Monthly Archives: October 2011

Sink or Swim: The Transatlantic Translation of British Television

If a television show is successful and profitable in England, it is easy to argue that its success and profit will only grow in a bigger marketplace such as the United States. However, some television shows simply cannot be translated for the American audience. The success of a television show depends completely on how it is adapted to fit its new cultural context.

It is difficult to ignore the rising trend in television shows coming from the United Kingdom and being adapted and remade for the United States. Shameless, Being Human, Skins, Episodes, and even The X Factor are all examples of repurposed television shows that either have already or will be premiering in 2011 (McNutt). This is, however, nothing new. Many recreated English adaptations have made their way to American screens over the past several decades, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

The truly successful shows are typically the ones that people have forgotten are originally from the United Kingdom in the first place. Norman Lear’s 1970’s television series, All in the Family and Sanford and Son, were both adaptations of the British originals Till Death Us Do Part and Steptoe and Son, respectively (Spicer). A slew of reality and game shows have also made their way across the pond in the form of American Idol (from the English Pop Idol), Dancing with the Stars, Top Gear, and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (Spicer). No conversation about adapted English television can ignore The Office. With rights sold in eighty countries, The Office has established itself as the most successful original British comedy series to be exported (Griffin 3).

Throughout the years, there have also been many adapted shows that simply did not translate well for the American audience. Fawlty Towers, Coupling, Life on Mars, and Spaced are just a couple examples of shows that met with low ratings and cancellations early on in their recreated forms in the United States. What then makes for a successful adaptation? Where did these shows go wrong?

I propose that the success of an original British television show in the United States is dependent on how it has been adapted to fit its new cultural context. To adapt is “to make suitable to requirements or conditions; adjust or modify fittingly” (Dictionary.com). Consideration must be placed on the recreation of characters and settings without losing a show’s essence, finding the right audience and the right

network, and conforming to a new set of regulations and commercial needs. To demonstrate the importance of these factors, I will be focusing on three British adaptations currently in their first season in the United States:

Shameless, Being Human, and Skins

Shameless revolves around the lives of the dysfunctional Gallagher family, lead by the patriarch, Frank, who spends a majority of his time too drunk to take care of himself, let alone his six children. The children, Fiona, “Lip,” Ian, Debbie, Carl, and Liam, all of varying ages, are left to fend for themselves as they straddle the line between working class and poverty (Abbott “Episode One”). The show is an hour-long dramedy with one season so far aired in the U.S. on Showtime and eight seasons in the U.K. on Channel 4 (Channel4.com).

Being Human is about three supernatural beings, a ghost, a werewolf, and a vampire, who form an unnatural friendship and live together as roommates. All three struggle with what they have become and attempt to go against their supernatural nature to live ordinary lives and be human (Whithouse “Being Human”). Being Human is an hour-long dramedy currently in its first season in the U.S. on SyFy and in its third season in the U.K. on BBC Three (BBC.com).

Skins follows an unlikely grouping of high school teenagers growing together as they grow up. The show explores each character individually and as a group as they confront such controversial topics as eating disorders, sexual orientation, substance abuse, and death (Elsley “Tony” 2007). Skins is an hour-long teen drama with one season aired in the U.S. on MTV and five seasons in the U.K. on E4 (E4.com).

Globalization Theory

This paper examines the exchange and appropriation of media and the ideas held within that media between two different countries. This is an aspect of the theory of globalization. The term globalization refers to the integration and interdependence

between two or more countries on both a minimal scale, such as individual persons, or grand scale, such as large corporations and governments. “Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole” (Robertson 8). Politics, economies, technologies, and cultures are being exchanged and redefined by globalization. The speed, intensity, and extent at which this is occurring is also unprecedented (Bohman).

The television industry as a whole has become globalized. Large television networks and production companies extend past geographic boundaries and span several countries. Viacom is a great example. Viacom owns and runs MTV Networks, BET Networks, and Paramount Pictures and is, in turn, responsible for such channels as MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central. With representation in 161 countries and territories, Viacom content is shared in 33 languages through locally programmed and operated television channels and hundreds of online properties (Viacom.com).

As a result of such broad reach, media conglomerates have played a large role in the globalization process and the spread of ideas. Film and television circulate ideologies and general concepts held in their native country and promote acculturation. This is particularly evident when very powerful nations export culure to smaller nations  (Bohman). This theory is referred to as media imperialism. In contrast, how is this exchange handled between two different countries of dominance like the United States and the United Kingdom?

The concept of globalization can be viewed and interpreted in various ways, although most opinions lie at either of two extremes: progressive and beneficial or capitalistic and detrimental. I will be approaching my thesis from a neutral frame,

regarding globalism as neither positive or negative but rather as a natural and unavoidable process.

Recreating Characters and Settings

Arguably the most vital process in adapting an English television show is recreating the same plots and themes while adjusting a show’s settings and characters to reflect what would be found in the United States. In many situations, this also happens to be the most challenging element of adaptation. A successful approach to this issue can be to take current issues and themes from the United States and carefully apply them to the imported show. This is most often expressed through a show’s characters and the space in which these characters must interact.

Sanford and Son is an example of this idea used successfully. Many forget that Sanford and Son is a remake of an original British television show by the name of  Steptoe and Son (Spicer). The basic story elements remain the same between the two versions: a working-class father and son run a junkyard. The United States’ version, however, rewrites these characters as an African-American family and sets the junkyard in South Central Los Angeles (Museum of Broadcast Communications). By incorporating race, the creators of Sanford and Son were able to adapt the story to make it more relevant for an American audience with whom it eventually found commercial success, apart from the British Steptoe and Son.

A more recent example of an adaptation is Showtime’s Shameless. “In remaking a series from another country, a key challenge is a setting that will resonate in a similar way to the setting of the original” (Griffin 4). The writer/producer responsible for bringing Shameless to the United States, John Wells, has mentioned in an interview his argument against early decisions to have the American version set in the South (Rochlin). The British Shameless is set in the city of Bristol, a large urban city in South West England. In order to keep in line with its original, Wells pushed for the show to be set in Chicago’s South Side, an area that would better resonate with the original show’s setting in Bristol but still be viewed as very “American.” According to Wells, this allowed for the audience to relate to these characters and their struggles without painting them in the stereotypical images often associated with the South. Wells wanted an urban audience to feel as if this family could be people they actually (Rochlin).

In addition to appropriately translating the setting, it is also necessary to make adaptations to characters. With a show like Shameless, which features a family with many archetypal characters, it is important to consider the different roles in the family structure according to the culture for which it is being made. For example, the character of Fiona, the eldest child in the family, is depicted as more motherly and matriarchal in the American version (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). This becomes a more prominent feature and driving force for the American Fiona throughout the run of the season.

Another way to go about this is by following in the same steps of Sanford and Son and finding themes and current issues relevant for the U.S. audience. In both versions of Shameless, Ian, the second oldest brother of the Gallagher clan, isgay.  Additionally, in the American version Ian is interested in joining the military (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). This calls back to the current American hot topic of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy. The American Shameless also brings forth the theme of race. Unlike the British version, Liam, the youngest child in the Gallagher family, is of mixed race (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). This plays into a storyline later on in the American version. The neighbor characters of Kevin and Veronica are also depicted as a bi-racial couple in the American version. In the American version, Kevin is Caucasian and Veronica is African-American, as opposed to the English version where they are both Caucasian (Abbott “Episode One”).

Within the first two minutes of both the U.S. and U.K. Shameless pilots, the audience is introduced to the setting as well as all the principle and some secondary characters of the show (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”; Abbott “Episode One”). The setting and action appears to be nearly identical, with Bristol’s skyline being replaced by Chicago’s, as a riotous group of people gather around a fire drinking, laughing, and having a good time. As the scene progresses, both incorporate short vignettes about the characters that make up the Gallagher family.

A comparison of The American and English versions of these vignettes reveals the differences between the American characters and their English counterparts. Fiona, for example, is shown holding tissues to the noses of two of her younger siblings telling them to “blow,” as Frank, the father, narrates through voice-over how much Fiona reminds him of her mother (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). In the English version, Fiona, is shown laughing and lovingly caressing her baby brother Liam’s face for a total of four seconds as Frank’s voice-over only offers a quick comment that Fiona is a”massive help” (Abbott “Episode One”).

Likewise, American Ian is established as a straight arrow, shown in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) practice as Frank emphasizes Ian’s interest in the military (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”). English Ian is merely shown laughing then running from something unseen as Frank talks about how similar Ian looks to his mother (Abbott “Episode One”). Kevin and Veronica, the neighbors, also got more air time in the American version, having their own vignette as opposed to the English pilot where they are only mentioned briefly and shown in a cut (Abbott “Episode One”). In the American pilot, Kevin and Veronica are depicted as a more sexually adventurous bi-racial couple, with Veronica coming off as a stronger African-American version of her English original (Wells “Father Frank, Full of Grace”).

The setting and characters of Shameless have all been manipulated in such a way so that they are in some way or another more “American, yet still maintain a great

resemblance to their English versions.  The appropriation of current issues and news headlines also help in the translation of these characters and their backdrop in a completely different country. The writers and producers must carefully balance the differences and similarities and what narrative elements need to be focused on more than others in order to adapt a show from one country to another and produce a show that is a ratings success.

The Right Network, The Right Audience

Knowing the target audience is important for any show, but for an imported show, the same content may call for a different audience in its new country. What other competitors are there in this new marketplace? Where does this show fit in culturally with its new audience? And what network is most appropriate based on the content?

Before finally finding a home on Showtime, the American Shameless was in development at NBC for a short while, followed by some time at HBO (Bernstein). In the words of John Wells, “I was always very concerned that we wouldn’t be able to do the content. Not that it has to be exactly the same content, but a certain pulling back [to accommodate broadcast network standards] would make it not the same show. And then it was at HBO for about three-and-a-half years” (Bernstein). HBO ended up passing on the show, giving Showtime the opportunity to pick it up (Bernstein). By being aired on a premium service channel like Showtime, the adaptation of Shameless could still be done without Wells’ initial worries of too much “pulling back” for network standards.

By comparison, Skins offers an example of a show that did not find ratings success because it challenged values in the United States. In the United Kingdom, Skins is aired on E4, a free digital television channel targeted to young adults (E4.com). Although known for the scandalous behavior of the characters on the show, it was well received critically and has won numerous awards (E4.com). In the United States, however, its adapted incarnation on MTV was met with a lot of backlash and negative criticism, despite the TV-MA warning, censoring of obscene language, and omission of nudity found in the U.K. original (Elsley “Tony” 2011). As it turned out, the American audience  was much more disapproving of Skins’ depiction of teenagers than the British audience was for the U.K. version. In the same way Wells was worried about avoiding controversial content for Shameless were it to have been aired on NBC, Bryan Elsley, the creator and executive producer for both the U.S. and U.K. versions of Skins, did not “pull back” enough. Based on the success of Shameless, A show like Skins would probably have been better suited to a premium service channel.

Being Human found its place in the United States by being aired on SyFy, a channel that has undergone rebranding over the past couple of years with the goal to create programming “that’s more accessible and relatable to new audiences” (Blastr.com). In the United Kingdom, Being Human is aired on BBC Three, a channel geared to the 16 to 34 year old demographic of “people who are young in spirit and mindset” (BBC.com). With a show like Being Human, which is about the supernatural, consideration of competing shows in the American marketplace was important in determining the right network. The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural were already being aired on the CW network. True Blood has proven itself as a hit on HBO. MTV was developing its own remake of Teen Wolf.

Based on previous ratings, a show about the supernatural or fantastical would be way too risky for any of the major networks to produce. Just compare the success of sitcoms like Modern Family, 30 Rock, and The Office to shows like Medium, Ghost Whisperer, and Pushing Daisies. With shows about vampires and werewolves already being aired on several networks, mostly marketed to teenagers, Being Human needed to find a channel geared to a slightly older, more mature age group that would still be receptive to a show about such creatures. SyFy was the safest and most secure channel for the show to develop without the pressure of conforming to the trends in how vampires and werewolves were already being depicted on other television shows. With an average of 1.8 million viewers in its first season in the U.S., Being Human has already been deemed SyFy’s most successful winter scripted series launch in 6 years (Hibberd).

Different Regulations and Commercial Needs

There are various differences in both the United States’ and The United Kingdom’s television broadcast norms. This ranges from its communication regulations, general story structures and framework, and the commercial needs placed on television from either country. In the United States, communication regulations are set by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC (FCC.gov). In the United Kingdom, the equivalent of the FCC is called Ofcom (Ofcom.com). Both organizations handle the same kind of tasks in regulating all forms of communications and broadcast in their own countries, but it is the differences in how the task of judging the content being produced and aired on television is approached that should be examined when adapting that content from one country to another. The best way to illustrated this is with the adaptation of the television show Skins.

As previously mentioned, when the freshly adapted U.S. Skins was first aired on MTV it received with a lot of criticism from parents and organizations, and mixed reviews by critics. This was despite it’s near shot for shot likeness to its award winning English predecessor. In any case, the show’s pilot adhered to all FCC regulations, as reassured by MTV. The Parents Television Council, or PTC, disagreed.  The PTC argued that although MTV rated the show TV-MA and aired it at 10:00pm, they marketed Skins to a much younger than appropriate audience (parentstv.org). The PTC also stood behind the argument that some scenes from the show may even be in violation of child pornography statutes (parentstv.org). In response, the PTC bypassed the FCC and called for a federal investigation on the show for child pornography.

As Mark Estes, blog writer from TV Overmind, puts is, “The thing that the PTC and some highly sheltered American teens don’t get is that the MTV’s Skins is tame compared to it’s source material (Estes).” The FCC acted as a harsher regulator against the show compared to Ofcom with the U.K. original but not harsh enough according to many parents. After the premiere of the pilot, sponsors of the show immediately began to drop their sponsorship and disassociate themselves with the show. By the time the second episode aired, MTV had lost sponsorship from H&R Block, Foot Locker, General Motors, Schick, Subway, Taco Bell and Wrigley (Elliott).  By comparison, the U.K. version airs commercials for some of the U.K.’s largest brands (Zana).

Another very important element to consider in the adaptation process is the television show’s story structures and framework. The typical American television season runs between 20 and 26 episodes. The typical U.K. television series only runs about half that length between 6 and 13 episodes. The writers and producers of Being Human had no other choice but to get creative when expanding the seven episodes of the first English series to a total of 13 for the American audience, still a small amount of episodes by American standards. One approach was to stretch out the character development further in the first couple of episodes and incorporate different characters and situations for the purpose of creating new storylines that help define the characters more. The most prominent example in Being Human is the character development for the ghost in the show named Sally in the U.S. version and Annie in the U.K. version.

In the U.K. Being Human Annie can already be seen and heard by other people. She can also manipulate objects by actually physically touching them. The first episode opens with Annie waiting for the pizza delivery man, being overly excited upon his arrival and having a full conversation with the young man, then physically handling the pizza herself and shutting the door behind her (Whithouse “Being Human”). For the first couple of episodes of the U.S. Being Human Sally’s inability to connect with others becomes the driving force behind her character’s personality. She can neither be seen nor heard by anyone other than her werewolf and vampire roommates, Josh and Aidan. What affects her even more is the fact that she can’t touch or be touched. She has not yet mastered the ability to manipulate physical objects (Carver, Fricke “There Goes The Neighborhood, Part 1”).

Slowing down the character development allowed the writers more creative room to to both stretch out the storylines and create a character apart from the U.K. Annie. This modification of Annie/Sally’s character led to the creation of unique American characters that would be introduced to Sally throughout the season and would teach her lessons in being a ghost. In episode 3, “Some Thing to Watch over Me,” Sally is introduced to Tony; the only other ghost Sally has had contact with up until this point. Tony is the first person since her death that Sally has been able to actually touch. He teaches her how to leave the house and in return, she helps him move on (Carver, Fricke “Some Thing to Watch over Me”).

Sink or Swim?

All three of these factors, setting, character, and programming can at times be dependent upon each other and one creative solution to one problem can be a good solution to another. The new approach to the character of Sally in the American Being Human worked in extending storylines by several episodes and helped adapt the character with a new set of ideologies more suited for the American audience. The decision to air the American version of Shameless on Showtime meant that the show could remain true to its original form by not having to censor adult content or worry about commercial sponsorship.

The adaptation of television shows and content from country to country is sure to increase as globalization continues to expand communication capabilities. It is important to know why some shows work and some shows don’t. By reimagining characters and settings without losing a show’s essence, finding the right audience and the right network, and effectively conforming to a new set of regulations and commercial needs a television show can find success in whatever country it is being exported to. What it all comes down to is an understanding of both cultures and the ability to translate content.

Works Cited

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“Being Human” Being Human, Pilot. Writ. Toby Whithouse. Dir. Declan O’Dwyer. BBC Three. 18 February 2008. BBC, 2008. DVD.

Bohman, James. “Critical Theory (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Spring 2010             Edition).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Spring 2010. Web.             <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2010/entries/critical-theory/>.

Channel 4. “Shameless.” Channel4.com. Channel 4. Web. 8 May 2011.             <http://www.channel4.com/programmes/shameless>.

Channel 4. “E4.com.” E4.com. Channel 4. Web. 8 May 2011. <http://www.e4.com/>.

Dictionary.com. “Adapt | Define Adapt at Dictionary.com.” Dictionary.com.             Dictionary.com. Web. 9 May 2011. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/adapt>.

Elliott, Stuart. “As ‘Skins’ Nears the Finish Line, Madison Avenue Still Shies Away –             NYTimes.com.” A Guide to the Media Industry – Media Decoder Blog –             NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 8 Mar. 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2011.             <http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/as-skins-nears-the-finish-            line-madison-avenue-still-shies-away/>.

“Episode One” Shameless, Series One. Writ. Paul Abbott. Dir. Mark Mylod.             Channel 4. 13 January 2004. Channel 4, 2007. DVD.

Estes, Mark O. “Skins UK vs. Skins US: An Analysis.” Web blog post. TVOvermind. 4             Mar. 2011. Web. 29 Mar. 2011.             <http://tvovermind.zap2it.com/cable/mtv/skins-            mtv/skins-uk-skins-            analysis/50172>.

“Father Frank, Full of Grace” Shameless, Season One. Writ. John Wells. Dir. Mark             Mylod. Showtime. 27 March 2007. Warner Brothers, 2007. Live.

Federal Communications Commission. “About the FCC.” FCC.gov. Federal             Communications Commission. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.fcc.gov/>.

Griffin, Jeffrey. “The Americanization of The Office: A Comparison of the Offbeat NBC Sitcom and Its British Predecessor.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 35.4             (2008): 154-63. Print.

Hibberd, James. “Syfy Renews ‘Being Human’ for Second Season | Inside TV |             EW.com.” EW.com. Entertainment Weekly, 17 Mar. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2011.             <http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/03/17/being-human-second-season/>.

“Interview: John Wells Gets SHAMELESS When It Comes to Projects – Part 1.”             Interview by Abbie Bernstein. Assignment X. Assignment X, 6 Mar. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <http://www.assignmentx.com/2011/interview-john-wells-gets-            shameless-when-it-comes-to-projects-part-1/>.

McNutt, Myles. “Ch-Ch-Changes: Thoughts on January’s British TV Invasion | Cultural             Learnings.” Cultural Learnings | Television Reviews and Analysis. 19 Jan. 2011. Web. 19 Apr. 2011. <http://cultural-learnings.com/2011/01/19/ch-ch-changes-            thoughts-on-januarys-british-tv-invasion/>.

Museum of Broadcast Communications, The. “Sanford and Son.” The Museum of             Broadcast Communications. The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Web. 1              2011. <http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=sanfordands>.

Ofcom. “What Is Ofcom?” Ofcom. Ofcom. Web. 21 Apr. 2011.             <http://www.ofcom.org.uk/about/what-is-ofcom/>.

Parents Television Council. “Skins on MTV.” Parents Television Council – Because Our             Children Are Watching. Parents Television Council, Jan.-Feb. 2011. Web. 03 May 2011. <http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/campaigns/Skins/main.asp>.

Robertson, Roland. Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage,             1992. Print.

Rochlin, Margy. “The Family That Frays Together.” NYTimes.com. The New York             Times, 17 Apr. 2011. Web. 31 Dec. 2010. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/02/arts/television/02shameless.html?_r=1&pa            gewanted=all>.

Blastr.com. “SCI FI Channel to Become Syfy; “Imagine Greater” Is New Message.”             Blastr.com. SyFy, 16 Mar. 2009. Web. 8 May 2011. <http://blastr.com/2009/03/sci-fi-channel-to-become.php>.

“Some Thing to Watch over Me” Being Human, Season 1. Writ. Jeremy Carver, Anna             Fricke. Dir. Jerry Ciccoritti. SyFy. 31 January 2011. NBCUniversal, 2011. Live.

Spicer, Nathan. “10 Great American Adaptations of British TV.” Paste Magazine.             PasteMagazine.com, 9 Apr. 2011. Web. 3 May 2011. <http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2011/04/10-great-american-            adaptations-of-british-tv-show.html>.

“There Goes The Neighborhood, Part 1” Being Human, Season 1. Writ. Jeremy             Carver, Anna Fricke. Dir. Adam Kane. SyFy. 17 January 2011. NBCUniversal, 2011. Live.

“Tony” Skins, Series One. Writ. Bryan Elsley. Dir. Paul Gay. E4. 24 January 2007.             Channel 4, 2007. DVD.

“Tony” Skins, Season One. Writ. Bryan Elsley. Dir. Scott Smith. MTV. 17 January 2011.             Viacom, 2011. Live.

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Zena H. “Advertisers Pulling Out of “Skins” Air Time.” Grown Up Thinking.             GrownUpThinking.com, 26 Jan. 2011. Web. 26 Apr. 2011.             <http://www.grownupthinking.com/index.php/tag/commercials/>.

The Workplace Family

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009, the average working American spent two hours a day providing childcare for their children, compared to seven and a half hours per day in the workplace. Culture is changing; where family values were once the cornerstone of success in America, we are experiencing a shift towards greater importance being placed in the workplace. This change has even affected our media. As society has grown to value career aspirations over family values, the family sitcom has evolved into the similar workplace sitcom. When we once turned on the television to watch families like ours work out their problems, we now seek out depictions of workplaces we can relate to.  This growth within the genre is apparent when looking at archetypes presented, the cast of characters, and the narrative structures.

To get a full understanding of the sitcom evolution, one must look at genre theory. Genres are forms of classification. As Victoria O’Donnell defines it in Television Criticism, “These tend to be tried and true formulae that have certain predictability and familiarity.”  There are general genres found in television that can be instantly recognized, such as situational comedies, talk shows, news programs, or dramas. These can also be broken down into smaller categories, or sub-genres, such as medical dramas, cop dramas, or soap operas, for example.

Broadly, genre theory aims to classify different types of text into their own categories.

According to Jane Feuer, author of Genre Study and Television, a genre is “ultimately an abstract conception rather than something that exists empirically in the world.” Because of all these different classifications and the various ways they can be identified (such as theme, style, or formula), it is hard to nail the definition of a genre, and genres change as society changes. For example, O’Donnell brings up how the situational comedy used to deal with married couples comprised of a working man and his stay-at-home wife, as seen in I Love Lucy (97). But a modern day situational comedy often deals with working women, single parents, or even same-sex couples. In his book Film Theory, Robert Stam suggests, “while some genres are based on story content (the war film), other are borrowed from literature (comedy, melodrama) or from other media (the musical). Some are performer-based (the Astaire-Rogers films) or budget-based (blockbusters), while others are based on artistic status (the art film), racial identity (Black cinema), locat[ion] (the Western) or sexual orientation (Queer cinema).”

Though there are so many different ways to classify television shows and other texts, being able to separate them into genres and sub-genres helps isolate certain types so they can be further analyzed as a group. These genres often reflect “cultural norms, concerns, and fears as times change” (O’Donnell 99). Genres can often reflect the times they are set in or were created in, such as the American western. They reflect different histories, morals, and values. Each different genre has its own identifiable characteristics – comedies make us laugh, dramas make us cry, news programs inform us, talk shows discuss. However, single texts found within these genres do not necessarily have all the possible characterizations of the genre – that would be impossible. Daniel Chandler, in the article “An Introduction to Genre Theory,” suggests that genres can be seen “as ‘fuzzy’ categories which cannot be defined by necessary and sufficient conditions.” They are fluid and ever-changing, but nevertheless an important way to classify and analyze text.

The situational comedy is an elastic genre, with many sub-genres branching off beneath it. Sitcoms began with family-oriented themes and “no matter the type of sitcom, each followed the same basic structure and its content was influenced by current events” (Smith 31). All in the Family, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Addams Family; even the quirkiest of setups was most often filled in with actual family of characters. Some were large ensembles showing many different types of characters, such as The Brady Bunch’s overstocked cast of two parents, six children, and one housekeeper. Some were smaller, as in All in the Family’s two parents, one daughter, and one son-in-law. But the families reflected the times and different relationships, and different sitcom archetypes.

Also essential to understanding the shift from family sitcom to workplace sitcom is narrative theory. Narrative structure is a system of presenting a story; it “recounts one or more events, thus a story in a series of events arranged in an order” (O’Donnell 73). It is generally an identifiable pattern that helps the viewer interpret and understand the material. This comes across in many forms. Archetypes and characters show us people we recognize over and over in different media. Myths are cultural tales that are widely known and easily picked up on, offering classic insight into wrong and right. The narrative structure itself can be analyzed, as patterns between structures are formed and used to represent the narrative in a way that can be understood easily by the viewer.

For example, Aristotle presented his own theory – the most widely used theory – in his book Poetics. It presents a simple three act structure, with an emphasis on plot above all other elements (O’Donnell 74). The three acts follow a pattern each time: conflict, complications, resolution. It is quick and simple, and thusly it is often used in films or television shows as a means of following action. Another common theory is that is Vladimir Propp, outlined in his book Morphology of a Folktale. His structure begins with equilibrium, follows it into disequilibrium, and resolves by restoring the equilibrium (O’Donnell 75). The most important aspects of his structure are lack and or/villainy; the hero wants something he does not have, that the villain is possibly keeping away from him. There is also Roland Barthes’s theory, based around a “hermeneutic code” (O’Donnell 75). There is first an enigma that brings the audience to ask a question that will need to be answered by the end. Next there is a delay, which puts off a solution for a time. In the end, a resolution ends all curiosity over the enigma by fulfilling it. While these are some of the more common theories used, narrative structures are elastic and identifiable.

Archetypes are an important aspect of narrative theory, and a clear way to identify how family sitcoms have influenced workplace sitcoms. Archetypes are “recurring patterns of actions, character types, or identifiable images whose expression is an unconscious product of the collective experience of the entire human species, an unconscious mental record of such experiences, the uncollective unconscious” (O’Donnell 83).

Some typical classic character archetypes are the hero and villain, the mother and father, the leader and sidekick, the wise elder and foolish youth (O’Donnell 83). In family sitcoms specifically, the archetypes often rely on status within the family. An early stereotypical take on the family can see seen in a show like Leave it to Beaver, where the father is the authority figure who goes to work, the mother is the housekeeper that dotes upon the boys, and the two sons are the cute children who learn lessons every week. This was the American Dream, the “perfect family,” the nuclear family. Sitcoms in these days often ignored social issues occurring in the world and focused on upholding moral standards. No one discussed the unequal gender roles or how minorities fared. Television families were successful, white, and straightforward, and it is clear who had the power, what the gender roles were, and the type of clean-cut family image that was being represented.

The family sitcom itself has changed since then. It went through years of change with minority families on shows such as Good Times, which showed an African American family living in a low income Chicago neighborhood, and social issues were talked about, as seen when All in the Family’s bigoted Archie bumped heads with his liberal son-in-law. Family structure itself took new forms and changed; no longer was the nuclear family the only structure that was seen. However, the patterns found in the earliest sitcoms still translated to the current ones; there were still parents, children, and extraneous family members that fell into the same patterns, albeit in more modern situations.

The archetypes seen repeated in family comedies can be applied similarly to an ensemble of employees. According to the website tvtropes.com there are plenty of different family archetypes. The Patriarchal character is the father: a man of authority, the overprotective father who always ends up warming hearts in the end. This can be translated over to the boss figure in workplace sitcoms, as a person who holds authority but also cares for his employees. The Matriarch is the mother: caring, protective, and generally good natured until provoked. This can be translated over to a boss figure or the most caring person in the workplace; essentially, the glue that holds the work family together. Children archetypes vary depending on the character. There is the dork, a smart underdog. There is the precocious child, who is the youngest child in the family; this character is purely innocent and used for the cute factor. There is the teenager, who is prone to fighting and defying authority. Various employees in a workplace sitcom can take on any of these, especially if they are especially cared for by the boss. Various other characters can be seen in family series, such as the loser, the bully, the charmer, or the goofball, among others. Often times, characters like aunts or uncles (in family sitcoms) or people outside the staff (in workplace sitcoms) fill these roles.

The characters themselves are hugely important. While you can trace archetypes between genres, it is also easy to see similar characters between specific shows. This in particular highlights the similarities between the characters needed to fill a sitcom family, and the characters called on to fill a sitcom staff.

Take the late ‘80s/early ‘90s family sitcom Full House. Compared to the television families of the ‘50s, the Tanners were a highly unorthodox family. However, there were still the recognizable family figures within the ensemble. The father figure was represented by Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), a widowed father who was good-natured, caring, and somewhat goofy. In place of the deceased mother, he was joined by two friends, who became Uncle Joey (Dave Coulier) and Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) in the pilot episode. They were the show’s odd-couple duo, Joey being the typical goofball while Jesse was the slick ladies’ man. Eventually, Jesse married, and his wife Becky (Laurie Loughlin) became the show’s first and only consistent mother figure, as she related to Danny’s daughters in ways the men couldn’t. And the three girls – DJ (Candace Cameron), Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), and Michelle (Mary Kate Olson, Ashley Olson) – each had their turns at being the dorky child, the popular child, and the precocious child as they grew. They even used outside players, such as Kimmy (Andrea Barber) the neighbor, the five-minute character that no one wanted around, or Steve, DJ’s boyfriend who was not the brightest crayon in the box. The family, while being unorthodox in terms of nuclear family structure, still retained many of the typical family roles, and certainly the sitcom archetypes.

Conversely, when looking at a workplace sitcom ensemble, the same character types can be seen. For example, Parks and Recreation is a mockumentary set in a small-town government’s parks and recreation department. At the center of the show is Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), the deputy director of the department, who’s optimistic, hard working, and naïve. She’s what keeps the entire department motivated, with her positive energy and endless faith in change. Therefore, she takes on a motherly role, often taking care of the other characters and looking out for them. In the season two episode “Christmas Scandal,” the rest of the department takes on her workload when she has a day off, and when she comes back, they find an appreciation for her as an authority figure in their workplace. Department director Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is her opposite, a libertarian who proclaims no interest in caring for other people, but does so reluctantly, and therefore becomes the department’s father figure. While there is nothing romantic about Leslie and his relationship, it is reminiscent of an Odd Couple archetype, where they butt heads but ultimately care about and support one another. The season two episode “Ton and Tammy” finds Ron butting heads and nearly reuniting with his abusive ex-wife; Leslie ends up getting him out of the situation, wherein he realizes that she’s the only person who’s ever cared enough about him.

Younger department employees Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) and April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) take on the role of the children. Tom is intent on being the suave one, the unsuccessful ladies’ man, who likes to appease Ron (like a son would want to impress his father) and tease Leslie. April is the unaffected youth, the blank-face teen who wants nothing to do with the parental figures, but actually gets advice and protective care from both Leslie and Ron. The four of them, while not always the central focus of the show as a group, form a sort of representation of a nuclear family, albeit a dysfunctional one. Ron’s role as the father is unintentional but apparent, as in the season three episode “Harvest Festival.” Everyone in the department is bickering while stuck on a ferris wheel, and Ron takes it upon himself to scold them, even telling April, “Quit being a child.” His form of discipline for the immature employees is similar to that of a father.

Similarly, Leslie’s motherly side is highlighted the most in the episode “Fancy Party.” When April announces a very sudden wedding, Leslie is worried for her well being and attempts to talk her out of it, eventually boiling over until she scolds, “You need to go to bed!” And in the end, April embraces her and admits that she loves Leslie and is happy she is there.

These story ideas and character types were carried over from family sitcoms. Even the other characters have similar roles – co-worker Donna (Retta) is the “cool” aunt, underdog Jerry (Jim O’Heir) is the overlooked uncle, shoe-shiner Andy (Chris Pratt) is the goofy neighbor, Leslie’s best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) and love interest Ben (Adam Scott) are the outsider voices of reason. And at the end of each episode, they are a family coming together to care about each other.

Narrative structure is applicable to the sitcom, in order to see the similarities between the two. The pilot episodes of Parks and Recreation and Full House are similar in nature. When we meet the Tanner family in the episode “Our Very First Show,” Danny needs help raising his daughters, and Jesse and Joey step in to give it a shot. The family comes together under one roof, where they begin to drive each other crazy. The uncles do not know how to take care of three young girls, and the comedy arises from the situation. At the end of the day, everyone comes together because they are family. They care about each other and need to support each other so they can continue to function. The need to raise the girls brings everyone together and gives them a central focus. They even come together to sing the Flintstones theme song, solidifying the fact that they are, indeed, a family.

Now, in “Pilot,” the first episode of Parks and Recreation, Leslie learns about an abandoned pit in town at a public forum. She wants to do good for her town, so she vows to get the pit filled in and have a park built on the land. However, she needs the help of her department. Even though everyone is there out of obligation to their jobs, they all join her “task force” and begin the journey to bring the park to fruition. Ron eventually approves of their committee due to his reluctant care for Leslie, and everyone supports her because she is the glue that holds the department together. They come together, like a family, to achieve one goal. And at the end of the day, they have fun together and care about each other. Funnily enough, it even ends in song.  Both shows used their pilots to unify the characters, and it works out the same whether they are blood related or being paid to be there. The ensembles are a family, a group of people who have to get along and care for each other, no matter what the situation.

In her article “‘What have you ever done on the telly? The Office, (post) reality television and (post) work,” Tara Brabazon looks at the evolution of The Office as a result of reality television. While the narrative structure of The Office is set up like a documentary in the popular form known as “mockumentary,” that is not the defining aspect of the show. The characters within do not reflect those of a reality television show, but those of an unorthodox family, brought together not by relation, but by circumstance. While the voyeuristic approach to storytelling in a mockumentary lends itself to parodying reality shows, the situations and characters reflect those of a family.

In the season two episode “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” socially oblivious manager Michael Scott announces his role as the group father, and his outlandish exploits to make the office an entertaining place for his employee’s kids shows him having the desire for parental authority and affection. And his employees act like his children; faithful Dwight supports and helps him, like a child eager to please. Jim and Pam, the two level-headed, precocious young employees, clean up his mess, they play out the archetype of children being smarter than their parents.

When Michael Scott left the show in the season seven episode “Goodbye Michael,” the characters reacted as though losing a father. Dwight finally gets the chance to play paintball with him, as if he were a child finally earning the attention and praise that he always wanted from his father. Reality television rarely aims to show warmth between characters; it reaches for conflict that does not always need a resolution.

But The Office and other similar workplace comedies, show a group of people working together, having affection for each other, and resolving their problems like a family. If the point of the show was simply the mockumentary structure, it would not have the heart that it is known for. The familial relationships are what make the show work.

Parks and Recreation has a similar heart. Rather than show the severe conflict that reality television feeds off, the show aims to show a warmer side to the workplace ensemble. “For storytelling purposes, there has to be conflict,” says the show’s creator Michael Schur, “but that doesn’t mean the people have to be mean.” With the notion of keeping the characters friendly and the conflict purely situational, the ensemble forms the makeshift family. Many episodes of the series exist simply to show people coming together. “The Camel,” an episode in season two, finds the department trying to create a new town hall mural for a contest. Initially there’s conflict among them, as everyone believes their ideas to be the best for the project, but Leslie eventually brings compromise to the group, with everyone coming together to make the mural together, defending each other’s ideas instead of fighting them. When the show always aims to reach such a warm place, there is hardly anywhere for the ensemble to go but to become a family.

American society has been evolving and changing from the moral family values of yesteryear to the career-driven aspirations of modern day. People are spending more time than ever with their co-workers, and starting families later to make time to get work done. Sitcoms have picked up on the trend; truly, the workplace sitcom is a direct descendant of the family sitcom. As America spends more time at work, our favorite fictional characters spend more time bonding with their coworkers. This change is important because it shows how our media reflects our society; when the culture shifts, what we watch on television shifts to compliment it.

Sex, Drugs, and Adolescence

Gather some attractive teens/young adults and give them vivid back-stories, throw them in a glamorous city, or even just a small town, there’s bound to be some story there. Growing up is a tale that quite frankly, doesn’t get old and this is the reason that teen television has been flourishing since it became a recognized genre in the 1980s (Ross and Stein 12). How do I know what defines teen television? This is a question I asked myself time and time again. What’s the difference between a cast of teens in the fast paced city of New York, and a small town in Bristol, London? I realized not through research but through being a fan of shows like Gossip Girl and Skins, that being a teen is a universal transition. It is the bridge from childhood to adulthood, when lines become blurred, bodies’ change, and one’s curiosity is at its peak.

However it was through my research that I have realized the vast differences between shows that originated in the United States as opposed to show’s like Skins that were created in the United Kingdom. There are obvious differences like the style of clothing and the slang used, but more significantly the ideologies and the cultures are extremely different and have a great effect on the show. Although at first glance it wasn’t clear, I see now that the genre of teen television seems to bend in accordance to the country.

In television today we categorize our programs according to a list of generalities for example we have drama, situation comedies, news shows, and reality shows. About three decades ago another genre was added to the list, and teen television has become a notable part of television history. However as times change genres begin to mold with the conventions of the new lifestyles and these broad classifications begin to blur making it difficult to note what shows belong to what genre. This is where genre theory is introduced (O’Donnell 96).

For television, genre theory is important to understand as a viewer but even more so as a critic or member of the industry. The genre not only deciphers the types of shows that are created, but also where they will be placed on the schedule and the typical demographic of the show. As society becomes more reliant on the media and technology, genres will also allow the critic to see how the medium affects and reflects the audience.

In Genre Theory as a Tool for Analyzing Network-Mediated Interaction it says, “They suggest that what is important in understanding a genre is identifying the underlying social and technical forces which produce the regularities which characterize a genre” (Erickson). Basically saying, that genre theory is more than just separating shows into categories, but reading between the lines and understanding why certain shows are popular.  Viewers only watch what they are familiar with and so it is up to the industry to “blend and bend genres.” Even as conventions and social norms change on a regular basis, the audience must be able to identify key characters or formulaic structures and storylines in order to relate and accept shows. The biggest concern theorists face is whether or not these categories are limited to just one specific culture or if they are worldwide (“Introduction to Genre Theory”).

From the perspective of pop culture historians, teen television was not a recognized genre until the 1980s. It was in this decade that American networks began to cater to the appeals of adolescents. It’s important to understand that this genre was not just born over night, but that there were many influences and other staple shows, some in different genres, that inspired what is considered to be one of the most marketable niches. In the introduction of “Teen Television,” Ross and Stein give an example of how classic American shows would be categorized today as teen TV. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (ABC 1952-66) was a show that told the story of the rising teen star, Ricky Nelson. “The program regularly aired videos after each episode, featuring Ricky singing his newest hit.” Ross and Stein both agree that this could quite possibly be one of the first teen television shows (12-13).

While its true that teen television often intertwines pop culture, fashion, and music into their story lines, what makes the show “teen” is the showcasing of the “coming of age” story. Ross describes it best when she says that adolescence is a period during which bodies begin to develop adult characteristics, including sexual development, “and yet when one has little social power”. This period of time is about finding one self, finding a community to fit into, and dealing with the emotional and physical changes that one undergoes (Ross and Stein 7).

Today the genre has become a global phenomenon and there are entire networks exclusively devoted to teen audiences. I believe that the classifications of genres are a worldwide concept allowing two different countries to make two very different shows targeted towards the same audience and sending the same messages. This is because at some point or another the cultures of the host country bend the classifications of what it means to be a teen television show, allowing their ideologies to shine through.

It’s no secret that the United States is torn between whether abstinence or safe sex education should be taught in schools, and this proves true in the reflection of our society through hit teen television shows like Gossip Girl. Writers use their best efforts to keep all parties happy, but still there are many parents who find the show, and many shows like them, not fit for teens. From the beginning creators, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage received harsh reviews from parents. Sites such as Parentstv.org continue to bash the content saying that the “provocative kissing, erotic situations, and skimpy clothing” are sending the wrong message (Gildemeister). However when it comes to Irin Carmon, a writer on a blog site, Jezebel.com, she begs to differ. She says, “For all of the casual sex on Gossip Girl, if you’re a good girl, [it means] you want to save it for something special” (Carmon).

Like many other American shows, Gossip Girl continues to stress the importance of teens losing their virginity. Because in the United States that is exactly what is preached, sex is monumental, and even more so, sex is a private matter. In addition to this writers are constantly writing diverse characters with different moral codes, this in itself remolds the cookie cutter shape that fits the genre of teen television.  Take for example the character of Blair Waldorf, the beautiful queen bee, from Gossip Girl. She is popular not only in this fictional world but also to viewers.

In the first season Blair is a virgin waiting patiently for her prom night so that she can consummate her relationship with her boyfriend, Nate. This aspect of the story caters to viewers who aren’t completely abstinent, but believe that the right thing to do is to wait. The last thing that Blair wants to do is tarnish her reputation because in the world of the Upper East Side, image is extremely important. However at the end of episode 7 in season 1, Nate breaks up with Blair and explains that he no longer has feelings for her. This sends Blair off the deep end and straight into the arms of Nate’s best friend, the pompous Chuck Bass. After a night at a burlesque club, heart broken and bitter, Blair decides to lose her virginity to Chuck (Schwartz, Wharmby “Victor/Victrola”).

For many viewers this was more than a turn off, many teens related to the character of Blair and could not believe that she was lost to the seduction and glamour of “losing it,” and worse that she lost it to the malicious and arrogant Chuck Bass. But the writers of Gossip Girl were aware of what message they had just sent and so in future episodes they justify this reckless act. Blair ends up falling in love with Chuck and Nate loses his “good guy” image by becoming a player. The writers manipulate fans, allowing them to understand, and even sympathize with Blair, no matter what their beliefs are or stance on sex. With Blair on his side, Chuck becomes more and more appealing to the audience allowing Blair to keep her good girl reputation.

One Tree Hill is also a great example where writers struggle to keep all viewers happy.  One character Haley is a proud virgin and waiting until marriage, another character Brooke is reckless and overtly promiscuous. And in the middle ground we have Peyton, the 16-year-old who is not a virgin, but still views sex as a big deal. It is the perfect compromise producers purposely planted in order to satisfy not only American teens, but also American parents. We have Haley for abstinence, Peyton for safe sex, and Brooke the character both sides make an example of, screaming: this is what not to do (Schwahn, “Every Night Is Another Story”).

Across the pond we have E4’s hit teen drama Skins. The UK channel is known for pushing the limits, but with a “mostly teen cast that swears with the propensity of the characters found in HBO’s Deadwood and The Sopranos,” I, along with many others, am surprised it is allowed to air on network television.  The show revolves around Tony, the good looking but manipulative heartthrob, and his group of friends. As an American I was immediately surprised to see that there is no stress on the characters’ sexual tendencies. In fact the show has been praised by viewers for showing it like it is, and being one of the first in it’s time to depict teens as sexual beings with out disapproval or judgment (Tsjeng).

For example in season 1, episode 6 Tony and the gang head off to Russia on a school trip. Tony is roomed with Maxxie, a close friend and an openly gay character. Throughout the episode Tony and his girlfriend, Michelle, are seen having sex and fooling around in the boys’ hotel room. In the last segment of the episode, Maxxie arrives back to the hotel room and finds Michelle asleep in Tony’s bed. Tony enters from the bathroom and attempts to seduce Maxxie, explaining that he wants to try something different. They start to make out, and eventually Tony ends up “going down” on Maxxie. Halfway through Michelle wakes up and witnesses her boyfriend cheating on her with a close friend (Schiffer,Clough, “Maxxie and Anwar”).

“What is admirable about the show is that no sexual, or social issue is off limits,” one TV reviewer says.  He writes about how in America the idea of oral sex is taboo, embarrassing even. This idea relates back to the ideology that sex is private and personal. In shows like Gossip Girl, The O.C., and One Tree Hill, teen characters go from “first to last base,” conveniently leaving out any indication that there are any other steps in between (Film-book.com). But on Skins, there are all types of sex, “drunk sex, lesbian sex, casual sex, unprotected sex,” and the list really does go on (Tsjeng).

Interestingly enough this upcoming January, MTV is remaking Skins and many critics are wondering how true to the stories they will be. “The British-made version that airs on BBC America is censored for language and nudity. It will be interesting to see how sanitized the MTV version might be (Zurawik).” The series will take place in Baltimore, and although the original writers are still on board, even they admit that there are changes being made so that the stories can fit the American audience. One major change that has caused arise among original fans of the UK series is that producers felt that the homosexual character of Maxxie would be better suited in America as a girl (Autostraddle.com).

With today’s access to sites like Netflix and Hulu, TV shows have become easily accessible to audiences all over the world. For American teens, this means that they get the chance to see what life is like for their peers over in the UK. However, it also allows parents to check out what going on, and just like every teen show that airs in America, the Parents Television Council also have put in their two cents about E4’s hit. In one article PTV council member, Christopher Gildemeister, addresses the relationship between the teens and authoritative figures. He references one episode in which socially awkward and late bloomer, Sid, learns that he is in danger of failing an important class. His teacher gives him the opportunity to write a paper in order to save his grade. However instead of listening to his teacher and his father, Sid sneaks out to a party. Instead of disciplining his son and sitting him down for a one on one talk, like they do in America, Sid and his father get into it. They throw the “F” word around along with many other curses with out hesitation and although on BBC America these words would be bleeped out, in the UK they are not (Gildemeister).

For Gildemeister this is just the top of the list of things he doesn’t like about Skins. He touches on authoritative figures again when he talks about the relationship between characters Chris, a student and his teacher Angie.  “After repulsing a fellow adult teacher’s advances, schoolteacher Angie grabs teenage student Chris, kisses him and proceeds to have vigorous sex with him,” (Gildemeister). This relationship went on for about two seasons, and in the end there were no severe consequences. Angie simply decided that she wanted to move on when an ex-lover, that was actually her age, came back into her life (Shiffer, Clough,“Maxxie and Anwar”).

It’s understandable that this would raise red flags for parents, but in a subsequent post Gildemeister met again with the topic when a young British Teen wrote a letter expressing her feelings on the show. She fought back claiming that Skins did not promote bad behavior or foul language, it just portrayed what life as a teen these days is really like. “You don’t understand it: We do. It was made in Britain, for British teenagers. It uses our slang, our culture: it incorporates our fears and our hopes. What seems farfetched and unrealistic to you is real and true-to-life for us. We all know a Sid or a Tony; this makes the programme work,” (qtd. on parentstv.org). Although Gildemeister can’t and won’t agree with the Skins’ fan, I can’t say that her statement isn’t true.  After all, I was not a teenager in Britain.

Even so, I can use my knowledge of what it was like to be an American teenager, and here in America parents and teachers have the last say. Skins may have gotten praised for its raw depiction of teen sexuality but American shows like The O.C. have also contributed new ideas to the genre. The O.C., which was also created by Josh Schwartz the creator of Gossip Girl, was one of the first shows to make adult characters a prominent part of the story in a teen drama. “Sandy Cohen does not just disappear after he brings Ryan home to Newport Beach. He is an integral part of the storylines, a laid-back father who plays video games with his kids and surfs to clear his head,” (notablebiographies.com).

This also allows insight as to what role a parent plays in an American teen’s life. In The O.C., Sandy and Kirsten were very present in their kid’s life.  Therefore their son, Seth, was very well behaved and excelled in school. Where as Ryan’s mom picked up and left, abandoning him. However the fact that the orphaned and troubled Ryan was able to make something of his life regardless, demonstrates the idea that hard work always pays off. Not to mention that Ryan, luckily had two responsible role models to look after him (Schwartz, Liman, “Pilot”).

So far I have touched on many of the differences in culture between the United States and the United Kingdom. But there is also one major difference that I have not included, and this is the law of each country. In the United States the legal drinking age is twenty-one, a person must be nineteen to purchase cigarettes, and the age of consent varies between 16-18 years. The use of illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine is not tolerated along with the abuse of prescription drugs (justice.gov).  For the United Kingdom the legal age to purchase alcohol is eighteen, to have a glass of wine or beer with a meal in public a person must be sixteen and to drink in the privacy of your own home you must be over the age of five. One must be over the age of eighteen to smoke cigarettes, and the age of consent is sixteen. Like the United States, the use of illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and the abuse of prescription drugs, are not tolerated (legislation.gov.uk).

These variations make a huge difference for the stories that revolve around teenagers. In Skins, the teens are often seen at pubs and bars. The show is also infamous for their lavish parties in which they wreck homes and drink themselves to a stupor. Characters buy and deal drugs, and in one season even get into major trouble with a local drug lord (Brittain and Elsley, “Tony”). To the American viewer this may seem extreme and out of the ordinary because even though programs, such as Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill, show teens consuming alcohol, because they are not of age yet it is not shown to this extent. If writers wish to include a relaxed party scene they imply that the characters are drunk without showing beer bottles or liquor. This is one of the reasons why foreigners often point out the infamous “red cup” that American teens hold in party scenes.  In One Tree Hill the character of Peyton tries cocaine and her friends nearly disown her, and beg her to get help (Schwahn, Dickson, “Truth, Bitter Truth”). And although the characters of Gossip Girl are seen smoking marijuana, it is an extremely touchy subject (Schwartz, Wharmby, “In the Realm of Basses”).

Like the subject of sex, American producers feel they must justify why characters act out, making examples of them, or using dramatic back-stories to make it acceptable. For instance in Gossip Girl, episode 12 of season 1, Serena and Blair decide to throw a party at the school pool.  They intended it to be just their closest girlfriends, but word gets out and soon nearly half the school is present. The party gets out of hand quickly; students are drinking alcohol, taking drugs, and running about the pool recklessly. When a student gets seriously injured the party comes to a halt and Dan Humphrey steps up, calling the ambulance and taking the blame for the party. Later in the episode viewers discover that the injured student nearly died, with the schools reputation at risk Dan is in danger of being expelled (Schwartz, Wharmby, “School Lies”).

On the other side of the spectrum, Skins makes Gossip Girl look like an after school special. On urban dictionary, a site for defining the slang and terms of young adults, the term “skins party” has already been coined. It is, “A party inspired by the British E4 Drama, Skins.  These parties usually involve large amounts of drugs, alcohol, sex and loud music. After the skins party, the guests usually wake up in somebody else’s house completely disorientated,” (Urbandictionary.com).  For the Skins’ kids parties like these are a common occurrence, and usually happen at least once an episode.

Obviously the party scenes are much more racy in the United Kingdom as opposed to the United States, however what I wish to point out is not so much the parties, but the aftermath. Because parents aren’t a prominent role in the UK show, it is very rare that there are repercussions to the destruction caused by the parties. If the kids of Skins had thrown a party at the school pool like in Gossip Girl, I doubt that they would get caught or even in trouble, and if they did it would most likely be used as comic relief.

It is also important to understand the differences of education in each of these two countries. In the United States a child must go to school completing grades K through twelve. This is the minimum amount of schooling a child must undergo, typically they are five years old when they begin, and seventeen to eighteen when they finish (ed.gov). In the UK, children attend school from the age of five to sixteen. Once they complete those years they have the option of continuing for another two years, this is called sixth form. If they complete sixth form then they can choose to continue on to what we would consider a College or University (educationuk.org).

Like I noted earlier this idea of the American Dream, hard work will pay off, is extremely important to the culture. Even with the recession and economic issues it is encouraged that students continue with their studies after high school. In shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C., where the characters grew up in fast paced and glamorous cities, they feel the pressure to attend Ivy League schools and either follow in their parents footsteps or surpass them. While in Skins, the stories are based less on the weekdays and time spent in school, and more on the nightlife and weekends. Although we see them in school, the teachers and class work is often portrayed as a joke.

In season three creators, Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, made the decision to replace the whole cast with a new generation of faces. In the premiere of season three the new students arrive at their new school and immediately are brought into the gymnasium. There an assembly is held, where the head mistress discusses the rules of the school. Although at first the adults seem in control and intimidating, the student body quickly breaks out into a riot when the character of James makes a scene by pulling down his pants. He’s obviously punished, but in comparison to what kind of trouble he would be in, in America, what he receives is equivalent to a slap on the hand (Elsley, “Everyone”).

Yet again, using Gossip Girl as an example, this kind of acting out would most definitely result in a suspension or quite possibly expulsion and news such as this would be catastrophic not only for their parents but for the teen characters as well. Being that I am familiar with the characters of Skins, I feel that being expelled would only result in more extravagant parties and careless acts. Although it may not seem realistic, I find that that’s the charm in the writing of the show.  “In a world where the grown-ups are ridiculous caricatures of adult authority or entirely absent, it’s the teenagers who are left to sort out the resulting mess themselves,” (Tsjeng).

I often hear people criticize teen television saying things like, “Well when would a kid be allowed to do that,” or “Where are their parents right now?” My question to these people is exactly the same, when was the last time a plane crashed on an island with almost forty survivors, or what about the group of friends from downtown New York who spend all their time in a coffee shop, when exactly do they go to work?  No matter what genres a television show falls under, the whole point of the stories is to entertain. A viewer is supposed to suspend their belief to a certain extent, and if a show is written well the unrealistic aspects will tie together so nicely with the cultural ideologies that a viewer will start to believe that these stories could happen or would happen.

In the end I realize that there are many more differences than the three that I have researched. I could even find differences between two shows created in the US but set in different states. However all these variations do not make separate sub genres, because despite it all, the similarities all send the same message. Take away the accents; plot devices, the extravagant party scenes, and controversial sex scenes. What remains is a group of adolescence trying to find their place in life. It’s about that feeling of falling in love for the first time and making mistakes that for once bear consequences to heavy to carry. At the end of the day it’s about being a teenager.

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