired January 18 which, in case you missed it, can be streamed on Lifetime.com. The remaining three installments will be broadcast on upcoming Mondays from 9 -11 pm ET.

Now NBC’s You, Me and the Apocalypse is an entirely different kettle of fish. It’s a contemporary story that follows a group of ostensibly unconnected people as they attempt to get their lives in order leading up to a world-ending collision between the Earth and a comet/meteor. Mathew Baynton (The Wrong Mans) is the star of the series and plays a mild mannered bank manager named Jamie.

The cast is a hybrid of American and British actors. For the Yanks we have Rob Lowe as a priest, Jenna Fischer as a wrongly imprisoned librarian and Megan Mullally as a white supremacist convict. The most puzzling thing I found was that there are several UK actors who play Americans in this series including Nina Sosanya (Last Tango In Halifax) as a Southern U.S. Marshall, Paterson Joseph (Peep Show) as an Army General, Lloyd Owen (Monarch of the Glen) is playing the POTUS and, last but not least, Dame Diana Rigg as a rich American fugitive with a life-saving bunker in Slough, England and a selfish reason for wanting to reunite her family. 

The team of writers and directors is almost exclusively British and considering the subject matter of You, Me and the Apocalypse, it definitely has that familiar dark comedy feel. I watched the entire ten episode series when it aired on Sky1 in the UK and enjoyed it immensely. It makes me truly happy to see such a clever, well-constructed show like this be given a shot on US network television. If my enthusiasm has made you the least bit curious, it debuts on NBC this Thursday, January 28 at 8 pm ET.

What about that mystery thing the British do so well? Houdini & Doyle, a partnership of British, American and Canadian efforts, is a new offering from Fox this spring. As the name suggests, the mini-series tells the story of the collaboration of two legendary men - famed illusionist Harry Houdini (Michael Weston) and the equally celebrated creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle (Stephen Mangan). The two friends team up with New Scotland Yard to investigate unsolved and conceivably paranormal crimes.

But I hear you say, “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle traipsing around 1901 London with the world’s most famous magician, Harry Houdini?”  Well, it’s supposedly inspired by actual events. Add to it Harry and Arthur’s differing opinions on the existence of the supernatural and Fox might have something promising there. No specific date has been announced at this time – just Spring 2016.

And finally, we end with the channel known for mega hits like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. AMC is also the network that gave us last summer’s rather compelling British sci-fi series, Humans.

This year they’ve partnered with the BBC to produce The Night Manager, a mini-series adaptation of the John le Carre spy novel of the same name. Tom Hiddleston plays Jonathan Pine, a former solider turned hotel night manager. He is recruited by an intelligence operative named Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate the operations of a major arms dealer (Hugh Laurie). 

The cast of "The Night Manager", airing on AMC. (Photo: Mitch Jenkins/The Ink Factory/AMC)
The cast of "The Night Manager", airing on AMC. (Photo: Mitch Jenkins/The Ink Factory/AMC) 

The BBC has released a trailer, but at this time, it can’t be viewed in this country. However AMC has announced The Night Manager debut date as April 19, 2016 so, as they say, watch this space for updates on what’s sure to be an impressive espionage thriller.

All in all I think this trend is a sign that British telly addicts in America are being heard and our tastes are being catered to on a bigger scale than ever before. Is it too late to claim us from all the other platforms and niche providers out there? I’m not sure. I just know the more options we have, the happier this Anglophile gets.

Let’s chat – about the shows listed above, about the popularity of UK entertainment in this country and about how you get your Brit fix!