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Wednesday 26 August 2009

When Aussie TV beats British TV

Marketing is one of the biggest influencers on our world, yet when did you last see a TV show devoted to it?

Australia's ABC (the equivalent of the BBC or PBS) has the Gruen Transfer, a fantastic show which is a 101 on how to do two things: make the subject extremely entertaining and also make US stop and think about how this huge industry works and affects our lives.

Where does the title come from?

In shopping mall design, 'the Gruen transfer' refers to the moment when consumers respond to 'scripted disorientation' cues in the environment. It is named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen (who disavowed such manipulative techniques). Recently, the Gruen transfer has been popularised by Douglas Rushkoff.

The show is hosted by comedian Wil Anderson with a panel of advertising industry experts. The two regular panelists are Russel Howcroft of George Patterson Y&R and Todd Sampson of Leo Burnett. Apparently the concept has been sold to TV production companies in the UK, Denmark, France, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, and Spain.

Here's an example of how they combine entertainment with stuff to make you think. Each week they ask two agencies to 'sell the unsellable'.

During last season's penultimate show one agency took the pitch of 'fat pride' one step too far for the ABC's lawyers and produced an ad which didn't get shown. It also didn't win the panelists over - and I agree with them. Here's the ad along with a panel discussion which was only made available online.

It's interesting that the professionals get that the in-your-face abuse of other groups represented in the ad's content, in order to say discrimination-is-discrimination, smothers the overall point. As straight non-Jewish blokes they didn't viscerally feel this but knew it was there. The poofter joke does smack me in the face and totally downgrades what the ad-maker is trying to achieve.

In the best traditions of publicly funded broadcasters failing to police their distributed content, both series can be found on YouTube.

Postscript: I spoke too soon, this has been removed for 'copyright violations'. The spot where the pitch and the discussion was supposed to be hosted - - is down. The pitch's existence seems to have been removed from the ABC entirely. The pitch itself is still on YouTube, but the debate has been removed.

Now I know Aussie TV and it has some crapolistic shows which make the worst of UK TV look Shakespearean. But it also has a whole terrestrial channel, SBS, devoted to largely 'foreign' programming.

The only non-English speaking UK (non-cable) TV programming we see is out-of-the-park brilliant Wallander and the occasional French film on BBC4. The former is only being shown here three years after Swedish broadcast because we deigned to make an English version of it. We have a shrunken world view as a result of bad programming.

Another thing Aussie TV has is lots of US imports which our rather Little-Englander viewpoint keeps away from primetime. This means that all Aussies know one of the best comedies of all time - Seinfeld - well and - because of the BBC's antics - Brits only know of it through word-of-mouth.

Another thing many a Brit has commented on is how bad UK TV comedy has got over the past few years and in one area this has got politically serious: satire. Yes, there are plenty of Radio Four series which take the piss in a sharp, upset-the-government way, but apart from the (rather weak) Bremner, Bird and Fortune what have we got which stacks up?

By contrast Australia has The Chasers War On Everything (which comes out of a preceding rich satirical TV tradition). This show is so sharp it has landed its stars in serious legal trouble on numerous occasions.

Can you imagine any current UK comedy show doing this?

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