England Doesn't have WHAT?!: SNL, Pee-wee and It's Always Sunny

(Editor's Note: This is the second in an ongoing series of non-news, editorial pieces done by our own Jonathan Moore. Enjoy.)

Confession time: I am a big fan of shows that can be slightly inconvenient to find. Well... that is, if you live in the same region as me. I am from the United Kingdom, England specifically. When I'm not drinking tea, eating crumpets and grovelling at the feet of Patrick Stewart, I like watching me as much Television as humanly possible. However, there are a few shows that I'm sure you yanks will be surprised are not actually viewable (by conventional means, at least) in the United Kingdom. One is an American classic and regular, one is well past syndication and another is a smaller, tighter-budgeted production. I will be talking about these three shows more extensively over the course of the article and just why I believe they should, or should not, be broadcast to the United Kingdom. These three shows are: Saturday Night Live, Pee-wee's Playhouse and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

                      Saturday Night Live Logo

I'm sure one of these shows stuck out like a sore-thumb though right? Saturday Night Live!? You Brits have managed to skip such an iconic piece of American-Television history? It seems so. Although don't get me wrong, it isn't like we haven't had our share of teases. Saturday Night Live has actually aired on NUMEROUS channels in the UK throughout Sky's (Cable in the UK) run, including and probably not limited to: BBC2, Paramount Comedy, MTV, CNBC and ITV4. Saturday Night Live has also had a Region-2 release of the first season on DVD. So I guess the big problem isn't why can't Saturday Night Live get picked up by a channel, the problem is quite simple: Why can't Saturday Night Live find an audience in the UK? This, we are to delve into.

I think it's important to note that although Saturday Night Live has never had a regular syndication in the UK with a consistent channel supplier, SNL has had as much of an effect culturally on the UK than it has on the US. Talk to some film fans residing in the United Kingdom and you may be surprised to know that despite the country's absence of the show, Wayne's World and The Blues Brothers will commonly be referred to as favorites. In fact, so much so that it is believed that The Blues Brothers was the first American film to gross more overseas than in the United States. So what is the issue? Well, I think there are a few simplistic explanations, that seem to make a lot of sense. One: Saturday Night Live is a show that is based around American politics, entertainment, media and even sensibilities. Is it too much to ask for a standard viewer of the UK to grow accustomed to the happenings of the US? In some ways, yes, I do.

This is not to say that knowledge isn't power here. I am not telling anyone to turn a blind eye to the happenings of the United States if they happen to not live there, what I am saying is that given the little that we are shown in the media regarding American politics outside of the presidential-campaign, the most obvious fan-base for SNL are modern-day hipsters, the people that can constantly be in the loop with what is happening in the US thanks to the Internet, the news, blogs, twitter etc. SNL's humor surpasses the barrier of “Only US friendly” however, consistently topping the pack as the leader of sketch-comedy, SNL's comedic accessibility knows no bounds.

So are we just running in circles here? Do we really have an answer? Well, I think the simplest answer could honestly be the most logical also: Saturday Night Live to be aired live, would air Sunday morning in the UK. EARLY morning. Of course remembering that different regions of the US have different time-zones, say for simplicity's sake Saturday Night Live airs at 11:30pm. In the United Kingdom, Saturday Night Live would illogically air at 5:30am Sunday. I can understand why this poses a problem for channels. This, if the actual reason, makes sense.

But honestly, I will leave that with you and your thoughts. It's a tough question, one that poses some real deep thought-processing and I don't think it's a one answer question either, I think there are numerous reasons why such a show has never gotten it's foot in. Hope is not lost however, recently Netflix was released in the United Kingdom and with it season 36 of Saturday Night Live. This I'm sure will strike a chord with the vocal minority waiting for a legitimate way to view the show in the UK and if that wasn't enough, earlier seasons of the show are viewable through cable on Sky-Arts. Now you can get all the Jim-Henson's Muppets that you want (I'll admit, those early sketches were dire, probably lucky they removed those).

                      Pee-wee's Playhouse

After that, maybe a change of pace will ease you, something a bit easier to swallow? I got that right here. Pee-wee's Playhouse. Pee-wee's predicament seems quite unfortunate really, on the grounds that I don't believe there is a reason Pee-wee could fail in the UK. Pee-wee's brand of surreal, bright and imaginative humor is a take that I believe the UK could have really latched onto alongside the US, but it just didn't have the right push. Nickelodeon aired Pee-wee's Playhouse in the UK in the early days of Sky... in the early hours of the morning, that's a polite way of saying “You're not important to this channel”. Naturally, Pee-wee's Playhouse was eventually excluded from the Nickelodeon line-up completely, with absolutely no legacy to ride on in the UK.

What made it worse was the fact that Pee-wee's Big Adventure was not, nor was Big Top Pee-wee, available on region-2 DVD, whilst Pee-wee's Playhouse was released as a Region 0 DVD Collection, however impossible to get unless imported from the United States, rendering Pee-wee's status in the UK nearly extinct. Honestly though, I believe that Pee-wee's bad luck in the UK is down to marketing and marketing alone. It was too late to market Pee-wee as a new show through Nickelodeon as Pee-wee's Playhouse's golden years were behind it and with no reason to push it, it was left to get lost to obscurity in the UK. Of course Reuben's offense later on probably made it harder also. An absolute shame, but understandable. If anyone from the UK gets a chance to watch Pee-wee's Playhouse, it's highly recommended and often in lists of the best children's programmes of all time.

                       It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Here we are at the last of the programmes for this article: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Now this is probably the easiest. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia is a low budget show developed by the lead actors and airs on FX in the US, whilst It's Always Sunny does not air on Television in the UK. I think the answer for this one is simple: It's a show that is enjoyed by a minority, has a lower budget than most FX shows and UK FX feels no need to have to advertise it to get it going in this country. Completely understandable and I have no grudge with this, mostly because with the release of Netflix in the UK, the whole of the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia library is available to us. It may be a stretch from Television, but it's certainly accessible to the UK... just not by customary means.

Is it a shame that these shows aren't embedded in the public conscious around here? Yes. Are things being done to reach audiences, even if it is outside of traditional television? Yes. I guess the best thing about these shows is that with the internet, legally and illegally, people are finding ways to watch these shows and I think in the long run, people doing this will bridge the disconnect in media between the US and the UK.


Message Posted On Mar 4th, 2014, 7:03 am
UCB TV FTW. You can find Region 1 DVDs on Amazon US and the like. (Or just bittorrent)

Message Posted On Sep 1st, 2013, 8:35 am
It's Always Sunny has been on UK tv though. I think the first couple of seasons were on Bravo, then Virgin 1, and now it's on FX.

Level 1 (26%)
Since: 02/Aug/12
Message Posted On Sep 1st, 2012, 6:04 pm

I can only stress my own opinion (obviously), but as a person that has watched all three of the shows extensively, I would say that Pee-wee isn't really trying to be "funny" per-se, Saturday Night Live has times of being on and off, obviously because of it's format and inevitable cast changes, whilst It's Always Sunny, although definitely being better in the later seasons, has been consecutively funny.

All the three shows I talked about, in my honest opinion, are great shows for different reasons and it's a shame that people around me and a lot of my friends have missed out on these pieces of history.

Ben (US)

Message Posted On Aug 27th, 2012, 9:23 pm
damn mike - have you ever seen it's always sunny? As far as American comedy... yes, it suffers from censorship... but not as much as the viewers themselves suffer by watching comedy (which has much more slang, and cultural influences than any other genre) from another region... the small and subtle pieces, actions, quotes, even facial expressions can have a meaning within the comedy that most UK viewers may not notice - and thus would only understand a fraction of the humor and think it is horrible. The major 'broadcast' networks suck at comedy because they can't keep shows on the air long enough to even see if they sink or swim, constantly replacing scripted comedy with similar style comedy - I think the major networks have their head up their a$$ regarding comedy programming - but the comedy programming on FX - especially "it's always sunny in philadelphia" - is great in my opinion, as well as some other cable network stations... However my main comment... you simply can't claim any sort of failing when it comes to comedy - it relies to heavily on the culture you live in.... for the past 2 decades i've constantly heard bad/confusing/cheesy/slapstick, etc. Basically any comedy the person doesn't fully understand or they find 'silly' as opposed to funny ... is referred to in many cases as "that British sort of comedy"... Describing something as "British comedy" has almost become the same as calling the comedy cheesy, or that it is something like Monty Python. So you now know, if you ever sit down to watch a show with an American, don't refer to it as British humor or British comedy - they may recall the negative association from the past decades and decide your show it boring before you start watching ;)
Mike (UK)

Message Posted On Aug 27th, 2012, 7:49 pm
As a regular consumer, legally where possible, of american tv i have to say that in the uk we tend to get all the best shows but some, like the 3 you mention, are simply not even worth watching illegally, snl is a perfect example, about as funny as having a root canal without anesthetic just because Americans watch it so many networks have tried it over here all to see ratings lower than they would get if they ran a series on watching paint dry. the simple fact is that whilst American (and Canadian) tv networks make some great drama and sci-fi shows when it comes to comedy they fail horribly, maybe not entirely through their own fault but because of the heavy censorship they suffer. in fact the only remotely funny comedy i've seen out of america in recent years was "are you there Chelsea?" and that was cancelled pretty quickly, unless you include the syfy channel movies, but i don't think they are supposed to be funny.
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