My wife and I like British television. Specifically, I can’t recommend programs like Shetland, Line of Duty and Broadchurch enough. Even comedies like Black Books, Gavin and Stacy (where we discovered James Corden years before he made it big on late night TV) and Doc Martin rank as some of our favorite shows.

Why do we watch Britbox and Acorn when there are plenty of great American shows to binge on Netflix or Hulu? Personally, I blame it all on PBS. I grew up in a rural North Dakota town that got four broadcast TV channels over the air (when cable TV finally came to town, my parents refused to take part). Consequently, I could watch NBC and ABC (which came in fine), CBS (which always looked like it was being beamed from Neptune) and PBS, which was packed with educational programming and shows like Masterpiece Theater.

I grew up considering PBS to be “TV for smart people” (or at least people smarter than me), and I’m pretty sure that led me to subconsciously believe that anybody with a British accent was brilliant and well educated. As an adult, I know that England has plenty of knuckleheads just like me (listen to members of the UK Parliament yell at one another in a meeting sometime), but I cannot shake the feeling that as a whole, Great Britain is a very classy place.

Lee Atwater, political wunderkind and occasional blues singer, once opined that “perception is reality.” By scheduling almost exclusively educational shows and British programming, PBS created a perception with millions of Americans that British TV was, inherently, educational.

Want irrefutable evidence? The “Spam sketch” from Monty Python’s Flying Circus (“spam, spam, spam, egg and spam”) and the “Olympia Cafe sketch” with John Belushi from Saturday Night Live (“cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, Pepsi!”) are very similar, but the former sounds like something filled with subtext (it isn’t) while the latter sounds like a bunch of rowdy Americans shouting for laughs (which is selling it short). I love them both, by the way.

And if perception is, indeed, reality, then we are all masters of our own destiny. What is the perception that customers have of your business, your employees and your service? You can decide. Shape the narrative, and you will shape perception, just like PBS did (inadvertently) when I was a kid.


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