They are arguably the most widely traveled watercooler wonders in the TV world.
Beginning with “Dallas” in the late 1970s, continuing with “Baywatch” and “The Simpsons” in the late ’80s, and culminating in the current drama “CSI: Miami,” these shows are as well-known an American export as Coca Cola.
Variety reviewed all four series when they bowed, but we didn’t quite get it right — at least in terms of assessing their long-term prospects. Ultimately, all four endured in primetime, a feat achieved by only 10% of shows launched each season in the U.S. Moreover, they caught on abroad — bigtime.
About “Dallas,” Variety opined that the perfs were “spiritless” and the characters largely “spineless”; it did in fact take some episodes for the fires to start burning.
“Primetime soap operas about the rich and powerful haven’t worked all that well in the last few seasons. ‘Dallas’ is just as dull and contrived, so there’s no reason to expect that its five episodes will fare any better,” the paper wrongly concluded.
Auds thought differently: “Dallas” ended up running for 14 seasons, amassing 356 episodes.
“Baywatch” — with characters “who’ve been on the beach too long” and tales that “lost their luster before the first wave,” Variety said — sailed in syndie waters for 12 seasons, after being canceled in its first season by NBC. Bart, Homer and the “Simpson” crowd are in their 14th season on Fox, and “CSI: Miami” has just hit its stride in its fourth season on the Eye.
All went on to hit it as big abroad as they did at home.With its padded shoulders, palatial houses and perfidious J.R. Ewing, “Dallas” even came to symbolize American cultural imperialism in the mid-’80s, when countries like France worried that Yank pop icons were eroding their own culture.
Variety correspondents covered a number of irate speeches by European culture ministers in which the “Dallas”/”Dynasty” axis was denounced. The European Union finally passed its Television Without Frontiers quota reg to limit Yank imports.
“Baywatch” too had its detractors among the cultural elite overseas, but auds never seemed to mind. Its beefcake biceps and bosomy blondes were eventually exported to the farthest reaches of the globe: Even Papua New Guinea, Daily Variety reported in 1995, eventually bit the bikini.
Though it’s hard to get precise figures for sales to TV stations overseas, most pundits believe “The Simpsons” holds the record for the most lucrative half-hour ever licensed abroad. And domestically it’s arguably making a mint for the Fox 0&0s that air it without giving up any barter time. (Show is still in its first syndie cycle domestically and was just renewed for another two seasons of originals on the network.)
As for “CSI: Miami,” the second in the tripartite franchise from the Jerry Bruckheimer stable, its appeal abroad may have as much to do with its sultry Latin-tinged sheen and its sexy scientists as with its test-tube derring-do.
When it premiered in 2002, Variety‘s reviewer preferred the original Sin City version: “Taut and tense, the (Miami-set) show boasts the twists, turns, gadgets and gimmicks made famous by its Las Vegas-set progenitor. It could, however, use a dash of personality — everybody is relentlessly dour.” Well, star David Caruso’s character Horatio still is a gloomy type (he has a thing for cemeteries), but the other characters are sparky.
While Yank series don’t generally play in primetime abroad anymore, the forensic drama is bringing in upwards of $1 million an episode in license fees from foreign stations, up there with the creme de la creme of U.S. shows.