January 3, 2011

DON'T GIVE US TOO MUCH CREDIT...:

Americans understand The Wire. So why simplify Downton Abbey for them? (Sarah Crompton, 1/02/11, The Telegraph)

My New Year has been much cheered by the news that Downton Abbey has had to be simplified for American audiences on the grounds that they will not understand the bit about inheritance. Anyone who has read any of the novels of Edith Wharton will know that the statement from PBS executive producer Rebecca Eaton that "we thought there might be too many references to the entail… It is not a concept people in the US are very familiar with" is simply untrue. The difficulties of fortune and inheritance power whole tracts of American 19th-century fiction. So educated audiences (that is, the ones who are likely to watch Downton Abbey in the first place) will probably understand the plot considerably better than I did, since I missed the first episode entirely and never grasped what was going on.

It's also an extraordinary statement for an American TV executive to make. This is, after all, the country that gave us The Wire, possibly the most complex series of plotlines ever devised. Are we really to think that US audiences understand drug-dealing in Baltimore any better than they grasp 19th-century legal shenanigans? Of course not. PBS is just being silly.

It is, ironically, the sophistication of the best of American television that I most admire. At Christmas I watched episodes of The Larry Sanders Show and was amazed once again at the sheer audacity of a concept that creates a fake chat show, peoples it with real guests, and then uses the whole thing for satirical ends.


...I thought it was "Downtown" and about an inner-city church...

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 3, 2011 7:04 AM
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