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British TV Invasion

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British TV Invasion

Aristocrats, bromances and nudity-- what's not to love?

By Li Jingjing

Talking about British culture, what pops up in your mind first? The rock’n’roll that led music into a new era like The Beatles, or the British literature and films that have been sweeping the world for years like Harry Potter?

The UK, with its unique culture, has been influencing the world in many ways, and its TV series in particular have become popular worldwide in recent years, aided by the increasing ease of streaming TV shows online.

One of the most popular British TV exports, also the world’s longest-running TV series, Doctor Who, is about to mark its 50th anniversary this year in a Christmas special in November.

The enduring sci-fi series has been broadcast since 1963. After a few years on hiatus, it was back on BBC One in 2005. The show has seen 11 actors playing "the Doctor" so far. BBC announced in June that the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, will leave and Peter Capaldi will step into the role for the new season, raising the Doctor count to 12.

This change attracted global attention – Chinese fans included. In fact, many British TV series are causing quite a stir in China. Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Skins, Black Mirror – all these hit shows have their own small but growing Chinese fan bases. This trend can also be seen on online platforms. For example, Tencent’s video channel announced the launch of its new British TV channels on June 3. According to Xinhua, it cooperated with BBC Worldwide and ITV to exclusively broadcast nearly 500 episodes of British shows, including Doctor Who and Skins.

Waiting for new episodes of American TV series has already become a habit for Chinese fans of foreign TV. Now, a small but cheeky contingent is turning to British TV.

British glamour

An article published on August 9 about British TV shows in the entertainment section of described an unspoken "chain of disdain" among fans.

TV series from various countries fall at different points on the chain. Those who watch British TV series despise those who watch American shows, and those who watch American shows despise those who watch Japanese ones. Series from Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland and Thailand all rank at the bottom. Although created in jest, the list does reveal audiences’ attitudes.

Watching American TV series has become part of mainstream pop culture, and indulging in certain shows is now regarded as junk food for the brain. To this group of elite TV consumers, the culture and banter of British TV programs transforms binge-watching in front of a laptop into an intelligent and high-end pursuit.

As the article stated: "Watching British TV series seems to have already become an important lifestyle indicator. It represents intellectual superiority and a breadth of knowledge. With the new generation of netizens who considered 'dropping behind means dead,' watching British TV is edgy and not brain-damaging."

Hooked on storytelling

Doctor Who has stuck around for a reason. Unlike other sci-fi shows that emphasize special effects, Doctor Who focuses on the story and myth of its fantasy-infused world.

The short production cycle in the UK requires series writers to tell a story within tight, 10-episode (or less) seasons. This limitation enables content to be more refined. The shorter productions can also yield higher quality programs, both visually and intellectually.

Jiao Zhijun is in charge of operating Tencent’s British TV series Weibo account. He himself is a British TV lover.

"Unlike American TV series in which something exciting is always happening, British TV series have more subtle charm. It didn’t make an impact on me at first, but it was like slow, chronic poisoning," said Jiao about how he and his mom both fell in love with the Downton Abbey.

Jiao also mentioned that a spinoff of Doctor Who, Torchwood, is a perfect example of the difference between British and American TV series. Its first three seasons, made by a British team, told a love story between two men in a euphemistic way. The fourth season, produced by an American team, had more explosive effects and direct portrayals of homosexuality.

Bromance appeal

"Bromance," slang for a strong male friendship bordering on romance, is another draw of British shows.

Intended or unintended, lead actors in some British shows are guys that seem to have special feelings for each other. That is part of the charm for some – mostly women.

One show with a fiery "bromance" is Sherlock. Although it doesn’t clearly reveal the relationship between the mystery-solving duo Sherlock and Watson, most audiences prefer to inject their own ideas about the love between them.

"When you see it, it feels like they belong together. Even my mom said that!" Jiao said. "You will ask, why doesn’t he just kiss him?"

Brash tone

Those who still regard Britons as serious, mannered people without humor would be disappointed with most British shows. Contrary to the culture of nobility in Downton Abbey, shows like Skins disregard all inhibitions. It reveals the corrupted lives of British youth, wit with explicit language and nudity. Skins is quite popular among Chinese fans, according to Jiao.

"Maybe it’s because those are things that cannot be seen in Chinese shows," he said. Besides, Britons are good at self-deprecation, mocking themselves in shows like Little Britons. It is no not easy for outside audiences to understand British humor, or British culture in general, but those who love British TV series may get one step closer.

Caption: Doctor Who and Downton Abbey (inset) have attracted global followings, Chinese fans included.

Spelling corrections: Little Britain.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Jingjing, Li (2013-09-09). British TV Invasion. The Global Times p. 20.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Jingjing, Li. "British TV Invasion." The Global Times [add city] 2013-09-09, 20. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Jingjing, Li. "British TV Invasion." The Global Times, edition, sec., 2013-09-09
  • Turabian: Jingjing, Li. "British TV Invasion." The Global Times, 2013-09-09, section, 20 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=British TV Invasion | url= | work=The Global Times | pages=20 | date=2013-09-09 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=British TV Invasion | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 July 2024}}</ref>