Glittering night for BBC in TV ‘Oscars’

Game of trophies: HBO’s fantasy series is now the most award-winning show ever. © HBO

Last night in Los Angeles the Emmy Awards celebrated the world’s top TV shows. Britain’s state-sponsored broadcaster had a good night. Is the BBC truly the best in the world?

Last night, as the Emmy Awards were hosted in LA, some of the biggest stars of television took it in turns to walk onto the stage and hold a shining statuette in their hands.

This year’s TV highlights included dragons, the retelling of the most famous murder trial in America’s history, and the first female US president getting a giant zit. Each of these shows — Game of Thrones, The People v O.J. Simpson and Veep — were made by two of America’s biggest cable TV channels. Each won big.

Game of Thrones won the best drama series award for the second year in a row. The HBO series was up for 24 awards and came away with 12 today, breaking a record set by Frasier with a total haul of 38 Emmys.

But snapping at their heels were programmes with a distinctly British flavour. Four dramas by the BBC received 22 nominations between them. In the event, John Oliver won for best variety talk. Sherlock won best made for TV movie and The Night Manager won an award for best directing.

Downton Abbey, which found phenomenal success in the USA, enjoyed its last chance to add to its trophy shelf. Two of the winning talk show hosts, James Corden and John Oliver, were born in England.

Since 2000 many have claimed that we are living through the second Golden Age of Television. There are complex antiheroes starring in serious, high-production dramas. There are bizarre comedies written by people of all genders and colours; this year’s Emmy Awards, unlike the Oscars, were the most diverse ever.

And now streaming has made it easier than ever for people to watch television whenever it suits them; around 80 million people watched 42.5 billion hours of Netflix in 2015.

But some fear that all this choice could soon turn viewers off. ‘My sense is that 2015 or 2016 will represent peak TV in America,’ said the head of FX Network last year. Could British TV be about to take over?

Across the pond

Yes! say fans. Britain may be small, but it has a long history of excellent television — this is the home of Doctor Who and David Attenborough, after all. The BBC’s license fee has allowed it to invest thoughtfully in important and informative shows while taking risks on unusual entertainment. Meanwhile, there is a healthy culture of independent production companies, which raise the quality even higher.

But can Britain really outstrip the mighty juggernaut of Hollywood? ask others. The USA has far higher budgets, stunning set locations, and often invests in much longer seasons with the time to tell more intricate stories. Services like Netflix, which track what viewers watch and use that data to enhance their experience, have only improved things. Britain has its gems, but America is a goldmine.

You Decide

  1. Which do you prefer: British or American TV shows?
  2. Are award ceremonies still relevant?


  1. In groups, come up with a concept for a new TV show. Take it in turns to pitch your ideas to the rest of the class.
  2. Write a review of your favourite TV show and explain why you think it deserves an award.

Some People Say...

“Teenagers watch too much television.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why is British TV becoming popular now?
There are a few reasons. Some British shows have always been popular, like Doctor Who. But they are also easier to watch abroad than ever before. This is partly because of the internet, and also because the BBC is increasingly depending on international sales to make money. Also, it is hard to underestimate just how popular ITV’s Downton Abbey became worldwide.
Does it matter which TV shows win some awards?
It’s true that the Emmy awards are less influential than they once were — their ratings dropped significantly last year, for example. Still, people have been debating the merits of American vs British television for decades. As the medium is changing so quickly, it’s intriguing to look at the argument in this new landscape.

Word Watch

Emmy Awards
The television equivalent of the Academy Awards (for film), Tony Awards (for theatre), and Grammy Awards (for music).
Cable TV
Channels with a subscription fee in the USA. In this case, Game of Thrones and Veep were made by HBO, while The People v O.J. Simpson was made by Fox’s FX.
Four dramas
These were Sherlock, Luther, The Night Manager and War and Peace.
Phenomenal success
Downton Abbey holds the record for the international TV show with the most Primetime Emmy nominations.
The first was in the 1950s and early 1960s, when TV was finding its feet and was therefore willing to experiment.
A record 18 non-white actors received nominations this year — unlike the Oscars, which nominated all-white actors for the second year in a row.
42.5 billion
According to CNN Money, that’s one hour and 33 minutes per day.
Several British channels, including the BBC and Channel 4, buy their shows from independent producers. There are more than 230 of these working and creating content in the UK right now.

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