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The 8 commandments of international co-production

1. British and Ameri-TV are simply paced differently,

with news as the prime example. American news is cut faster and more brutally than Brit-news, and is arguably more demanding to watch. No one spends valuable editing-time looking for smooth and perfectly-matched cut-aways. They knock it out, no frills ... complete with wall-to-wall commentary to cover the joins. The principle extends to documentaries, where the objective is to cut short, keep moving, and sustain excitement.

2. The pace of non-news programmes (drama, soap, comedy, action-adventure) is different, too

Yank-product is action-intensive, with nary a wasted frame. There are no moody, artistic beginnings drawing you slowly into a story. Programme-makers have less than 3 minutes in which to galvanize viewers’ attention; and if they can devise an opening sequence which contains a homicide, a sex-attack, a break-dancing sequence, or all three – they will.

3. Tight dialogue

If Yanks talk a lot, characters on TV or in films usually don’t. (Rambo had a vocabulary of only 25 words.) With rare exceptions, they rely heavily on action, and do not spend much time throwing ideas around ... (though they may express emotions openly – ‘I only did it because I love ya, buddy’ – in a way which does not sit well with Brit-viewers). For the most part, exchanges are kept cryptic and short. If the genre is sit-com, then every line’s a laugh-line, or why bother to say it? American sit-coms must be relentlessly ‘cute’ and this, above all, drives Brits mad. They want to build the laugh, preferably by building character – which takes more time. They resist what they see as ‘gag writing’ ... and Yanks run out of patience waiting for the jokes.

4. Eliminate ‘grey’ areas

Brits like grey areas, in both character and relationships. (It has something to do with their weather). They are not fussed if events are inconclusive, or things left hanging, since: (a) life is like that, and (b) such scenarios are intellectually more rigorous. Yanks hate uncertainty, and like matters to be clearly defined. To make things crystal-clear, Yank-writers create opportunities for characters to demonstrate their unspoken devotion, by putting one or the other in mortal danger. Every week.

(Brit-buddies – from The Likely Lads to Minder – tend to rub along in a more relaxed fashion.)

5. No equivocal endings

Brits also like inconclusive endings. (That’s why they play cricket.) Yanks like things to wrap up nicely. When something ends, it should be resolved. Otherwise, TV is too much like life ... and where’s the satisfaction in that? No: Americans see it as TV’s job to tie up loose ends. No point in leaving the audience feeling unsettled and restless – unless you’re doing a cliff-hanger, and Part 2 is on next week.

6. Dash of sentiment added

Yanks are not much drawn to characters who are irredeemably misanthropic ... even in comedy. They could not love, for example, the Wilfred Bramble character in Steptoe and Son. Evil old JR must be seen to shed a tear for the expiring Bobby; selfish Alexis has a soft-spot when it comes to her viperish children. It would be hard to sell Basil Fawlty (or similar) to the major American networks unless the world’s least cuddly hotelier was seen to sneak away and give presents to orphans in his spare time.

7. Never pitch an idea to a Vice-President

With rare exceptions, he/she has no real power, and will explain your idea badly to someone who has. (Or steal it, leaving you out.) People who have power in Ameri-TV are called: Presidents, Heads of, Controllers of, Executive Editors or Editors-In-Chief. They are seldom female, though Vice-Presidents increasingly are. In fact, every American TV executive of any stature is called a Vice-President. It is the next step up from janitor.

8. Anticipate the game

Moguls in both countries long ago lost the ability to concentrate. Minds have been blown by trying to process too many electronic data-sources at once. They are now as skittish as viewers, distracted and erratic. Yank-exec is most flamboyant in his looniness. He will:

(a) keep you waiting in an outer office for at least 45 minutes to prove how busy and butch he is. You will wait for a period of time inversely proportionate to his relative importance and security within the organization. A schlep on his way out will make you drum your heels for at least two hours.

(b) wear a baseball cap backwards on his head for the duration of your meeting. Every so often, a colleague will stick his head through the door and yell, ‘here, Don – catch!’ At this point, Don will playfully snatch a football or baseball from the air, and lose the thread of his conversation with you. Moguls love distractions, which disguise their impaired ability to think. Furthermore, if you are sufficiently off-balance, you will not be able to remember the gist of your discussions when it comes to the lawsuit.

(c) continue to take telephone calls all during your meeting, interrupting your pitch 3 or 4 times for long periods. If no one calls him, he will call out to see how his second wife, or 14-year-old daughter by a first marriage, got on with her psychiatrist. By the end of the meeting, you will want to grab him by the ears and shake him in order to make him listen. It will do no good. His damaged circuits are on permanent overload. Once you part company and leave, he will forget your name and never return your phone calls. This is not a personal slight, since moguls are genetically incapable of returning phone calls. (Anyway – if he never speaks to you again, he’s freer to pinch your ideas). When you finally manage to get through to the office, his secretary will tell you that ‘Don’ has been replaced, and transferred to Atlanta.

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