Why is British TV Better/Different than American TV?

Someone in another thread brought up an interesting topic that I think deserves its own thread. Why do you think British TV is better or how is it different than American TV?


  • The Brits have better plots. And just do a better job, telling a tale.

  • I think one of the reasons for that is that the seasons (they call them series) are much shorter. US network shows are like 20-30 episodes long. A good British comedy is usually 6 episodes a season. Quality over quantity.

  • Oh my goodness! This is so easy! British shows are just so natural. The actors are just regular folks who don't look like they've been under the knife so many times. The stories are great and they keep me interested.

    I only watch 3 American shows. Once they end I'm done with American shows. American actors go over board with their acting and looks. I roll my eyes every time I see a female cop run around in high heals. Who does that?

  • I've been thinking about this, whilst watching "Grantchester" and "Midsomer Murders," and I think it's the talent pool. The acting community in Britain is small, which is why you see the same faces over and over again, and the actors have mostly been trained on the stage, which I think is probably the best way to train. On the stage, an actor gets immediate feedback. Also, British actors don't seem to specialize as much as American actors: you can see the same actor play a serious role, then go all-out in comedy. There's also the quality of the writing, and I think that goes back to what Jonathan said about the shorter series. Quality writing can be sustained over fewer episodes, more easily than over a greater number. I've loved a number of American series over the years, but there were always, ALWAYS clunker episodes that simply weren't as good as others. And yes, you get some clunkers in British series, but not as many.

  • edited June 2020

    We have been fans of British television/movies for over 40 years. We lived in London for about 10 years during the 80's. At the time, quite a few American shows were televised on BBC or ITV and we were naturally drawn to them, However, within a short period of time, we were watching the British shows almost exclusively and when we returned to the US would search them out and watch whenever we could. We love all the choices we have now with all the streaming channels.

    One of the reasons I think British programming, in general, is better is that often they take a great series of books and adapt it for television. There are so many that do this, but Poldark is a great example. The characters and plots are well developed and have already stood the test of time. And then when that's not the case, and something is being written just for television, the writing is superior. An example of this would be the Doc Martin series.

    I agree with some of the other posts that the actors just seem like better actors, and not just models. They come across as genuine. And I agree that they don't seem to get stuck in one type of acting (comedy, drama, fantasy, etc) and also don't get stuck in one platform (television, movies, theatre). I've also read that since there's not an equivalent to Hollywood where a lot of American actors live, British actors blend back into their communities and seem more like normal people.

    We love the filming locations and always have to do quick searches when we see a location we think we might recognize from our travels. Britain has so many picturesque locations to draw from. From sweeping coastlines and hillside views to stately homes and castles, or quaint villages, there seems to be endless possibilities. Watching British television has actually sparked travel destinations for us - such as Cornwall, the Cotswolds, etc.

    I also think that British shows don't depend as much on action and/or violence (although there are some disturbing scenes at times) but more on dialogue. I read once that British actors are experts at unspoken dialogue - facial expressions and body language. I've also read that American producers are much more likely to cast a British actor in an American role than British producers would cast an American in a British role. Just great acting ability.

  • "just regular folks" is one reason I love British Shows...even Great British Bake Off--you'd never see a Jordan (GBBO 2014) on any kind of US show.

  • I really like the fact that British actor look like real people. So many American actors are spending all their all their spare time at their plastic surgeons trying to look 25 again. It is so distracting. Just be yourself, grow old gracefully with the rest of us.

  • edited August 2020

    Most - not all - British actors went to drama school, followed by years of honing their trade in repertory or similar. As is the British character, most actors tend to be understated, allowing them to show their emotions with small expressions and gestures, as another poster said. I think that recently we have seen rather too much of the more famous actors but I still love to watch them. I was born, brought up and educated in Edinburgh, finally leaving when I was 25. Feel nostalgia for my country but couldn't live there again - too cold!

  • I agree with those who say the actors look like real people. Many of the women would be considered “plain” by US standards.

  • The "actors" in GB are very well trained, schooled and apprenticed. Same thing goes for Australia and New Zealand and to a large extent Canada. Americans tend to want to be "discovered" or find fame on Instagram. That's not training and its why we see even more and more foreign actors in American shows.

  • They don't reveal the murderer until the very end

  • Two things stand out about British television:
    1. Character development
    2. Brit TV requires one to think.
    US TV is crude, violent and shallow. Whenever an American character shows up on any Brit TV episode I cringe.

  • I do have a soft spot for some US TV shows (looking at you, Parks & Rec and Brooklyn 99), but I've noticed a lot of US dramas seem to revolve around a strange formula of very short (often quite snippy) character conversations while both characters are on the way to do something else (probably to heighten the drama) which leads them to walk off in different directions. UK shows seem to contain more involved character interactions which feel a little more natural (to me anyway :-))

  • Are we just going to ignore The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Homicide...I absolutely love British TV, but there are some pretty good shows from the US. I know it's all subjective, but still...

  • I think there is a tradition in the UK for more acting education overall, not so much focus on flashy production value, and more on substance of scripts. I also appreciate the lack of violence in British television and movies in general. And finally, no place does better period programming than the UK and that's my favorite genre

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