Vive La Television Americaine!

by Jessica Brody

I've always found other countries' obsessions with American pop culture fascinating. Our movies, books, television and music are imported and translated all over the world and yet how much do we really welcome back in return? The answer: not much. And even when we do, we usually just prefer to recreate it from scratch, slap on a shiny American package and claim it as our own (i.e. The Office and Dancing with the Stars which was based on a British show called Strictly Come Dancing.)

I just got back from a two week promotional book tour in Paris where I was promoting the upcoming release of the French version of The Fidelity Files and after speaking with several smart and savvy French journalists and publishing industry folk, one of the things that struck me as extremely interesting is the French's LOVE of American television. Even the shows that aren't translated and put on French cable are downloaded illegally from the internet with French subtitles a few days after their American release. They may scoff at our wine, our processed cheeses and our decisions to go to war, but when it comes to Jack Bauer, they're totally on board.

I know this is nothing new. When I lived in France in 1999, my host family used to regularly quote the show Dallas which I found incredibly strange yet endearing at the same time, especially since I had never seen a single episode. But what baffles me the most is the fact that they seem to be familiar (and quite enamored) with all the big scripted shows--House (called "Dr. House"), CSI (called "Les Experts"), Mad Men, Desperate Housewives, and even Weeds, but when I mentioned The Hills, I was met with a bunch of blank stares. And when I inquired further, I found that in fact, none of the popular American reality shows appeared to have made the translation. It became immediately apparent that although make-believe American characters may be all the rage, the French have yet to find a similar fascination with the characters that are allegedly "real". And so while Gabrielle Solis and Gregory House are gathering a huge Brie-eating following across the pond, I'm sure Speidi is going, "Where's the French love, people?"

Why do you think that is? I certainly can't figure it out. Why have the French so blatantly chosen our fiction over our reality? If obsession with American television stems from an obsession with American culture than surely watching Lauren Conrad and her cohort of stylized friends sipping cocktails at the hottest Hollywood bar would be appealing. But apparently it's not. Is our "reality" too much too handle? Or is it a question of simply not caring what our over privileged 20-somethings are up to? Or maybe it has nothing to do with enjoying our culture, perhaps we just have highly intriguing story tellers over here. I know the WGA would certainly like that theory but are there any others out there?


  1. Reality shows are the processed cheese of television, plain and simple.

  2. Hey Jessica: Great post! and that's an interesting question. The world has long been enamoured with American television and movies - I think they love the mystique and glamour of Hollywood so I can guess they have no use for "reality" TV. Also they can produce their own reality shows that are probably quite similarly "annoying" but there is only one "24". I watch The Hills - although it's getting on my nerves lately - I prefer the City because it's set in NYC and it does follow Whitney's career aspirations as opposed to just a bunch of rich kids partying all the time. These shows are a guilty pleasure (and I do mean guilty) and I think a fascinating example of how constructed "reality" shows truly are. It's very well produced.

  3. Hey Jessica

    Coming from a country where most of our TV and satellite programs are French channels, this topic struck close to home.

    As Joanna mentioned, the French have their own posse of reality stars. The reality TV mania started with one called Loft Story, a version of Big Brother, and the biggest reality star in France is called Loana, famous because she had sex with a fellow reality 'inmate' in the pool of the loft. No one's quite matched up to her status so far though.

    Another thing about American TV translated into French. I watch House, CSI, Desperate Housewives, Bones, NCIS and all the hoop in the French-dubbed version. I get the DVD if I wanna watch it in English, but my point is, there's a difference between dubbing and voice-over. Having watched one season of The Biggest Loser via French TV, it was tedious. Why? Because, the contestants/participants/judges/presenter talk in English, and you get this rather flat, droning French voice over the English sound. There is no emotion, no inflection, no rhythm in there, as opposed to dubbing where there seems to be real 'actor' voices spewing out of the casts' mouth. American reality TV in France is like watching the documentaries of the National Geographic!

    My two cents! Lol



  4. OK, my two cents are pretty much a repeat of what Joanna and Z wrote. BTW, great post Jessica and kudos on the French version of your book!!

    I think reality TV does not translate, literately and figuratively. The nuances, the idioms are just too much and a French person - or the Italians in my case - would rather watch their own form of reality, made in their own country. Each place I have traveled to has their own version of "Millionaire" and "Big Brother"... And it's culturally made for a specific audience.

    That said, US tv is escapism, well written, well made, well acted. And that is what appeals to international audiences. Speaking from experience with my own family in Italy, everyone has a distant dream of wanting to come/live in the US, and non-reality tv shows some idealized version of life here which appeals to that dreamer. Reality tv on the other hand, does not...

    Hugs to all!

  5. It's probably a culture thing. Each country has its own version of reality TV because the viewing audience wants to connect to the participants.

  6. Thanks for all your comments everyone. I think you all nailed it. I especially liked Nina's comment about the dream of American life. I guess the reality of American life spoils it! LOL!



Post a Comment

We would love to hear from you but hope you are a real person and not a spammer. :)

Popular Posts