From film to television to stage . . .

Television in the U.K. and U.S., with a good dose of nostalgia thrown in . . .

A comment about Arthur Darvill from a reader got me thinking about acting, actors, and seasonal v. series television programming. In the U.S., there’s the well-known television season, traditionally beginning in the autumn and continuing through spring. Lately, we’ve seen an increase in summer seasons and other non-traditional seasonal television programming — half-year seasons beginning in January, for example.

Regina Demonica commented about how often we see movie actors on stage — and that is true — but I think it is even more common in Britain than in the U.S. I do think that in Britain, there’s a lot more “cross-media” acting — stage, TV, film — by well-known actors than we usually see in the U.S. Again, that’s just my impression, but it’s a strong one.

Judi DenchIt seems that in the U.S., once someone’s moved “up” from TV to movies, they rarely make television shows any longer, whereas in Britain, it’s much more fluid, and you often see really good actors and actresses (Judi Dench springs to mind) doing excellent work in films but then also making television programs, as well, and continuing to perform on stage.

I think that the British “series” concept for serials rather than “seasons” that Americans have might help make it easier for actors to do a wider variety of things. They may have more time in between series of a show, fewer episodes in each series, and more latitude to take a longer break for other projects than is possible when locked into the schedule mandated by the TV season.

When I was a kid, the start of the school year in September meant the imminent start of the new television season, with a return of old favorites and the premier of new programs. There was usually a break over the Christmas holidays when stations would run repeats or specials, and then the new shows would return in around mid-January.

Adam-12Back then, the fall-to-summer TV season was a long one, with probably about 30 to 40 episodes of a show airing over the course of the season. Now, of course, the seasons are getting shorter, regardless of when they begin and end, and there are often more breaks for “special programming,” leading to fewer episodes per season — around two dozen, average, it seems.

Nonetheless, the American television “season,” regardless of when it begins or ends, is still around. It would be extremely rare for a television series to run for a few years (say, three seasons), then take a hiatus, and return two years later, picking up right where it left off.

In Britain, by contrast, television programming is done by “series” — meaning a series of episodes of a particular program.Matt Smith as the Doctor in "Day of the Moon" So one would speak of “series three” of Doctor Who (the “new” Doctor Who), and mean the second set of Doctor Who episodes starring David Tennant as the Doctor, and the Doctor Who episodes that were just broadcast in April — June 2011 were the first half of series six, with the second half of series six airing in the autumn.

When Matt Smith signed a new contract for fourteen more episodes of Doctor Who, there was no mention of when the episodes would air, and only speculation that the series would be broadcast in 2012. In the U.S., it would be understood that a new contract meant a new season beginning roughly one year from the start of the previous season.

The doc and Louisa - links to wikipedia article on Doc MartinAs another example, Doc Martin (a great comedy/drama/romance from ITV — you can catch it on hulu) took a lengthy hiatus between series four and series five, and breaks between the other series of the show have varied from one to two years; each series has been between six and eight episodes long — plus a Christmas special. You couldn’t do that in the U.S.

Series five of Doc Martin is being filmed now, and the story line picks up immediately following the events of the final episode of the last series, which was aired in November 2009. The new series will likely air sometime in the autumn of 2011.

Martin Clunes with horseIn between series, Martin Clunes has been busy with other projects — including a special series on dogs and one on the many islands of Britain — and has had time to devote to them that he presumably wouldn’t have if he were in a long-running U.S. television series airing in standard seasons.

I’m sure that there are a lot of examples of actors in U.S. series who are busy doing other work, as well, and there are plenty of American-based television and movie actors who also appear on stage, but I do think that the differences between the American season and the British series are interesting, and it does seem that the series model allows actors to become involved in a wider range of projects. Of course, it may also mean less personal financial stability and career predictability, but I think acting tends to be that sort of profession, anyway.

Now I’m in the mood for some early Doctor Who from my childhood . . . maybe some Third Doctor driving around in Bessie . . .

The Third Doctor and Bessie

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4 responses to “From film to television to stage . . .

  1. I completely agree with you about the way the Brits cross tv, stage, and movie barriers with such grace and ease. I mean, look no further than Maggie Smith to prove my point. Downton Abbey is a huge success on both sides of the pond, Minerva McGonagall is surely a household name in both countries, and she has a long and well established career on the stage. I would venture so far as to say that I think some US actors and actresses think that tv work is “beneath” their star status and forget the real reason why they got into the business in the first place.

    Another point on which we agree … the way a British show can take a hiatus and return with its fan base still entact and with the same or even enhanced popularity. Lovejoy is a grand example of that. Ian McShane and Phyllis Logan (Downton Abbey status currently) made one season and then took something like two years off, despite the overwhelming popularity of the first series. It’s wild but in watching season one and two back to back, there was such a continuity and ease between the characters/actors, you’d never know they took a “break.”

    Heck, now you’ve got me wanting to watch more Lovejoy and Downton Abbey! haha. Of course, that’s nothing unusual for me these days, haha.

    • Exactly! And how could I have forgotten to mention Downton Abbey? There’s another show that made a handful of episodes, by U.S. standards, developed a strong fan-base both at home and in the U.S., and will be making another series, but without being constricted by the “season” concept. And the fans of the show will be there when the second series airs.

      Somehow, that speaks of a confidence — both in the show and in its audience — that I find appealing.

      Now, if only the BBC would decide to make more No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency episodes, I would be very happy! Just dump HBO — pick up a new partner, like Masterpiece/PBS, and make a new series. I would soooo be there for that! 🙂 (Here’s the homepage of Alexander McCall Smith, author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and many other wonderful books.)

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I’ve always noticed a connection between stage and film, but this really explores it in a deeply fascinating way. It’s interesting that the connection seems more solid in the UK, or actors move back and forth between TV acting, film, and theater more fluidly.

    The contrast is really very intriguing, and I ought to watch more British TV shows to learn more about it! 😉

    • It is interesting to think about.
      You can see a lot of British television shows via the web now, and there are a lot that have made it to DVD and you can get them from netflix.
      Thanks for the note!

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