European view cuts both ways

<B>Elizabeth Guider: Voiceover</B>

Going abroad these days is a trip in more ways than one.

Those in media and entertainment are likely to be both buoyed and bushwhacked by foreign colleagues.

On the positive side, folks abroad, especially in Europe, are watching more American drama series than they have in decades. The young especially — those who tune to channels like Five in the U.K., ProSieben in Germany, M6 in France and Cuatro in Spain — have embraced shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House,” “24” and ‘Ugly Betty.”

“I really never thought Hollywood would come back (from its slump),” said Gerhard Zeiler, head of Europe’s most powerful and far-reaching TV station group, RTL, at the recent Mip TV conference.

Zeiler, who oversees stations from London to Moscow, went on to say that “CSI” jump-started the current love affair with Yank product, and admitted that Europeans simply aren’t firing on all cylinders right now when it comes to producing their own local hits.

That’s the good news.

On the flipside, many of the same media professionals say they are much less impressed with U.S. news media. “Vicious, vulgar or just vapid” are the words that keep popping up.

They have a point: The U.S. airwaves were recently awash with the Don Imus scandal, then the brouhaha over Alec Baldwin calling his 11-year-old daughter a rude little pig .

“If freedom of speech is about defending an over-the-top loudmouth’s right to insult an entire women’s basketball team, or the victims of 9/11 or a hapless child then something is really askew in your land,” is how one Continental exec put it.

In short, they don’t quite get our obsession with, and the airtime devoted to, the shenanigans of Rosie O’Donnell, Imus and Alec

But enough. Isn’t there a war still going on?

Abroad, they haven’t forgotten about Iraq. And most Europeans, it seems, are increasingly impatient with us for not having gotten out of this thing.

Some even wonder aloud why our fierce defense of freedom of speech (for folks like Imus and O’Donnell) didn’t inspire more journos and media pundits to question the initial rationale for the invasion. Hard to answer that one.

So, is the quality of European news better than ours? Certainly not, but it is substantially different — less strident in tone (a good thing, I’d say), but more pious, even protective of the audience (a not-so-good thing). (It also devotes more time to politicos than to celebrities, though snide Americans will point out that Europe has far fewer of the latter and way too many of the former.)

In any case, piety was probably inevitable in the Euro news coverage of the other major American news event while I was abroad — the massacre of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech.

There was a lot of discussion on Euro newsmags about whether the event was an aberration in American life or a reflection of some deep-seated societal psychosis. There was no clear consensus on that point.

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