18 December 2005

French Television, part 1

Let's talk about French television. Our apartment came with basic cable, including eight options:

1 TF1—formerly a state station, the station was privatized in 1987.
2 France2—a state station
3 France3—a state station
4 France4—a state station that seems to always be simulcast with France2
5 France5—a state station that is typically preempted by Arte
5 Arte—a state station that is jointly run by France and Germany
6 M6—a private station
7 Canal+—the original French private station (founded in 1984), which is only available to us some of the time

Although each station has its own character (M6 for example seems to be the poor-man's MTV-Europe, while Canal+ bears a resemblance to premier channels in the USA like HBO), there are some frightening generalizations that can be made out French TV.

First, about half of the broadcasts are dubbed shows from the US. Since arriving, I have seen at least a partial episode of the following programs (in alphabetical order): 24, Alias, CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Dallas, Days of our Lives, Desperate Housewives, The Family Guy, Friends, Law and Order, The Love Boat, Macgyver, My Wife and Kids, The Nanny, NCIS, NYPD Blue, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Scooby Doo, Sex and the City, The Simpsons, and The Young and the Restless. I think I got all of the ones I've seen...

Second, France has also fallen prey to the reality TV craze. Among our weekly choices this fall have been Star Academy (on the model of the British Pop Star, but predating American Idol), Le Tuteur (Star Academy for older kids, with less glitz and glamor), a Super-Nanny type of show, a brat-camp type of show, two or three makeover shows, and French versions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and The Weakest Link.

As you can imagine, so far, watching TV here is a lot like watching it at home. Except for one big difference. Thanks to the Académie Française absolutely everything is dubbed into French (except on Arte, thanks to the German participation). This is good for our French comprehension, but unfortunately there is often a lot lost in translation. For example, the entire joke of The Nanny was Fran Drescher's obnoxious voice, right? You wouldn't know it watching the French version: her voice is provided by a run-of-the-mill voice-over actress.

You might be thinking—"But France has one of the greatest cinematic traditions in the world! Surely they have created something original that's worth watching!" My response to that is easy. The French have two basic formats for original TV programming: panel discussions and game shows. I can't even begin to count how many panel discussion shows there are here. Imagine having Crossfire, The McNeill-Lehrer Hour, Larry King *and* The Viewon constantly, with a rotating panel of celebrities. Many of these shows are about the media itself. So, we watch celebrities as they watch clips from this week in TV. Then, they discuss the clips. Occasionally somebody even says something interesting. Only once have I seen a clip that was truly worth discussing—when a show on Canal+ broadcast the commercial made by MTV that was evidently banned by the US government. (Unforunately, I can no longer find a good source for it online; the commercial used images of the 9/11 terrorist attacks while suggesting that people should also unite against world hunger. Very poignant, very controversial.)

The game shows here offer some promise, though I'll talk about them more in an upcoming post entitled "French Television, part 2."

As in the US (and I assume everywhere else that people are reading this), programming is filled in with sports and movies. Unfortunately, since we only have basic, I'm not allowed to see nearly as many games as I'd like. I'm able to watch most of the Champions League games involving French teams, and all of the soccer and rugby matches of les Bleus (the national teams). I hope that next summer's World Cup offers plenty of options for me. The one big drawback to our sports broadcasts, however, is Canal+. This station is known primarily for showing sports events and movies. Unfortunately, we are unable to watch either on that station. Usually, about 2 minutes into the broadcast, the person at the switch finally gets around to turning the decoder back on. It's just long enough for me to get my hopes up that maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to watch Paris-St.-Germain annihilate Olympique-Marseille this time.


At 19/12/05 09:43, Blogger amy7252 said...

I, of course, am thrilled to have Sex and the City reruns to teach me the subtleties of the language of love. As for the scrambled soccer ... it looks just about the same for me either way. --Amy


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