Despite Some Missteps, Brits Still Have Cooler TV Than Us

Sep 25th, 2008 // 10 Comments

Sure, they sent us some crappy reality shows, but in the music television department the British will always definitely win out. I posted about Carla Bruni-Sarkozy on Later… With Jools Holland the other day, and it got me to thinking: Why don’t we have any shows like that over here? We don’t have anything even close to the President of France’s wife performing next to Metallica on a national level.

I tuned in to one episode a few years ago and Grandaddy, Magnetic Fields, and Keb ‘Mo were in the round. That’s pretty inclusive. Sure, Conan, Letterman, those guys showcase a band here and there, but they’re not specifically music-oriented. And the sound is near impeccable on Later. The Brits have a great history of this, with The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops, but so do we! I’ve watched quite a few Soul Trains and Solid Golds in my day. What happened?

Check this performance out and notice how, at the beginning, Jools says “Thanks, Television. We’ll be hearing more from them later.” Can you imagine that happening on a network here today? In 1992? Ever? And then to follow it up with John Cale reinventing one of his best songs?

Sigh. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen here!

  1. Audif Jackson Winters III

    It’s on BBC2, which is supported by the license fee, so they don’t have to worry about ratings so much. It’s always been on Friday nights (right?), late night, so I don’t suspect very many people watch it, despite it being around for something like 15 years now.

  2. Chris Molanphy

    Blame (as usual) narrowcasting and the death of the monoculture. Music on network TV is ratings poison.

    I remember when reading The Late Shift, the book about the Leno-Letterman battle, network execs talking about why the music segment usually comes last. I’m paraphrasing, but basically they said, “We’re guaranteed to lose at least a third/half of the audience.”

  3. Anonymous

    good point. it’s a shame that music television is in such a terrible place that pete wentz’s FNMTV show is worth celebrating. here in canada we got our own version of MTV about two years ago and since then, our music television has been going down the toilet (at a much faster pace). in fact, the media conglomerate that’s helping fund MTV canada bought our only other provider for music television, muchmusic, and its parent company, chum. to be honest, muchmusic was bad before it was bought, but it still seemed far more reputable and its content was more music-centred (particularly with shows like the new music and the wedge). now those shows have been relegated to ridiculous time slots (i think 1am for both of them), so i get the feeling that in a year or two, this station will be phased out completely in favour of the hills network.

  4. Lucas Jensen

    @Audif Jackson Winters III: That Carla Bruni episode drew a million viewers, which ain’t half bad over there, but, yeah, I suspect it’s kept around for the reasons you mention. Even so, what a great show, no?

  5. moomintroll

    @Audif Jackson Winters III: I don’t know, I grew up in Britain, and Later…with Jools Holland was sort of an institution. It might not be watched by a large teenage demographic, but I definitely think it’s a big deal there. I guess now that digital and satellite has taken over, BBC2 isn’t as big a ratings draw, but it is sort of the equivalent to a main network station here (ABC, NBC, CBS) can you imagine a show like Jools Holland on any of those? It is depressing that we can’t have cool shows like this in the U.S, I think it’s just a matter of time until British music TV is as bad as it is here. Most people only had 4 channels right up until 1995, satellite and cable took a while to catch on. You kind of just had to watch what was there, so it was easier to force culture and coolness onto the masses since the BBC didn’t have to worry about ratings. Now that most people have digital or satellite I think the BBC has to dumb down its programming to attract more viewers from digital channels. If their viewership goes down, they’ll have to start justifying their right to the license fee, so I’m sure in the future Jools will be replaced with “Celebrity- Big Brother- So You Think You Can Dance- Deal or No Deal- Idol Music Edition”.
    I’ve always had a dream to host a Joolsesque TV show in America where I get to spin around a circular studio introducing my fav. bands…and then they’ll all be my friends…and oh we’d laugh! They might even let me jam a bit with them on my rinky-dink piano…ahh dreams…

  6. Audif Jackson Winters III

    @Lucas Jensen: Yeah, absolutely. I’d love a show like that over here. And a show like Top of the Pops, for that matter … although that was cancelled a few years back.

  7. MayhemintheHood

    Do you and Maura do the whole “(insert statement), no?” thing in your everyday conversations? I think this is the only place that I see that on a regular basis. It makes me feel like I’m at the party scene from Crocodile Dundee.

    Later…does rule. If I’m looking for a song/video on youtube, and I see there is a version of said song from that show, It’s always the first link I click. The producers/sound engineers really seem to know what they’re doing, no?

  8. Lucas Jensen

    @MayhemintheHood: I DO do that. I had to wean myself off “eh?” a number of years ago, which I picked up from talking to Canadian radio stations. I’m from Alabama, so it didn’t fit. I figured “no?” was a suitable replacement. Thanks for making me even more self-conscious than usual.

    And they do know what they’re doing, those Later… engineers.

  9. Maura Johnston

    @MayhemintheHood: I do too! I swear.

  10. MayhemintheHood

    @Lucas Jensen: I really just thought it was funny that I always notice when Maura writes that, and now I’ve seen you drop a couple. To be honest, I’ve said it a few times recently but only as an Idolator inside joke sort of thing…unfortunately none of my friends visit this site so I guess I’m just amusing myself.

    Fuse had been airing episodes of Later… but a) either they were compilation shows or they seemed to show the same ones all the time and b) haven’t seen it in the listings awhile, so maybe Fuse is over it. Better than no Jools I guess.

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