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Networks Update On the existential threat posed by invading US media conglomerates

Paradoxically sporadic, politically intelligent productions ameliorate the overall negative trends, writes DENNIS BROE

DURING the largest television festival in the world Series Mania at Lille in northern France, everyone paid homage to the invasion in Ukraine, but what was often unstated was how to deal with another invasion, that of the US streamer conglomerates.

As money is now pouring into Europe, where production values are cheaper and where local production is being driven by the global and Western success of the Korean series Squid Game proving that audiences around the world are no longer adverse to watching native language series with subtitles.

Public television is everywhere threatened by these private monopolies. Typical is the case of Sally Riley, who heads the drama desk of ABC television in Australia where she is also in charge of an Indigenous branch of the network.

ABC has commissioned the aborigine series Mystery Road and Troppo as well as the detective series Jack Irish, all of which are critical of the power structure of Australian society.

Riley complains that with the global streamers now invading the market, it is much harder to secure “projects, talents and crew” and generally harder for public television to compete.

This invasion has also prompted increasing monopolisation and mergers of local TV stations in order to compete. Foremost among them is the proposed merger of France’s top two private and linear broadcast stations TF1 and M6.

The fear is that Vincent Bollore’s M6 will swallow TF1 which does commission its own French series in contrast to M6 known for its cheaply made reality series. Media magnate Bollore has positioned himself as the Rupert Murdoch of French media with his CNEWS cable channel, which spawned far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, being the French equivalent of Fox News.

These mergers are resulting in media workers losing their jobs.

As for the series themselves, the festival functions as a kind of global spring series preview with a host of socially minded series on the agenda. The best series at the festival was the MGM/Epix streamer Billy the Kid, premiered on April 25.

The series starts out as the most cliche-ridden of all westerns with Billy (William H Bonney), spurs a jangling and pistols at the ready, walking into an almost pitch-black saloon and facing down a bounty hunter who is after him.

The opening though is simply a diversion as the series then cuts to the tenements of New York City as the now pre-adolescent Billy and his Irish family decide to go west because the conditions of immigrant life in New York are so awful.

The tension in this first season centers around a Nativist hatred for all those not American, featuring killing and lynching of Mexicans, as well as a cabal of those in power who simply want to exploit immigrant labour.

Billy’s stepfather is, when Billy’s mother encounters him, a racist debtor trading on his white privilege who must leave Santa Fe for the wilds of Silver City in order to flee his creditors, just as another famous white bigot who then became president had to flee his debtors in Atlantic City for the wilds of Vegas and network TV.

In the guise of a western Billy the Kid is a sharply critical examination of the American character.

From Colombia comes Turbia, a dystopic anthology series, set in Cali, the site of much current labour organising and dissent, about a drought in the not too-distant future that accentuates the already massive gap between rich and poor, with the police-barricaded rich now having abundant water while for the poor water is rationed or sold on an underground market.

The series joins those other harbingers of impending doom (as Joe Biden threatens the world with nuclear annihilation in calling for regime change in Russia) Snowpiercer and The Walking Dead, the latter currently enjoying its finest season as the survivors battle a neoliberal US style government called “The Commonwealth.”

The team of The Wire, David Simon and George Pelecanos, are back with a limited HBO series, again dealing with Baltimore, this time with police corruption in We Own This City, premiered April 25.

The series takes pains to show how police brutality is institutionalised, opening with the main corrupt cop, Wayne Jenkins — in an actual case from 2017 — explaining to a group of his fellow cops that when you hit the streets you forget everything you’re taught in the academy because “this is Baltimore,” and if officers don’t play rough “we lose the streets.”

We then flash back to 2003 where Jenkins is told this by the officer training him and then forward two years where he imparts the same “knowledge” to his trainee.

Better than The World of Tomorrow, a series that operates on the flimsy conceit that rap and hip-hop culture arrived in France thanks to a blond French DJ who went to a rap party in San Francisco and then transported the music, was Ossekine, Disney Plus’s first French series which revolves around the 1986 police cover-up of the death of an Algerian student.

The series features a scene of police interrogation of the brother of the student, not to shed light on the victim, but to figure out how to portray the death as either warranted or an accident.

A flashback also recalls the 1961 mass murder of up to perhaps 300 Algerians in Paris being thrown off the Pont Neuf, a bridge in the center of Paris, witnessed by the Ossekine family upon their arrival in France. Who would have thought the Disney series would be hard-hitting while the French series was pure fluff?


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