British shows bring what American shows lack. There has been quite the British invasion on American television this year: "Doctor Who" just celebrated its 50th anniversary with the unveiling of the new Doctor, the long anticipated third season premiere of "Sherlock" was Jan. 19, and the period-piece favorite "Downton Abbey" has had strong fourth season ratings this winter.
"They're different from what our TV is putting out," said Ashton Hickey, a senior in psychology and minoring in Spanish and cinema studies. "We put out a lot of procedurals, a lot of predictable TV shows, a lot of sitcoms and all of the BBC shows are better written, have better cinematography, and better acting. ... At this point these shows are just a better quality than the American shows of today."
The critics agree, with the critic ratings on Rotten Tomatoes giving "Doctor Who" 90 percent for almost every season, "Sherlock" getting 100 percent on its first two seasons, and "Downton Abbey" with above 75 percent on all but its current season. Mark Harmon, a professor of journalism and electronic media, said he looks to the production of the show as the reason for its success.
"These programs are successful because they value and do not underestimate the audience," Harmon said. "Each program has high production values and intelligent scripts. One can tell that each episode is created with care."
The viewers definitely agree, with ratings numbers to prove it. According to Hollywood Reporter, the season premiere of "Sherlock" had 4 million viewers – a 25 percent increase – despite the show's two-year hiatus. "Doctor Who" has just began filming its new season, but the previous season's finale – aired in the U.S. and U.K. simultaneously – drew 2.5 million viewers. Encores of that finale also brought in 3.6 million viewers, making it a record for BBC America. "Downton Abbey" also had a record breaking season premiere for PBS with 10.2 million viewers. Fans are a key component to the success and increased viewer numbers of these shows. "Fandoms," or large groups of super fans, allow for the universes within the show to expand to new lengths. Many fans write fan fiction, go to places like Comic Con to do meet-ups and share theories and developments about the show. This is crucial for shows like "Sherlock" which typically have very long hiatuses in between seasons.
"Websites, Twitter and related digital technology make it easy for fans to find each other – sharing ideas, reaction and enthusiasm," Harmon said. "These fan groups may be influencing the culture by broadening our perspective to include more history, more international ideas and more whimsy."
Between the fandoms and the ratings, one has to wonder if the big wigs in Hollywood have taken notice.
"I haven't seen anything yet on (American) TV that has directly mimicked or drawn from these British TV shows," Hickey said. "But they're not going to be able to ignore the viewing numbers, especially after this year of TV with 'Doctor Who,' 'Downton' and 'Sherlock.'"
The impact of these shows on American culture would be gradual but is definitely something to watch out for as Hollywood continues to look for the next big thing. "Sherlock" airs on PBS on Sundays at 9:58 p.m. right after "Downton Abbey." Both are part of PBS' Masterpiece collection.