Translating ‘Quality’ Television

In a much-needed deviation from last weeks’ focus on reality TV, this week our transnational media and culture industries class dove into the world of ‘quality’ TV – leaving the session with the stimulus question:

 “What is quality TV? How might the demand for content intersect with translations of popular genres?” 

If you’re anything like me, that sentence probably took a few re-reads before you realised you still had no idea what it was trying to ask. Though fear not, because if you really are anything like me, it can be understood with a process of learning those keyword definitions. And hey, we might even be able to answer it afterwards. Let’s break it up.

Showtimes ‘Homeland’ (2011 – 2020)

Quality TV:

‘Quality’ TV is programming that stands out. Part of it’s premise is that you would know it if you saw it. Resonant storylines, virtuous acting, high-standard production, 45 minute or longer runtime – these are all trademarks of ‘quality’ TV. It’s not regular TV. 

In Israel, creating ‘quality’ TV was actually made mandatory, resulting in some of the best drama scripts that have seen numerous remakes internationally – here’s how. 

In the 1990’s, with growing amounts of television channels appearing, the Israeli government passed a law stating that all private television channels had to ‘produce and air at least 150 hours yearly of high production value content’ (Perkins, 2015). The legislation created a distinction between ‘high end’ and ‘low end’ content based off how many hours and how much money was put into generating one hour of content. This basically set a precedent for the Israeli television industry becoming one of the top exporters of scripted television.

So now we know what ‘quality’ TV is, onwards to the rest of the question.

Demand for Content:

When we look at demand for content, it becomes pretty clear why it is increasing. Combining the rise of accessibility for viewers, the increased production rate of poorer countries, and the almighty prevalence of streaming services, it’s no wonder audiences have been skyrocketing. This means network channels are now competing with massive streaming services in a battle to stay relevant, whilst the streaming services need quality content to justify their audiences’ spending. So everyone is constantly building their brand in order to maintain a grasp in the market, and for the most part this is done through continual generation of new content. We truly are a hard bunch to satisfy. 

Translations of Popular Genres:

As talked about in my previous post on reality TV, Cultural Proximity and Cultural Capital are heavy factors in the modern audience’s decision-making when it comes to viewing content. Knowing this, streaming services and networks have made many attempts at translating foriegn content in order to be received by a new audience. Whilst this process is relatively simple and successful when creating closed translations such as game shows or reality TV, the task is much more complex when it involves the popular genres such as drama and comedy – scripted television that requires open translations. 

Additionally, with new ‘supplier’ countries beginning to emerge as a result of de-centralised production capabilities, scripted formats are suddenly much more available for translation. With an emergence of gripping drama scripts such as ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Prisoners of War’ coming from the less represented (in western culture) countries of Sweden and Israel, we start to see just how successful effective translations can be in attaining audiences, with the US versions ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Homeland’ proving extremely popular. 

So how does it all intersect?

Well in one spot there’s a constant demand for ‘quality’ content, in another there’s pre-existing ‘quality’ content ready for translation, and then there’s the daunting task of successfully translating this content for the new audience. Historically we’ve seen remakes both praised and condemned by audiences, so arguably the most important factor in translating popular TV genres is maintaining the essence of the original whilst remaining relevant in the new context, which is critical for producers to consider when developing the adaptations. Ultimately, there is a fine line between grasping at scripted remakes in order to fulfil an audience desire for quality tv, and misrepresenting those original scripts. Those who can tread this line are bound to remake some great content.

Perkins, Claire 2015. Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, “Translating the television ‘treatment’ genre: Be’Tipul and In Treatment” LINK


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