Good night America: Paxman's US show axed after ratings flop

By Guy Adams
Monday 07 October 2013 05:15

It's been the Golden Goose for combative Brits such as Gordon Ramsay and Simon Cowell, but Jeremy Paxman has discovered, to his cost, that it takes more than a cut-glass accent and dogged questioning to make it big in America.

The Newsnight presenter's bid to launch himself across the pond has ended in disappointment after BBC Worldwide announced that it was axing its US version of the programme, blaming difficulties striking a chord with audiences weaned on a less acerbic breed of television anchorman.

Paxman's weekly Newsnight edition was launched on a wave of hype last February, with a coveted slot at 10pm on Fridays on BBC America. However, it was soon shifted to Thursday nights, after failing to make a splash, and recently disappeared from the channel's schedule altogether.

"We have to take tough decisions about where money is being spent," said a BBC spokesman yesterday. "This was purely based on ratings. People will say, 'Why didn't it work?', but honestly, if I knew that, I wouldn't be sitting here. Sometimes, even though people love the BBC news brand, you put something on and it just doesn't catch on."

The move was announced alongside a decision to drop three hours of international news from BBC America's morning schedule, again due to poor viewing figures. It has been replaced with re-runs of cheap but popular reality shows, including The Hotel Inspector, Kitchen Nightmares and The F-Word.

Paxman's failure to make waves Stateside, where BBC America is available as a commercial network in 63 million homes, marks a disappointment for his superiors, who had originally hoped he might become a Simon Cowell of the US news scene.

In 2007, the channel's president, Garth Ancier, told the Financial Times: "Jeremy Paxman is the sort of person that Americans will just eat up." Variety reported that the US version of Newsnight could even end up being called Paxman. "BBC banks on brash Brit as next US hit," read its headline.

The show that was launched in the run-up to the presidential election contained a weekly package of highlights from Newsnight's normal run of UK shows, most of which focused on international news. Paxman recorded fresh links, in tandem with co-presenters Gavin Esler and Kirsty Wark.

Viewers remained immune to their charms, however. Newsnight's US edition was actually pulled in November, after Barack Obama's election, but nobody noticed it had disappeared until the BBC reluctantly said so this week.

"This is being described as Jeremy Paxman failing to conquer America," said a spokesman. "That's a touch misleading. He never set out to make it in the US. He never moved out there, or did any interviews in the media. His role in the show was pretty minor."

Either way, BBC America, which carries advertisements and is run as a commercial station by BBC Worldwide, usually provides a useful transatlantic vehicle for British stars. It showcased The Office and Life on Mars, which were both later bought up by major US networks, and has also recently had success with the dramas Ashes to Ashes and Skins.

Meanwhile, Paxman's rival anchorman Matt Frei is enjoying considerable success in the US. His show, World News America, which airs nightly at 7pm and 10pm, achieved 9 per cent growth in its US ratings and boasts a monthly reach of three million viewers.

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