Danny Cohen, the BBC's head of television, has claimed that a metropolitan elite of “box set snobs” is responsible for the perception that US television dramas are far superior to their British counterparts. In what is sure to be a very controversial statement, Cohen has argued that domestic dramas like Downton Abbey and Sherlock are just as good as House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and other award-winning US series.
Writing on a BBC blog, Cohen argued that only due to "the very best” US shows coming to the UK our perceptions of American superiority are skewed, making their content seem far better than what he thinks they really are.
“A trope has developed, a cultural meme that asserts that American drama is far superior to drama produced in the UK and at the BBC”
He went on to highlight that British shows are unfairly maligned by;
“box-set consumers who have a larger voice in Britain's cultural dialogue than the average family who sit down at night in Britain's towns and villages to decide which drama they want to watch.”
Although admitting that BBC shows do sometimes fall short of the mark, he highlighted recent successes such as crime thriller Happy Valley, 1950s drama Call The Midwife and detective series Luther. He also had praise for ITV shows Broadchurch and Downton Abbey.
He even commented on the series lengths in America stating that “box set viewers” delight in bingeing on multiple episodes of US series which advance characters over 13 or 26 episodes.
“I would argue that the right length for a series is the one that most effectively and creatively fits the story being told.”
He certainly has a point. Discussion surrounding Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game of Thrones is everywhere, it seems as if the whole of Britain watches these shows religously. Yet what people fail to remember is that we also gather in front of the screen for Downton Abbey, Broadchurch, Happy Valley, Line of Duty, Sherlock and Call the Midwife. All boast acclaimed or international successes, and are further supported by their viewing figures. One look at them and even the omnipresent Game of Thrones can't get anywhere close to these British, free-to-air offerings.
It is worth nothing that he did not address acclaimed US ratings-winners such as The Good Wife, The Blacklist and Scandal which are also shown on UK cable and satellite channels.