We British need to clean ourselves. Reality TV is our fault.

UPDATED: Wednesday, June 8, 2022 11:41
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Tuesday, April 20, 2004 2:34 AM


A letter to America...

You have been awfully good to us, you Americans. Yes, when we Brits hear you enthuse about us for our love of Firefly and proclaim us Browncoats, well, it makes our upper lips tremble with joy. But such joy masks a dark and troubled secret.

You see... it's all our fault.

Although reality TV is arguably a Dutch creation (starting with *gngh* Big Brother) it was first in Britain that it became so wildly successful. Remember how we used to have such wonderful, intelligent television shows with cracking script writing and great acting? Shows such as...

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Edge of Darkness
I, Claudius
Boys From The Blackstuff
Our Friends From the North

And many more. Well, it turns out that those shows were too difficult to make (after all, a hell of a lot of effort has to be put in to write a good script and story) and not enough people were watching them (only around six million a show, barely anyone really) and so there had to be a more *agh* viable alternative.

Never mind that we were respected across the world and especially in America for our great output, nobly shown by PBS and Masterpiece Theatre.

But no, such works of art were just not cost effective enough. And with the terrifying rise of celebrity obsession in this country, we needed to cater towards gossip magazine readers instead. We needed to supply a fix for people too tired and lazy to concentrate by coming up with a thousand variations of 'People go around to house, people find fault with people in house, people force people to change lifestyle/job/house/goldfish, people get shouty and annoying fast.' Or even worse, fame obsessed boys and girls willing to degrade themselves to appear in magazines and tabloids - and actually producing absolutely nothing worthwhile themselves. So the TV channels started introducing such programs, slowly at first, and then more and more as they became hugely popular and were so easy and cheap to make. And the hosts of such shows inexplicably became celebrities, despite having no talent or purpose whatsoever.

And American TV networks looked over the Atlantic, and lo, they saw that it was cheap, and that it made money, and that it was essentially evil. Three qualities apparently held in high regard by TV execs. And - God have mercy on our souls - we sold them to you. We sold you all the basic formats, to be cunningly renamed on your shows and tweaked for the trailer trash sensibilities. Our executives ran to America, lounged around in the hot sun of LA, and discovered that they had found their spiritual home.

And meanwhile, sweet, innocent, beautiful, funny, warm, intelligent, exciting, innovative shows like Firefly get cancelled. Because Fox finds reality TV easier. A format that we gave them. We. The British.

There is but one way we can atone for our crimes. Follow the path of the Anarcho-Intellectualist Gentleperson.

Step 1: Buy Firefly DVD's.
(Not so punishing a step, I know)
Step 2: Refuse to watch Fox. Even if it has one of your fave Simpson's episodes. Even if it has a rather good Malcolm in the Middle. Refuse. When it changes its policy, and starts behaving decently, we can go back to it.
Step 3: Investigate shows of worth, no matter how little publicity and press they may garner. Scour those midnight slots for any title that intrigues and give it a chance. If you get lucky, spread the word here and in person as to what you find.
Step 4: Read lots of books. Always read lots of books.
Step 5: At work or at school, when a conversation starts at your table or desk about the exploits of reality tv stars, begin to read Emile Zola or an equivilent obscure and beautiful author, taking care to hold the book up so all can see. Ocassionally smile to oneself as if you have discovered a great secret. If asked for your opinion on a 'celebrity', beg pardon but state that you were to engrossed in the antics of Atticus Finch or Father Brown to pay attention to their question. Then smile wistfully, and begin espousing your book. RISK SOCIAL DEATH.
Step 6:: Walk from a room when reality TV is on, or change the channel. Using force, if necessary.
Step 7: Write on paper to networks if:
A: A great old show is not on DVD, one that demands posterity.
B: A great show has been cancelled.
C: A new reality TV show has been commisioned.
Step 8: With the aid of shrines worship Alison Hannigan and Jewel Straite if you wish. Or Nathan Fillion and the delightful chap who plays Xander in Buffy if you prefer. They and other noble attractive people of good television deserve our fawning over the cruder, greedier, vulgar reality TV set.
Step 9: Take a cold shower once a month as penance, and add too much mustard to a sandwich once a week as further penance if you have ever espoused a reality TV show.
Step 10: Wear a hat. Hats are good.

These methods are severe, but to retain our grace there can be nothing less. America needs to restore faith in us, and we need America to continue to make the occassional excellent TV show and ship it to us. On behalf of all Brits I once again apologise and thank you for Firefly. With these strategies employed may I truly call myself an Anarcho-Intellectualist Gentleperson... or, indeed... a Browncoat.

P.S: Well, that's another half hour survived in my wait for my Firefly DVD through the post. Agh. Two more days I reckon. Will I survive?


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 2:46 AM


Can I watch the simpsons or malcolm when they are on sky 1 or bbc2?


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 2:49 AM


May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.


Great post NervousPete.

I don't suppose we Americans can let you Brits take all the blame for reality shows. If people here would quit watching them, and standing around the office talking about them, they would not be the plague they are now. It is amazing (and highly discouraging) that people know more about the reality show of the week and it participants than they do about world events or what their own government is doing.

Love your steps to penance.

"May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one."


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 3:02 AM


Excellent post, NervousPete...

I have British friends, and all of them are pretty sharp fellows... I guess I've just missed the millions of stupid ones... oh well...

I hope your wait is not too long.


Kaylee, will you marry me?


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 5:25 AM



Bravo, sirrah! I believe you've hit the nail on the head. While I have, in the past, blamed Simon Cowell and American Idolatry on the British, consider your race forwith forgiven, at least by this Yank.

My wife is British, but missed the 'reality' phenomenon over there because I stole her from your shores just over fifteen years ago. Today, she just craves "Eastenders", which BBC America have pulled from their lineup, while "Ground Force", "House Invaders" and similar dreck I can't even recall the name of choke the life from that media outlet.

Apparently, we proud, we few lovers of the dying art of storytelling are embattled and besieged on all sides by the forces of greed and vacuous voyeurism. We all share the blame for allowing this to happen; but it creeps up on you, doesn't it? The initial symptoms are so small and seemingly harmless; perhaps we all found our first taste of peeking into other people's lives somewhat guiltily stimulating. But most of us commiserating here -- some quickly, others not so much -- lost the taste for that flavor, because they saw there was no nutrition for the soul in that eye candy junk food. However, for every one of our number there are tens or even hundreds of our brethren who are apparently lost to this mind-numbing addiction.

How will we save them? I'm not sure that we can, at this point. A little divine intervention would not go amiss. I also like your 10-Step Program, especially since the whole 'social death' thing -- canned salmon in the mousse notwithstanding -- is rather a forté of mine. Perhaps in time, the wheel will turn -- which only really matters to us, the people out on the rim -- and we will be able to look back at the 'reality' era with the proper self-loathing and shame we once felt for shag carpeting, bell bottoms and shirts made from spun petrochemical by-products. ...At least until Fox come up with "That Naughty Noughty's Show" wherein they will make the death of quality look cute and nostalgic.

BTW, do I recognize a fellow Pythoner? You know, the other day I was thinking about how souls fail to properly develop, due to people becoming distracted by mindless, 'reality TV' drivel, when... What was that about hats, again?



"River and me was best friends, back then. I named my first-born daughter after her. 'Course, you can't swing a dead cat 'round here on I-Day without hittin' a River..."

- Kaywinnit Tam, wife and mother of 6, A Child Shall Lead Them: A History of the Second War of Independence Wilkins, Richard


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 5:40 AM


I think living under Murdoch appointed governments is punishment enough



Tuesday, April 20, 2004 5:50 AM


There's that wild English sense of humor that seems to be missing a lot lately. :O) I'm glad to see it still exists.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 6:48 AM


Ahhh... But you forget.

We are Americans. We are to lazy to blame a country so far away as England... So, we will instead blame those Canadians for everything!

Who's with me?

"Blame Canada... Blame Canada!"


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 7:17 AM


NervousPete, while I somehow doubt that the entire Reality TV boom is the fault of our British friends (I think the world over is just as hungry for voyeurism and gossip), I must agree that some of the finest scripted television I've ever seen came from Britain. Granted, I don't live over there and have no idea of the totality of programming, but despite "home makeover" shows, some of the best TV I can watch in the US is found on BBC America.

Case in point: A show I'd consider one of the single best comedies ever to appear on the airwaves - The Office. I've perhaps never laughed so much at a single show. The irony of it being that it's a parody of reality TV.

You got a wife? All I got is that dumbass stick sounds like it's raining.


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 9:08 AM


Great post, NervousPete. Loved the references to Alyson Hannigan and Jewel Staite. I'll have no problem at all following that part of the penance :-)

Unfortunately, reality TV is a worldwide scourge though, not just from these shores, although I fully agree its seemingly unceasing advance is now smothering our airwaves like never before.

"Popstars", the show which kicked off a lot of this drivel and its variants, originated in New Zealand (a country much beloved by this particular Brit, incidentally) and went to Australia before it came to us. "Big Brother" started in the Netherlands and numerous other shows are imported knock-offs of US formats.

Lets also not forget that quality does also sometimes get its share of the spotlight here in the UK, even if this is getting rarer these days. "Buffy" was relatively well treated and our version of the Sci-Fi channel went to the trouble of getting the correct screening order for "Firefly" from Joss himself, and the three unseen episodes (in the US) got their world premieres over here. Sci-Fi were even clued up enough to market them as such, and were rewarded with "Firefly" becoming a big success. It wouldn't surprise me if one of our channels buys "Wonderfalls" too, in due course. There are also occasionally great new programmes still made here, such as "Spooks" (known in the US as "MI-5").

Sadly, no matter where you may live it seems as though any lover of innovative, quality TV will always be outnumbered by the boneheaded masses craving their fix of watching the dregs of society being humiliated in public. A sad, sad, state of affairs. My television is barely more than a monitor these days for my VCR and DVD player. I've almost totally tuned out; there's so little to watch of any intellectual worth I confine my TV watching to news and documentaries mostly these days. For expanding the thoughts and making the heart soar, I'll stick with my often-spun "Firefly" DVDs :-)


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 10:08 AM


Well, I'm all right. - Mal


Originally posted by AdiWanRoc:
got their world premieres over here [UK]. Sci-Fi were even clued up enough to market them as such

The tv world premier of Trash, The message, and Heart of gold; were either on Brazilian TV, or shared by the South African channel SABC3 and the Spanish language MundoFOX - <>.
I am Jack's username
FTL in Firefly? <>


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 10:16 AM


I have seen the Devil, and his face is Fox....
I have spoken to the Devil, and face voice is Fox....

.... but it also hides itself, cunningly, wise a sheep's skin made of unscripted television.

Nervouspete, yes, the Brits introduced us to reality TV, but, it was created by a force too evil and far too powerful to resist. Much like Eve and the ill-fated apple, the temptation was not your own, but that of the Devil himself...

... and his name is Murdoch...

--The Hat

"I like smackin 'em"--Jayne


Tuesday, April 20, 2004 10:37 AM



What a delightful post. I enjoyed reading (especially the ten steps at the end).

However, as has been stated, don't take too much credit. We Americans are still watching the darn things. (Well, not personally, but I have to deal with friends who leave class early to get home for The Apprentice and a sister who asks me to call back if American Idol is on. At least we Joss fans know enough to let the machine get it if Angel is on!)

And I strongly suspect that our American TV execs would have come up with the idea on their own eventually. I believe bad ideas fly around all the time, looking for foolish people whose brains they can take over. They probably have non-stop flights to Hollywood daily. (I think the good ideas fly about, too, just a lot fewer of them and they're much more choosy.)

So don't worry. We Americans would have managed to kill our own TV programming without your help. And then we'd be apologizing for exporting those ridiculous shows right back to you.

But you can still have the blame for that annoying American Idol person, whom I particularly dislike because everyone assumes I have named my hamster after him. Anyone with any sense (that is to say, anyone who has seen Firefly), knows exactly why Simon is a good hamster name.



Tuesday, April 20, 2004 10:50 AM


Ah, I stand corrected...


SABC3 - 8th July 2003
Sci-Fi UK - 21st July 2003

"The Message":

SABC3 - 15th July 2003
Sci-Fi UK - 28th July 2003

"Heart of Gold":

MundoFOX - 12th July 2003
Sci-Fi UK - 4th August 2003

Sci-Fi did specifically market them all as "world premieres" though. A bit naughty as they weren't!


Wednesday, June 8, 2022 11:41 AM


Reality TV stars Todd and Julie Chrisley are found guilty of running yearslong fraud conspiracy






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