Monday, June 8, 2009

European Television

Outside of the UK, where the world's greatest broadcaster, the BBC, beams its magic from the Hebrides to Southampton (and throughout much of the rest of the world), television in Europe pretty much sucks.

I've watched a LOT of French TV, more than I'd like to admit. (I did live there for almost five years, though.) I've spent a fair amount of time in front of the tube in Holland, too, where at least the large number of American and British programs broadcast are subtitled in Dutch and not dubbed (into French, obviously) as they are in France. I've traveled enough to have been a pomme de terre ("potato" in French, although I don't think they use that expression) in a decent collection of European countries. And wherever I have gone, European TV has been mostly lousy.

I say mostly because it's not all bad. A couple of French comedies ("Les Guignols de l'Info," which parodied the news every weekday with puppets--seriously; and "GrolandSAT," which was presented as a fake satellite network from a fake French-speaking country), were pretty darn good. And some of the cultural programming was excellent--the kind of thing PBS or maybe A&E would be running here if either network had anything left in the tank intellectually. (OK, that's a little unfair to PBS, but I'll stick with it. Geez, that makes me sound like such a snob, but I'm really not. Seriously! I have beer in cans in my fridge even as I type.)

One Sunday-night French program, "CulturePub," explored the impact of advertising and marketing on French culture at large. It was fascinating viewing, which was surprising given that it aired on M6, which was kind of a French version of Spike TV married to the late '80s Fox Network. In other words, "CulturePub" was a diamond in the...well, let's just say rough, although more crass words come quickly to mind.

The real problem with European television for me is that much--maybe most--of it is the kind of stuff that's very pleasant to watch on Sunday evenings, when you're just trying to think about something other than work and want to take for a stroll the brain cells that go stale during the week. But on a weeknight, when the goal is to come home and zone out in front of, say, "The Office" or "Reno 911," Euro TV is found sadly wanting. It either offers old (and rarely very good--an important point) American programs and movies (dubbed into French in France, and therefore pretty useless), atrocious reality TV or more Sunday-night cultural stuff, the last of which just doesn't go over too well on Tuesday evening after a tiring day at work.

Of course, Euros don't really watch that much TV. The radio is still a very important medium in France, and when you have parks, cafes and bars only a few steps away in most neighborhoods in most cities (and even towns), TV isn't as necessary as a form of entertainment as it is in Suburbia, USA. So, when I was living in France, I was one of the few people who complained about how lame TV was. The natives (and some of the long-term expats) didn't know any better, and those who did didn't care because they had better things to do than sit in front of the tube.

That sounds nice, of course, and it is...but the truth is that I like TV and that I use it as a method for relaxation and recharging. That's pretty American of me, but, hey, I'm an American. (I'm even a native Texan, which I figure makes me some sort of super-American.) And as much as I miss Europe from time to time (particularly on Sunday nights, for some reason, which might explain why I'm watching French-language cultural programming right now), I have come to appreciate American TV, even if I think that it was better 25 or 30 years ago than it is now. But that's another topic for another post...and for another night.

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