Friday, 17 June 2011

Talking Point: would you watch a foreign-language import channel?

Friday, 17 June 2011

BBC4 have announced they're going to air the Danish political drama Borgen (retitled Government), in the wake of its success with The Killing. The digital channel's previously shown French cop drama Spiral, Icelandic comedy Night Shift, and Swedish detective drama Wallander. Should BBC4 just rename itself BBC Fjord? These shows are incredibly cheap acquisitions, especially compared to US drama, and seem to appeal to their intended highbrow audience. Astonishingly, The Killing's ratings were better than the acclaimed Mad Men, and it even won a BAFTA this year!

BBC4 have announced plans to stop showing comedy/drama, as part of the 20% cutbacks at the BBC, and return to their origin as... well, the only major rival to Sky Arts. It sounds like madness considering all their best shows have been in comedy or drama—like First Men In The Moon or Dirk Gently. Who here watches BBC4 purely for its documentaries and arts programming, on a regular basis? Maybe BBC4 should make an exception for cheap European dramas. I'm no expert, but writer Stephen Gallagher recently tweeted me a recommendation list of Euro dramas he's enjoyed lately (Beck, Varge Veum, Unit One, Those Who Kill, A Game of Kings, The Sandholm Murders, Bodyguards), and they all sound worth a look.

Is Europe coming out of the shadow cast by the UK and US, to lead the way in the cop/lawyer/politician-led dramatic stakes? Or are we just seeing more willingness from BBC4 to import a tiny percentage of continental drama that's worth seeing? Would it be a good idea to launch a channel dedicated to foreign language programming, aimed at English-speakers? Forget Sky Atlantic, how about launching Sky Europe? Would you watch something like that, or is foreign programming best left as irregular treats on niche channels that welcome cheap imports?