Global Television Comes of Age

Television’s new international identity was confirmed on both sides of the camera with this year’s Emmy noms. Actors, writers, helmers, producers and below-the-line talent from outside the U.S. have all emerged as global contenders in the annual kudos contest.

Be it “Succession,” mentioned in 25 categories; “Ted Lasso,” which received 20 noms; or South Korea’s “Squid Game,” recipient of 14 noms and the first-ever drama series Emmy nominee not in the English language, TV’s international face came to the fore.

“Succession” was commissioned by HBO but the show, said to be inspired by the feuding Murdoch dynasty, was created by British screenwriter Jesse Armstrong, nominated for an Emmy in one of the writing categories.

In common with so much highend TV, fish-out-of-water feelgood saga “Ted Lasso,” a breakout hit for Apple TV +, was filmed in the U.K. and featured a cast bristling with British talent. No fewer than eight U.K. actors were given an Emmy nom for their performances in “Ted Lasso.” Sally Woodward Gentle, founder of U.K. shingle Sid Gentle, producer of “Killing Eve,” whose stars Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh were nominated for lead actress, says shows set and shot in Britain such as “Ted Lasso” can command a premium as they cut through in content-saturated, global markets.

“If you’re a British producer and want a success in the States, you no longer have to remake the show with an American cast,” she adds.

Seeing England through rosetinted glasses helps. “I live near where ‘Ted Lasso’ is set [the affluent west London suburb of Richmond] and I can tell you that not every street looks like it does in the TV show. In these dark times, escapism is more important than ever.” Netflix’s Georgian romance “Bridgerton,” whose costume design team, led by Britain’s Sophie Canale, is Emmy-nominated, was filmed in historic U.K. locations across Bath, London, Bristol and York.

The Brits are not the only ones leading the international charge in 2022’s Emmy noms.

The Antipodes are represented by New Zealand’s feted helmer Peter Jackson, whose marathon Beatles doc, “The Beatles: Get Back,” is nominated in five categories including documentary or nonfiction series and directing for a documentary/nonfiction program.

Australian actor Murray Bartlett is singled out for his perf in the dark treat that is “The White Lotus,” while Oz’s Rachel Grierson-Johns drew a nom for her role as an editor on local reality show “Love on the Spectrum.” Simon Shaps, a former ITV topper turned TV scout for London-based literary agent Georgina Capel Associates, hails this year’s Emmy noms.

“We’re seeing a sea change in TV production and audience appetites,” Shaps says. “The global streaming platforms have accelerated a trend that was happening … the consumption and appreciation of foreign-language drama or drama from a country other than your own that previously you didn’t know existed or if you did you mostly ignored it.

“We’ve all learned to love drama from France, Germany, Italy, Israel, South Korea, Belgium as well as Scandinavia, which arguably was the canary in the coal mine heralding this trend with Scandi noir.”

As “Squid Game” demonstrates, in most markets, with the U.S. something of an exception, subtitles are no longer an impediment to mainstream success.

“People have learned to love the original imagination of a lot of series that in the past they’d never have had access to or if they did would not have appreciated,” Shaps says.

Arguably, “Squid Game’s” 14 Emmy noms suggests a breakthrough moment in global TV.

“Three years ago, who would have thought a South Korean drama series would get double-figure Emmy nominations?” says Shaps. “The idea that the Netflix world would be seized by a South Korean drama would have been fanciful.

“The show’s success has broken down the myth that only U.S., and to a degree, U.K. drama, travels.

“We now have definitive evidence that television is democratized and it’s open season for great drama, regardless of where it comes from.”

Left Bank’s CEO, the Emmy-winning producer Andy Harries, whose hits include Netflix flagship “The Crown,” agrees: “It’s great that these national, cultural barriers are being broken down. It keeps everyone’s game up.

“Why should the South Koreans not be able to create and produce a phenomenon like ‘Squid Game?’ It was a brilliant series — audacious, breathtakingly staged, compulsive and propulsive. Everything that people want from TV.

“A brilliant fusion of many elements that we’ve seen before, but that’s often the trick to securing a breakout show.”

As Woodward Gentle says: “Audiences respond to great material regardless of wherever it’s set, and to say it again, subtitles are no longer a barrier.”

Clearly, as the Emmy noms suggest, streaming and the subscription VOD giants are continuing to upend the global TV market.

Take the example of “The Beatles: Get Back.” At any time during the past 40 years the footage that Jackson was given access to for what became his film was bound to be a global event by virtue of the Beatles status as the biggest pop culture phenomenon ever.

But now that Disney+ can stream the docu as an international exclusive allows “The Beatles: Get Back” to generate more noise than ever.

“The global platforms make these moments instantaneous as people across the world all talk about a show at the same time,” says Shaps.

“Ten years ago, ‘Squid Game’ would have struggled to find a place on any non-Korean channel anywhere other than in South Korea. Today’s global platforms didn’t exist and a show like ‘Squid Game’ would have emerged piecemeal, territory by territory.”

It is not just Emmy voters who are being more adventurous in their selections by looking at horizons beyond Hollywood.

With audiences stuck at home, the COVID lockdowns played their part, too, in encouraging global audiences to be a lot more daring and discerning in their viewing choices. “We’ve all learned to seek out these hidden gems,” says Shaps.

For decades there’s been a healthy exchange of ideas between the U.K. and the U.S., especially in scripted content. “Succession’s” success perhaps offers a case study in this transatlantic way of working.

Armstrong’s script was originally turned down by Blighty’s Channel 4 despite his being the co-writer of the broadcaster’s wildly inventive comedy “Peep Show.” Their loss became HBO’s gain.

British, Australian and Swedish acting talent helped secure “Succession’s” prominence on the international stage: Brian Cox, Matthew Macfadyen and Harriet Walter (all U.K.), Sarah Snook (Australia) and Alexander Skarsgård (Sweden) received Emmy noms.

But is this outburst of global recognition for some of TV’s finest talent by a U.S. awards body likely to be permanent? The veteran British agent Duncan Heath, co-chairman of Independent Talent Group, is upbeat. His clients Comer (for “Killing Eve”) and Colin Firth (for “The Staircase”) drew nominations as did the previously mentioned Canale, and Lucinda Wright, costume designer on “The Witcher.” “By its very nature, TV is more international nowadays,” he says.

“I’ve got an office in Africa. We’ve got great trained talent coming out of the U.K. Our drama schools are not only for the rich. We train our actors properly and as a result they are more international.

“We’re especially lucky in the U.K. because we’ve got huge talent that travels — actors, writers, directors, and below-the-line.”

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