THE LAST WORD

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This week, the American version of Cold Feet, a big telly success in this country, has gone right down the toilet, ratings-wise and is being pulled off the network. Now, devastated as I am that some shareholders and some fat-cat boss somewhere have missed out on big bucks, I am always quite pleased when this sort of transatlantic effort comes to nought, because it reassures me that, despite all the evidence that we are the 51st state of America, there is still the odd, very important hiccup in the exchange of cultural fluids. If Americans don't like some of the stuff we send them, then perhaps it's all right for people like me to resent the never-ending stream of tosh piped over here from the good old US of A.

In America, commercial success is everything, which means the programmes that attract the biggest audiences rule the roost, despite the fact that these programmes tend to be populated by hairy half-man, half-sheepdog, wrestling types or talk show hosts whose smugness shines out of every orifice.

The majority of the population in America like weird things. I must admit I have never been able to see the attraction of those huge truck-type appliances with immense wheels that lumber down a track for 20 yards and then fall over while the thousands of people in the crowd get hysterical to the point of incontinence. I also wonder if there is any possibility of the Americans letting up on these TV series for children which involve groups of teenagers hitting or kicking each other very hard for an hour or so. Whether you're a shell-suited Power Ranger or a gothic Buffy chum, sustained assaults on your rivals do not an interesting plot make. To me, virtually the only fun to be had from America's less impressive offerings musically or dramatically, is that misunderstandings tend to occur on a reasonably frequent basis. For example, there is a single around at the moment, the chorus of which appears to be "You bugger me" sung in as heartfelt a way as a girl-band can manage. I'm sure it's meant to be "You bug me", with the American "ah" added for effect, but when I first heard it I thought perhaps it was the theme song for a new American cartoon series in which the lead character spends his time sodomising his acquaintances. Well, after South Park, it's not far from chocolate salty balls to anal penetration, is it?

I am more interested in the television that has failed in America and ends up on our networks, because you can pretty much guarantee it's going to be subtle, dark, obtuse, difficult and brilliant. Take The Larry Sanders Show for example. Tucked away late at night on BBC2, it is the best of American comedy. It also happens to have people in it who aren't immediately recognisable as advert fodder.

Unfortunately though, the Americans will never be content with just being a success in their own country, big as it is. They have an abiding need to spread their tentacles all over the planet until we are suffocated with their culture. They have even sent ambassador Jerry Springer here to these shores to try and get us to behave like we are all on a mixture of hormones, alcohol and whatever it is that turns your brain into that of a personality-disordered extra from the film Deliverance. If only we'd all known that "squealing like a pig" was the only skill we'd require for our 15 minutes of fame, then we wouldn't have bothered to go to school.

We appear to welcome this emotional illiteracy along with morally simplistic answers all mixed in with a great big patronising dollop of know-it-all- ness by smarmy characters who are no better qualified to pronounce on human relationships than the Queen's children.

I believe our attention spans have probably shrunk as much as is healthy and that any more damage and all we will be able to cope with is small doses of MTV with a sprinkling of Men and Motors. But that of course is what providers of gormless television are banking on. Making television for addled brains is so much cheaper than making television for enquiring minds. Maybe this sounds like a plea for support for the BBC, but it's not really ... it's a request for commercial telly to stop making such crap before we all metamorphose back into simple-celled animals and start starring in our own version of Walking With Dinosaurs for future generations who will puzzle over why we let our well developed brains rot away to nothing.

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