Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1007: Go Global, Why Not?

Television is not only already global, it is becoming more and more global every day. Cruise the industry's news sites and not a day goes by without talk about some format being brought from one country to another, TV shows being not only being shot in multiple countries, but being produced by companies from different countries, or some actor from another country signing a deal to work in Hollywood, or about a Hollywood actor signing a deal to work in some international co-production.

I think you would have a hard time finding a show on any major American network that doesn't have at least one Canadian, Brit, or Australian somewhere in the cast or crew. It's even more prevalent on cable, where outright Canadian shows like Lost Girl, and Continuum, do great business on the SyFy Channel, and the Canadian/British/Irish produced but Hungarian shot drama The Borgias does well on Showtime, and the American based History Channel's first scripted drama Vikings, is not only a hit, it's a Canada/USA co-production shot in Ireland.

Now some see this as a reason to be concerned, feeling that it will somehow dilute national identity, and create something akin to what the Brits called "Europudding."

Europudding was coined to describe the first attempts at international TV co-productions in Europe in the 1980s to take advantage of European Union trade rules and local tax breaks and funding opportunities. The problem was that in an attempt to appeal to everyone, especially the government funding and tax break dispensing agencies, by creating the blandest and broadest shows most of these productions failed to appeal to anyone, and sank like a stone.

But I think the situation now is quite different, and we won't be seeing any more "Europuddings" or what some might call "Atlantic-puddings."

First thing is that while tax breaks and production costs do play a part where these shows are being made, they don't dictate the creative side. Not only that, but this round is not being driven by government agencies and public broadcasters trying to fulfill some sort of bureaucratic spending target. The bulk of these international productions are being driven by private broadcasters and producers, and they don't seem to be trying to create programs that are processed and homogenized for global audiences out of whole cloth.

The process now seems to involve someone coming up with a premise or story, then that gets taken by a producer who then takes it around to other producers and broadcasters from other countries who might be interested in pitching in. If they're interested, they buy in. If they're not, they don't, and have to buy a dubbed version later if it becomes a hit in the original countries of origin.

You see, homogenizing programming fails because it is based on the premise that audiences in different countries have different tastes. They do, to a certain extent, but there are certain things that all audiences share. They like stories where lots of things are going on. They like action, suspense, and soap-opera melodramatics. Give it a historic, fantastical, or science-fictional setting, and your audience gets even wider.

Also co-producing in the Europudding era was all about doing shows as cheaply and as quickly as possible to fulfill some mandated quota or take advantage of some financial scheme that was probably both ethically and fiscally unsound. Which meant that the production values were often very weak.
These days you can't get away with cardboard sets, flat lighting, and tinny sound and expect to sell your show anywhere, let alone in the whale of TV markets the USA.

Good production values are now cheaper than ever, but they're even cheaper when producers and broadcasters from different countries work together sharing the costs.

Now kitchen sink dramas centred around hyper specific local phenomena probably won't qualify as an international co-production. But on the bright-side, the profits made by successful international co-productions can pay for making them if the producers so desire and their domestic audience wants them.

So I say bring on the co-productions.

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