What’s the World Watching?

chinauglybetty300Whenever I meet someone from abroad, I can’t wait to ask them what TV shows are popular in their home country. In the U.S., we are inundated with information about the popularity (and financial success) of every imaginable kind of entertainment product, but it’s pretty rare to hear about what’s topping the charts abroad. Fortunately, the Hollywood Reporter recently released a special report about trends in global markets. Here’s what’s dominating the global airwaves now:
The U.K. appears to be overrun with dancing competition programs, including one hosted by Simon Cowell called the X-Factor. One of Germany’s most popular shows now is also hosted by a U.S. reality show star: Germany’s Next Top Model has Project Runway dominatrix Heidi Klum at the helm.

In Mexico, teen-oriented telenovelas are the big hits. The tried and true telenovela genre was getting long in the tooth, but smart broadcasters like Televisa have figured out how to take soapies across digital platforms. Too bad Guiding Light (cancelled after a 72-year run) didn’t manage to do that here.
Perhaps the most surprising discovery is in France.

One of the most protectionist countries in the world found ratings gold in an English-language (yes!) miniseries called XIII, which aired on NBC in February. Best described as The Bourne Identity meets 24, with Val Kilmer instead of Kiefer Sutherland, this American-made series (the only one mentioned in the report) was probably made more palatable to the French because of its Belgian origins.

There was some surprising news from China as well: Televisa has had success with their localized version of Ugly Betty (they’re developing another female-oriented melodrama for the market as well, which sounds pretty juicy). Perhaps more intriguing is the new Shanghai Rush, which the Reporter describes as an ‘English language reality TV competition targeting the growing expatriate community – a sort of localized Amazing Race set only in Shanghai.’ Not exactly what I had envisioned topping the charts in China.

The big hit in Spain this year (other than futbol, which keeps the TV business in business) is Aguila Roga, or Red Eagle, which is a 17th century revenge story, replete with secret monastic societies and Hapsburg intrigue. Can you imagine such a thing ever dominating the U.S. airwaves?

Not exactly known for their culinary expertise, the Aussies down under are grooving to Masterchef Australia, and a Celebrity Masterchef spin-off is in the offing. I bet that the secret ingredient on at least one episode was vegemite (*shudder*).

As a result of serious cost-cutting, the Japanese TV industry is trotting out even more news, game shows and quiz programs than ever before. Sound familiar? I wonder if one of the networks is thinking of moving a late-night talk-show personality (Beat Takeshi has a series of midnight shows now) to prime time . . .
Hong Kong is also smitten with the reality show bug, but instead of dancing, their addiction is to singing. The Voice and Asian Millionstar are two examples.

The apparent dominance of reality-show formats world-wide is pretty depressing. Not only does it reflect an industry in financial crisis, developing the cheapest content it can, it also means that there will be fewer scripted series exported or localized in other markets. One of the best ways to discover the attitudes, aspirations and fears of any culture is to look at the stories they spin. While a reality show format may go global, each national instantiation of that show has a very short shelf-life and virtually no chance of crossing any national borders.

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