Lost in Translation: Why Doesn’t US TV Treat Christmas Like The UK?
It’s strange to admit, but one of the things that I miss most about not living in the UK anymore is British Christmas television. There’s something about the way that the networks there really push the boat out that I find myself nostalgic for after a decade in the US, and it’s not just because the Yule Log does nothing for me.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, the Christmas Day line-up for BBC One features special Christmas episodes of not only Doctor Who, but also period drama (and, happily, PBS hit) Call The Midwife, long-running soap opera Eastenders and sitcom The Royle Family; ITV, the channel’s biggest competitor, fights back with special Christmas episodes of its own long-running soap Coronation Street and (fellow PBS hit) Downton Abbey, while other channels go for either festive super-sized editions of their own biggest shows (BBC Two has a Top Gear special, for example) or big movies (Channel Four is showing the first Lord of The Rings). There’s a sense that Christmas Day – or, really, Christmas night – is the night to go all-out for and try to give people the best of what’s on offer in some kind of metaphorical gift-giving kind of a way.
In contrast, the big four networks in the US are either going with re-runs or sports on December 25. I know, I know; I should, in theory, be in favor of this. Crappier television means that there’s less reason to watch, and more reason to spend time with loved ones and that’s a good thing and all, and yet… Well, good television was part of the Christmas deal for me, growing up; you’d ignore the television during the day, when there were presents and family and food to deal with – You’d eat dinner starting at some obscenely early point of the day, around 3, but it would last for hours – and then, by the time all the good shows started, you would sit around, silent and full of food, digesting and watching the box in a communal, pleasant, coma that entertains and allows you to recover for a couple of hours before a second round of socializing.
(Warning: The above may just have been my experience.)
I can understand, to some extent, why Christmas Day is a wasteland for American broadcasters; the television culture here is different and the lack of tradition for TV viewing likely means a lower turn-out no matter what the programming would be, which would translate into lower ad buys, which would translate into less incentive for programmers to waste new material, and so on and so on in a circular fashion that eats its own tail and ends up with dull holiday television for all. I still miss the idea of Christmas Day having “destination” shows, nonetheless; the cable channels are beginning to investigate the possibility with BBC America’s Doctor Who scheduling and this year’s final Leverage (which may be the final episode ever, and therefore gets accidental “event” status), but I can’t help but feel there’s a missed opportunity here. I turn to you, dear readers: If there was good new television on Christmas Day, do you think that you’d tune in? Or would you be more likely to TiVo it and watch it when everyone else has gone home?