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What is the reason, that most (all?) Star Trek The Next Generation episodes have two to four years difference in initial airdate between USA and UK?

I'm from Poland and when TNG started airing in USA, my country was still under communistic rules. Even though, everything "from America was bad" these days in my country, I remember, that we have TNG air dates far more close to those from USA. We watched these episodes in the same year or maybe with maximum one year difference (I think, that TNG started in 1988 in Poland).

This makes me even more curious, why there is that large (?) gap between UK and USA?

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    This is probably a better question for Movies+TV:SE. Airdates for TNG were highly variable but presumably based on the cost versus the likely viewing audience – Valorum Jan 25 '15 at 11:41
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    Are you sure it was broadcast so early in Poland? The IMDB listings for TNG's first showing don't include Poland, but the first European country they do list is Finland, starting only a few weeks before the UK in 1990. If you did see TNG in Poland in 1988, might it perhaps have been pirated videotapes rather than a broadcast? – Mike Scott Jan 25 '15 at 11:45
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    Most film reels are shipped across the Atlantic using modern container ships, but to cut costs Paramount had TNG's reels embarked on junks at San Diego, shipped along the North American coast, hopping the Bering Straight to Russia, then down the East Asian coastline, with a stopover at Singapore for fresh fruit and rum, before continuing around South Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. The Suez Canal was deemed to expensive, so the reels continued down the coast of East Africa, with another supply stopover in Zanzibar. They then rounded the Cape, visited Gibraltar, then continued on to London. – James Sheridan Jan 25 '15 at 12:05
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    @JamesSheridan - That certainly explains how pirates were able to get hold of early copies. – Valorum Jan 25 '15 at 12:27
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    There's a very interesting look at the way in which airdates are managed here; theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/05/… – Valorum Feb 8 '15 at 22:26
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In a 1989 article for the Fanzine "625" Tim Munro spoke of his disgust at the BBC's Head of Drama (the man responsible for making overseas purchasing decisions) openly stating at a press event that he thought that Star Trek was "TERRIBLE" and that it "might pop up on BBC2 at some point in the future". He went on to admit that although he'd only seen "a few minutes of the pilot" that that was more than sufficient for him to have made his decision.

This is, of course the same man who (with the open support of the notably sci-fi phobic BBC Head, Michael Grade) was nearly successful in permanently canceling Doctor Who.


It's worth noting that a considerable number of US shows never make it to the UK. Those that do are generally those that have managed to build a strong following in America and have a proven affinity to a key demographic. In the case of Star Trek TNG, it was launched in America and then gained a substantial impact among 18-35 year old males, making it a very worthwhile purchase for overseas buyers such as the BBC.

Buying an un-tested show, with the inherent risk that it flops on both sides of the Atlantic is something that cautious buyers have generally wanted to avoid.

  • While there was a such big delay between US and UK airdate, it can be observed that time difference between US airdate and UK DVD release is often much, much shorter. Is this, because there are different mechanisms taken into account here (i.e. for airdates all the arguments you mentioned in this great answer, while DVD release can be entirely "powered" by US airdate). – trejder Feb 9 '15 at 7:14
  • An additional consideration, that may have extended the gap between US and UK initial airdate, is that for the first couple of years of ST:TNG's US run, the notoriously SF-phobic TV Executive Michael Grade was in a senior position at the BBC at the time: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Grade – user3069 Feb 9 '15 at 14:25
  • @MarkBannister - I've actually found an article that speaks to this exact issue, making most of this answer largely obsolete :-) – Valorum Feb 9 '15 at 14:29

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