“Until around 1980, three commercial networks enjoyed a monopoly in the US television market. However, changes due to new technologies, business lobbying and government outlook have led to a very crowded television marketplace, with up to 850 different stations on air.” – Albert Moran, from his book ‘New Flows in Global TV‘
It’s only just hit me now, which is ridiculous because this course is called Television Cultures, but TV really is a culture. (My brain kicks in during the last week of semester, that would be right!) It’s a national culture that we partake in to watch the latest news, and view live events, particularly sport. But it’s also more personal than that: we have the shows we watch and talk to our friends, colleagues or classmates about. Every Friday when the new episodes of Glee come out, a friend who I haven’t seen since high school and rarely talk to otherwise and I ‘live text’ each other as we synchronise watching the show. When I asked my best friend about what I should talk to a college friend of his who is in one of my classes, he said: Just talk about ANY TV show!
So in this way, we bond in a special manner with our country when watching, say the AFL grand final, or the entire world with the Olympics (despite a lot of coverage being skewed for our local audience). But we also connect with international shows in an effort to connect with our friends; we transcend from the extensive public space, to our own private space.
As Giselinde Kuipers explains in the article, ‘Cultural Globalization as the Emergence of a Transnational Cultural Field‘, “television is simultaneously very national and very international. This makes TV an interesting field to analyze the process by which national cultural fields “open up” to transnational cultural exchange.”
One show that branches from the international to my personal world – one where I don’t
talk about this show to anyone unless I happen to be at my parents’ house and mum is watching while she does the ironing – is my favourite daytime talk show: Ellen, of course!
Ellen is often passed off as just an everyday talk show host that dances a lot, but she can always make me smile. She has a real knack for bringing out the best in people, and frankly I adore her!
But as an American show, often I can feel left out. Ellen occasionally visits her home town of New Orleans (Or “Nuu Awwlinz”) and takes the camera crew along, but many of the ‘Southern’ jokes, accents and aspects of life go straight over my head.
An episode of Ellen starring Matt Leblanc ended in a game where each had to guess what accent the other was imitating. One accent by Leblanc was ‘Valleygirl’, a word I’d never before come across as a descriptor for that typical teenage girl-ness: “Oh, my gawd!”
In his book ‘New Flows in Global TV‘, Moran provides the example of Channel 9 as a case study of formats relating to the Australian television production sector. Moran explains it is worth noting that Australia has had a mix of public and private service since television began, which is now supplemented by cable and community TV services. “There has been a tradition of adapting overseas programs for local television – hence the public service broadcasts the ABC borrowed heavily from the BBC while independent producers when to the United States for formats. … Nowadays, the main genres of format imports are game shows, reality programs and makeovers, and the predictable national sources are the United Kingdom, the United States and The Netherlands.”
While not all jokes can be translated to different cultures, whether from America to Australia to The Netherlands, in general the sentiment can be understood. Ellen is an unmistakeable example of a television show ‘borrowed’ from the United States by Channel 9. Watching this program as an Australian, I can appreciate many of the gags, but perhaps differently to the American, Canadian, New Zealander, British, etc, etc people watching – it is indeed “a world where all cultures are both (like) ‘us’ and (not like) ‘us’” (Ang and Stratton, 1996) and this synthesis into enjoyment for many cultures is something I think Ellen captures very well.
Aside from Aussies being smart enough to access the lols, Ellen does connect with Australians on some level quite specifically: she married ‘our’ Portia Derossi, and because of this she will sometimes sprinkle the show with jokes on Portia’s behalf, or facts she might have learnt that seem funny/ridiculous/interesting to her. So the cultural jokes and information work both ways! Ellen’s Australia as Country of the Week episode works to both invite Australians to watch or connect with those Aussies already watching, and make fun of them, for example with the boomerang coffee cup in the clip below.
To me it seems that relate-ability is the key for television (or anything, really) to cross over from one culture to the next. It seems Koichi Iwabuchi would agree. As Iwabuchi explains in his book Koichi Iwabuchi – ‘Discrepant Intimacy’:
“An early twenties [Taiwanese] informant told me that the life style and love affairs in an American drama such as Beverley Hills 90210 are something she enjoys watching, but she found Japanese love stories more realistic and easier to relate to. A 17-year-old high school student also told me that ‘Japanese dramas better reflect our reality. Yeah, Beverley Hills 90210 is too exciting (to be realistic). Boy always meets girl. But it is neither our reality nor dream’.”
Kuipers also explains in her article ‘Cultural globalization as the emergence of a transnational cultural field’ that while Dutch and Italian audiences find American programs to set the standards for “good” television, those in France and Poland find these programs less attractive as they are less used to American conventions and visual language. “Here, buyers can be pickier … For instance, they liked German and British programs for their cultural closeness and potential for identification. The realistic, slow German shows are considered good for older audiences. Programs from the United Kingdom, and from American independents, are perceived as less “slick” and more experimental than American mainstream TV, making them attractive to more “edgy”—often public or youth-oriented—channels. The “sharper” and “dryer” British comedy is often preferred to American humor.”
So in regards to television transcending the borders, it seems pretty clear that the ability to connect is paramount. If I weren’t able to connect with or relate to Ellen, despite her being American, famous, middle-aged and so on, I simply wouldn’t watch.