Global TV: Exporting Television and Culture in the World Market

Global TV: Exporting Television and Culture in the World Market

Global TV: Exporting Television and Culture in the World Market

Global TV: Exporting Television and Culture in the World Market


A reporter for the Los Angeles Times once noted that "I Love Lucy is said to be on the air somewhere in the world 24 hours a day." That Lucy's madcap antics can be watched anywhere at any time is thanks to television syndication, a booming global marketplace that imports and exports TV shows. Programs from different countries are packaged, bought, and sold all over the world, under the watch of an industry that is extraordinarily lucrative for major studios and production companies.

In Global TV, Denise D. Bielb and C. Lee Harrington seek to understand the machinery of this marketplace, its origins and history, its inner workings, and its product management. In so doing, they are led to explore the cultural significance of this global trade, and to ask how it is so remarkably successful despite the inherent cultural differences between shows and local audiences. How do culture-specific genres like American soap operas and Latin telenovelas so easily cross borders and adapt to new cultural surroundings? Why is The Nanny, whose gum-chewing star is from Queens, New York, a smash in Italy? Importantly, Bielby and Harrington also ask which kinds of shows fail. What is lost in translation? Considering such factors as censorship and other such state-specific policies, what are the inevitable constraints of crossing over?

Highly experienced in the field, Bielby and Harrington provide a unique and richly textured look at global television through a cultural lens, one that has an undeniable and complex effect on what shows succeed and which do not on an international scale.


One of the most recognizable features of the global television industry occurs to scholars and nonscholars alike while traveling abroad and stumbling upon American programs airing in other countries or learning through news reports of a series’ popularity in other parts of the globe. America’s Next Top Model is currently airing in its original U.S. version in more than one hundred countries, including Iceland, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates. the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful enjoys similar global success, and Dallas, the prime-time serial of the 1980s, was a widespread hit throughout Europe and parts of the Middle East, although it was a failure in Japan. Such information often triggers worthy concerns about the global dominance of U.S. products in television trade flows, but to penetrate the issues raised by U.S. presence in global television markets requires a much more fine-grained understanding of the organization and cultural logics of international markets than can be gleaned from such crude evidence of program flows alone. Studying the television industry in comparative perspective is enormously complicated. Industry trade publications regularly feature lists of the top ten American shows in selected countries, and while such lists reveal what has been sold to particular locales, they do not tell us how those shows rank relative to imports from other countries or to local fare. Moreover, focusing on where a series ends up obscures the important insights that are gained by learning how television programs are modified for export and import. in short, while there is much to be learned from exploring why specific programs are marketed, adopted, or rejected by distributors, sticking to the level of trade flows hinders fuller understanding of the way the industry works.

Studying this industry is difficult, in large part, because it is constantly transforming. This change is led, just as it has been since televisions launching, by a seemingly endless array of technological developments . . .

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