[TV WORTH WATCHING guest columnist Kim Akass, a TV scholar from England, takes the occasion of the Season 5 premiere of AMC's Mad Men in the States, and its impending premiere Tuesday on Great Britain's Sky satellite network, to explain, from an overseas perspective, why she's mad as hell -- at global media mogul Rupert Murdoch... DB]
By Kim Akass
So Mad Men is coming to these shores this week?
I should be glad, of course I should. The return of one of the best shows to come out of America since The Sopranos should be celebrated. In New York, the fifth season apparently has been greeted with themed shows and parties: people (no doubt) dressed in 60s garb, smoking cigarettes and drinking whisky sours.
After a hiatus of 17 months, Mad Men is, no doubt, going to be under much scrutiny. Jace Lacob, television critic of the Daily Beast, has already seen the two-hour episode that kicks off the fifth season, and says "It surpasses its expectations. It is beautiful, it is surprising and it is emotional."
So why am I not celebrating?
Along with co-conspirator Janet McCabe, I have been writing about U.S. TV for many years. Our first foray into the academic world of television was through our contribution to This Thing of Ours (David Lavery, editor).
It was a taste of things to come, as all the American contributors were writing about the third season of The Sopranos while here, in England, we had to wait nearly a full year for it grace our screens. This was in the days of videos, and when the Internet took forever to load a page of script. Episode guides came in books, and even HBO had not quite caught on to the power of the web in spreading the word.
When the last episode of The Sopranos aired in the States, we spent days flying across rooms switching off TV and radio reports in case of spoilers. We did not want to know if Tony had died. We had a full eight months to wait until the season started in Britain. We could revel in the non-end of a finished show if we wanted to.
The Internet changed everything.
American networks are now wise to the fact that if they don't screen a show in Britain at least in the same week as it is screened in America, then everyone will download or stream it in our ever-increasing inability to wait. The water-cooler show is now global, as first Ugly Betty and now Mad Men are screened within days of their first airing Stateside.
So, again, why am I not celebrating?
I should be eagerly anticipating the first episode of Mad Men, luxuriating in the thrill of the return of Don Draper and Joan Holloway. Longing for those louche lounge lizards with a flair for 60s sexism.
Thanks to my old frenemy Rupert Murdoch, I am now going to have to wait even longer to watch this season. It may premiere on March 25 in America and March 27 in Britain -- but, of course, it has been bought up by the evil telly snatcher and will be available only for subscribers to Sky.
Like The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (see above), Murdoch dresses up his exclusive channel, Sky Atlantic HD, as a glossy and shiny treat that will give TV viewers the shows that we would otherwise be denied. Shows such as Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and Mad Men, along with the whole HBO back catalogue, and miniseries like Mildred Pierce.
Once tempted to part with our money (by changing providers and buying into the whole Sky TV package), we soon discover the ugly truth. HBO shows, made for screening without adverts, are practically unwatchable on Sky Atlantic, because of the ads interrupting them. The sad truth is that Murdoch does not care much about TV, but he does care about the money to be made out of it.
(Of course this is not something I should be surprised at. After all, we are talking about the man that pulled Sky One away from Virgin viewers slap bang in the middle of seasons of Lost, Nip/Tuck and 24. And then he taunted us with advertising campaigns to "Get Jack Back" and the like.)
Of course, I could join the illegal downloaders and watch the series on my laptop -- a practice that, out of some misguided loyalty to scheduled TV and the fear of being caught and losing my job, I have long avoided.
And then there is the sheer sumptuousness of Mad Men. How could I possibly watch this show on a small laptop when it was made to be screened on my large HD TV?
I could ask Janet to copy the show for me. Her inability to get any cable TV other than Sky is now paying off, as she is able to remain true to our first love of HBO and other U.S. TV through her ability to tune into to Sky Atlantic.
But then there are the adverts. As Janet as talked about elsewhere, the main issue with HBO and AMC shows being on Sky Atlantic is the interminable adverts. In a weird switch of cultures, it is now the Brits that suffer an overload, in shows that, for the most part, originally were made to be screened without them. Imagine that.
In a weird time-warp moment, it seems that I am now going to have to wait until Mad Men comes out on DVD before I can watch it properly.
Which means that I am again going to be cutting articles out of newspapers and magazines while trying to avoid the content. I will again be flying across rooms switching off TV and radio reports to avoid spoilers.
And, most sadly, when everyone else has those global water,-cooler moments I will have to walk away -- a 'Billy no mates' with nothing to say about the latest, hottest season of the latest, hottest show to hit our screens.
Thanks, Mr. Murdoch. Thanks for everything.
Kim Akass is a Senior Research Fellow and lecturer in Cutural and Contextual Studies (Film/TV) at the University of Hertfordshire. She has published widely on U.S. TV, is co-founding editor of Critical Studies in Television, and is co-editor (with Janet McCabe) of the Reading Contemporary TV series for I.B. Tauris. She is currently working on a book about mothers in the media for I.B. Tauris, and is webmistress of CSTonline. (And someday, just for us, she might explain the meaning of 'Billy no mates.' - DB)