With the finalé of the Showtime/BBC series Episodes having been broadcast at the end of February (20th in America, 21st in the UK), a few words about transnational television seem appropriate. Media sales across national boundaries have long been a part of broadcasting culture. ITV’s imports of American series drew both criticism and ratings during the ‘60s, and the syndication of American shows remains an important part of Channel 4’s platform. Likewise, British shows like Dr Who have found regular homes on The Sci-Fi Channel in the US, and telenovelas, produced in Central and South America, have increasingly gained popularity with the Hispanic diaspora around the world.
While these imports and exports laid the groundwork for television’s transnational economy, they are increasingly being superseded by new programmes, jointly funded by companies based in different nations, expressly designed to appeal to audiences across national boundaries, and simultaneously broadcast in several countries at once. These range from glocalized franchise shows like Who Wants to Be A Millionaire and Big Brother, which replicate the same format with different casts, crews and contestants in different nations around the world, to prestigious, big budget drama spectaculars like Rome. Of course, as with so many trends in contemporary media, the increasing prevalence of transnational television is either a building block in a utopian post-national society enabled by the democratising power of new media, or the inevitable by-product of the audience fragmentation and personal atomisation occasioned by (again) new media, depending on your own degree of technological optimism or pessimism.