Friday, March 11, 2005

So you watched "The Old Fox" too?

From time to time, Emil and I do this fun thing. We compare notes about the TV we used to watch growing up. I in a still sort of mixed economy tilting to socialism India and he in Islamic Republic of Iran. Satelite TV came to India in the early 1990s, with economic liberalization. It also came to Iran, though there you had to set up an illegal dish antenna to catch signals beamed to neighbouring countries. That was actually way cooler, because they could see satelite TV catering to, and originating in many different countries. They saw the first avatar of the pan-Asian Star channel (based in Hongkong with mostly syndicated American shows, and some originals like "Yan can cook"). The same crappy "Bold & Beautiful" and "Santa Barbara". Later they got Star Plus India, the Indianized Star (after Star became part of the Murdoch stable), and Channel V. He still remembers the Quick Gun Murugan spots on V, the Tamil cowboy, who'd burst into a salon and say "Oru Whisky, oru masala dosa"!!

They also managed to catch signals to Turkish satelite channels, and Israeli TV, as well as a few channels based in Kuwait and UAE, which of course we never managed to see. So Emil has a great pan-Middle Eastern and South Asian perspective on 1990s television. The more exotic choices on our satelite channel list were PTV International and ATN Bangladesh. And oh, we had Fashion TV, I believe based in France, the most mind-numbingly boring channel ever.

What Emil and I also share in common is a childhood and adolescence spent watching cheap syndicated German TV. You see there was a German syndicating company called Transtel, that used to sell German TV shows from the 1970s to state channels in countries like India and Iran, which could use these as evidence of diversity in programming. Hence Emil and I both have vivid memories of "so bad it's actually good" cop shows like "The Old Fox" (Der Alte in German and "Kargah Koster" in Farsi). And of course "Didi's Comedy Show", and "Derrick", another cop show.

On the plus side it seems the folks running both the Indian and Iranian state TV were firm Anglophiles and BBC and ITV productions featured prominently. There was "Yes Minister" and many other series based on books. The funny thing is that the cheesier shows are a bit of a private joke between me and Emil, because none of our American friends have seen them. Strange that coming from countries with very restricted electronic media in the 1980s like India and Iran, Emil and I had a greater range of programmes from many different countries.

Compare this to American TV, where if you watch the big three terrestrial channels, you'd think no TV shows are produced outside the US, because they are never featured. This of course does not stop American TV from ripping off ideas from TV in other countries - "American Idol" from "Pop Idol" (in England), "The Office" on NBC from "The Office" (BBC) and they even had a shortlived rip-off of "Kumars at No. 42" (a BBC show with a British Indian family) but with a Mexican family. And then there is "Real World" on MTV, inspired by "Big Brother" on British TV, which supposedly started the reality TV craze.

But to cut a digression short, it's surprising and reassuring to know that we weren't inhabiting some bizarre isolated realm of entertainment, where everything we saw or listened to was eccentric and alien to the rest of the world. I find it reassuring to think that Indian film musicians were ripping off songs from other countries, which means that they were listening to those songs in the first place, and not stuck in a self-referential loop. And it is very good to know that someone else in another part of the world was as mesmerized by a cop show where the hero was a 70-year old German cop with never a change of expression in dozens of episodes, a hypnotic tedium of pace that was only relieved briefly by the appearance of a very young and very attractive Natassja Kinski in one episode. And yet I loved "The Old Fox" and Emil did too. Why? I think for the same reasons. We wanted to reach out, see what was out there, and anything would have sufficed.

6 Comments:

Blogger trots syam said...

Dear Pak Thalassa_mikra.

Maaf, aku baru sempat membalas komentar Anda di www.dusunlaman.blog.com,...

Terima kasih atas apresiasimu. Saat ini saya sedang sibuk menulis komik di tempat kerja saya yang baru. Karena itu saya tidak sempat posting informasi baru tentang prabumulih.

Saya bisa berbahasa Inggris sedikit. Kalau Anda butuh informasi tentang Prabumulih, silahkan tanyakan kepada saya. Kalau Saya bisa share tentang informasi itu, saya akan kirimkan info kepada Anda.

Thank you. Nice to know you and your blog.

Salam,
Syam

6:05 AM  
Blogger trots syam said...

Dear Pak Thalassa_mikra.

Maaf, aku baru sempat membalas komentar Anda di www.dusunlaman.blog.com,...

Terima kasih atas apresiasimu. Saat ini saya sedang sibuk menulis komik di tempat kerja saya yang baru. Karena itu saya tidak sempat posting informasi baru tentang prabumulih.

Saya bisa berbahasa Inggris sedikit. Kalau Anda butuh informasi tentang Prabumulih, silahkan tanyakan kepada saya. Kalau Saya bisa share tentang informasi itu, saya akan kirimkan info kepada Anda.

Thank you. Nice to know you and your blog.

Salam,
Syam

6:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Author,

I reached this blog because I was searching on google for anyone who'd have seen "The Old Fox" on TV and where I could find downloadable episodes if any. I must admit, in India, those days in 80s where a black and white TV was one of the most precious items in a house and you could have any channel you like as long as it was DD, the chances of remembering the programs you used to watch were much higher compared to 30% of quality TV (rest being adverts and reality TV) of today.
Anyways, although I didn't find what I was looking for, I'm very happy to have read through your article. I agree to your thoughts and they remind me of my early days.

11:32 AM  
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11:46 PM  
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2:31 AM  
Blogger AbFab said...

Hey there!
I too was trolling the cyber space for a downloadable link for Der Alte / The old fox!!
This was my fav. series on TV back in those days.
And yea, as you rightly mention, it was my channel to the outside world..before the days of the internet!
Its amazing how not too many besides other Indians have never heard of this show!
I would love to be able to buy the series....cant locate any place that sells this online..
I do visit Germany sometimes, and should think of checking the shops while there....and maybe upload them to YouTube..
But in the meantime, good to read your blog.
Cheers.
Arti

9:43 AM  

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