August 3, 2006
Brutal, sarcastic Britons reign on US TV
By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Simon Cowell gets booed, Piers
Morgan reduces kids to tears and "Supernanny" Jo Frost marches
screaming American children to the "naughty chair."
cut-glass accents and brutal put-downs are enjoying new success
as the bad boys (and girls) of U.S. reality television.
Call it refreshing honesty or simply a British penchant for
sarcasm -- Americans seem to be loving it.
"American Idol" judge Cowell -- whose insults to wannabe
singers range from the curt "Atrocious" to the fanciful "You
remind me of a pet poodle" -- is seen as crucial to the runaway
success of the show over the last four years.
Cowell has been followed by former British tabloid
newspaper editor Piers Morgan as a judge for summer ratings hit
"America's Got Talent."
Briton Nigel Lythgoe is dishing the dirt as a judge on "So
You Think You Can Dance," and Frost, a no nonsense career
nanny, is about to start her third U.S. season of the
"Supernanny" parenting series.
Meanwhile chef Gordon Ramsay in "Hell's Kitchen" is making
Cowell "look like a choirboy," according to RealityTV magazine.
Ramsay, a short-tempered perfectionist, recently told one
contestant his dish looked like "dehydrated camel's turd."
"The typical British stereotype is of someone who is very
'cultured and polite. These people are the reverse of that, and
part of the reason being obnoxious works is because it goes
against expectations," said Robert Thompson, director of the
Center for the Study of Popular Television.
Morgan said the theme of the mean, sarcastic Brit on
American TV was now so ingrained that "Americans not only
expect it, but they really get into it."
Sarcasm and irony come naturally to Britons who love to
pillory their politicians and their celebrities, he said.
"We don't always mean it in a brutal way. We just think it
is funny. But I think that Americans have learned that as long
as it is tempered with honest critique it is acceptable," he
Morgan has already made three children cry. He told one
family singing group they would be better off without the cute
(and tone deaf) kid brother.
"I'm not there to make a child cry but if a parent is happy
to put their kids on stage to win a million dollars, they know
what might be coming their way," he said.
Thompson said the British accent has a distancing effect
that gives generally more civil Americans permission to delight
in hearing their compatriots get trashed.
"Americans hate to be told what to do by other people, but
they love to watch other people tell other people what to do.
"If we heard it from people who talk exactly like us, I
think we would find it not amusing, but really unlikable,"