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Fawlty Programming

I’ve been watching TV in London all week, and virtually every time I’ve turned on the set, Fawlty Towers has been on. I thought this was a lack-of-imagination phenomenon only in the U.S. — you know, when you get clicker fatigue and it seems as if Seinfeld just might have its own channel. But the Brits aren’t the TV-watching sophisticates I thought they were. With so many channels to program — thanks to the cablelike Sky TV — the English aren’t above running a classic into the ground. Even if Fawlty Towers is the finest situation comedy the country has ever produced. (And it is — that’s fact, not belief.) The problem is that only 12 episodes of John Cleese’s snob-farce masterpiece were ever created, which on a daily rerun schedule means you’re starting from scratch every two weeks or so. In fact, a lot of Britcoms have complete episode runs that barely reach two dozen, courtesy of the standard six-episode season in England, which may be a quality-control decision but certainly doesn’t lend itself to a couch-potato fantasy of variety-in-sameness. This is where the quantity-obsessed American way of 22-episode seasons and a network renewal policy that takes certain shows so far beyond their prime — nine seasons! 10 seasons! They’re not just jumping the shark, they’re dating, marrying and having kids with it — is actually a good thing when you’re in rerun-watching mode. Quality control? Feh! You may have seen every Friends by now, but in the fading consciousness of late-night viewing, isn’t there a strange comfort in feeling as if there are thousands of them? Plus, the multiple storylines in each episode make it seem like millions and millions as your eyes start to droop . . . “Hey, I haven’t seen this one in MONTHS!”


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