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Fleabag at the Emmys: How America fell in love with a ‘dirty’ British comedy

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Left-right: Fleabag's Andrew Scott, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford and Brett GelmanImage copyright
Reuters

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Left-right: Fleabag’s Andrew Scott, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford and Brett Gelman

Fleabag, the savage BBC sitcom written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, has become the first British show to win best comedy series at the Emmy Awards in the US.

“It’s so wonderful and reassuring to know that a dirty, pervy, angry and messed-up woman can make it to the Emmys,” joked Waller-Bridge on stage on Sunday – referring to her character, obviously.

She made it, and she won four awards, including best comedy series and comedy actress. In the latter category, she beat the hot favourite, Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who had triumphed for all six of the show’s previous seasons.

Fleabag launched on BBC Three in the UK in 2016, and its first season became a cult hit in the US after being picked up by Amazon. Its second was the breakthrough.

It was “unmissable”, Vanity Fair said. It was “a raunchy, redemptive masterpiece”, Time magazine said. It was “thrillingly deep, funny, and buoyant”, Slate said. It was “a virtuoso performance by an actor at the top of her game”, Vox said.

Speaking in the Emmys press room after her wins, Waller-Bridge said she had been hugely surprised by the “really special” word-of-mouth response in the US. “It did feel like a tidal wave just suddenly hitting us all,” she said. “It just landed and there was this explosion of response. There were shock waves to it.”

The fact it’s the first British show to win best comedy series is partly down to the changing TV landscape – non-US shows aren’t eligible for the Emmys unless they’re co-produced by an American company, and global co-productions are more common in the global streaming era. So great British comedies like Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Absolutely Fabulous and the original The Office couldn’t enter.

The second season of Fleabag was co-produced by the BBC and Amazon. It now joins Modern Family, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and Veep as the shows that have been named best comedy series this decade.

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Andrew Scott in Fleabag season two

“The headline is, like, it is just a very, very good show, right?” says the New York Times’ Eleanor Stanford, who until recently wrote for the TV team and is now a London-based editor on the paper’s culture desk.

“There is a baseline appreciation for the craft of the show. But also if you look at the British shows that are really successful in America, I think there’s a certain frisson at seeing British people swearing, and being as filthy as Fleabag is.”

Veep was created by Armando Iannucci, also a Brit, based on his very sweary BBC political satire The Thick of It. Sunday’s other British Emmy winners included Succession writer Jesse Armstrong (who made his name on Channel 4’s Peep Show) and Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch, written by Charlie Brooker. Perhaps there’s a common theme in the appetite for black, biting British humour and outlook.

“The clichés are of the British being more sarcastic and of the humour having a darker tinge to it,” Stanford says. “They are clichés, but there’s probably some truth there.”

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Veep nominees Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Anna Chlumsky consoled each other at the Emmys Governors Ball

Fleabag executive producer Jack Williams, speaking after Emmys night, says of the show: “It does feel very British – the sense of humour, the wryness, the ability to go from very funny to very sad.

“But I suppose it’s universal. The feel of the thing is very British, but I think what she’s writing about is far broader than that. The writing is just really good.”

What often used to happen was that a hit British comedy might get an American remake. (The US version of The Office has also won the Emmy for top comedy.) Now, a show will stream around the world at the same time, so if a show is as good as Fleabag is, Stateside viewers will just discover the original.

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Reuters

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge backstage at the Emmys

“Perhaps five years ago it might have been remade,” Williams says. “But because you can go on Amazon and find it in any country in the world, people have managed to find it before that happens.”

It has been remade in one country, though. The French title for Fleabag is Mouche, which translates as “Fly”. But on the whole, the French version got lost in translation.

Like Fawlty Towers, Fleabag has just 12 episodes – while American sitcoms can have 20+ episodes per season, and lots of seasons.

Less can be more. Stanford says lots of American viewers chose not to binge on Fleabag, instead rationing the episodes to one or two per week. “Which is maybe because the episodes are so intense, and it’s such a short season,” she says.

“There was a sense that with six super concise, really effective episodes – that that format was sort of remarkable and impressive.”

American sitcoms also have writers’ rooms, whereas Fleabag is from the depths of Waller-Bridge’s psyche alone. She has said there will be no third season.

Williams, who runs production company Two Brothers Pictures with brother Harry, says he would be “really surprised” if she changed her mind.

“She puts a lot into them,” he says. “It may be six episodes but every frame and every line is toiled over and takes a lot out of her, and if she feels it’s a fitting end then who am I to disagree? We have these 12 episodes to enjoy.”

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Children In Need 2019: Strictly, Star Wars and soaps help charity appeal

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Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse, Shirley Ballas, Bruno Tonioli

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The Strictly Come Dancing judges in charitable mood

Stars from Strictly, Star Wars, Doctor Who and EastEnders are lending a hand to Children In Need to help raise funds in this year’s charity BBC TV appeal.

The five-hour telethon also features England football players, a celebrity edition of music quiz The Hit List and songs by Louis Tomlinson and Westlife.

They are all hoping viewers will donate to Children In Need, which supports 3,000 local charities and projects.

Last year, £50.6m was raised on the appeal night.

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The hosts: Marvin and Rochelle Humes, Mel Giedroyc, Tom Allen, Graham Norton, Ade Adepitan and Tess Daly

Children in Need is the BBC’s official UK charity and raises money for disadvantaged young people around the country, such as those experiencing poverty, with disabilities, or victims of abuse or neglect.

This year, comedian Tom Allen joins a presenting line-up that also includes Graham Norton, Tess Daly, Mel Giedroyc, Ade Adepitan and Marvin and Rochelle Humes.

EastEnders actors Ricky Champ (who plays Stuart Highway), Louisa Lytton (Ruby Allen), Maisie Smith (Tiffany Butcher) and Rudolph Walker (Patrick Trueman) swap Albert Square for the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom for the night.

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Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood appears in a sketch with EastEnders’ Ricky Champ and Rudolph Walker

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The EastEnders teamed up with Strictly professionals

Star Wars actors Daisy Ridley and John Boyega challenge YouTuber Colin Furze to build a real working landspeeder [vehicle that hovers], helped by young people from Children In Need projects.

Doctor Who’s Jodie Whittaker also makes an appearance, and Norton gives three children the chance to be on his chat show sofa – and the power to tip joke-telling celebrities out of his famous big red chair.

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Graham Norton gives Julio, Iara and Emma control over his famous lever

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Will Julio like the jokes told by Anneka Rice in the big red chair?

Meanwhile, there are special versions of Mock The Week, Crackerjack and Dragon’s Den, along with performances from Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, plus the casts of Big, The Tina Turner Musical and Circus 1903.

England footballers Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling have been filmed surprising children from the England Amputee Football Association.

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England stars Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling with children from the England Amputee Football Association and presenter Mark Wright

A special edition of BBC One’s The Hit List features pop stars including rapper Wretch 32, ex-JLS singer JB Gill, Heidi Range from the Sugababes, Girls Aloud’s Nadine Coyle, Liberty X star Michelle Heaton and Blue’s Antony Costa.

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JB Gill and Wretch 32 on the special Hit List

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Marvin and Rochelle Humes host The Hit List

TV personality Rylan Clark-Neal has already raised more than £1m for the cause with his 24-hour karaoke marathon on BBC Radio 2.

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Media captionRylan’s karaoke challenge: The best bits

Children in Need is on BBC One at 19:30 GMT on 15 November

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Al Murray: ‘Nephew needs a transplant before Christmas’

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Comedian Al Murray is urging people to sign up to a blood stem cell register run by the cancer charity DKMS.

His nephew Finley, aged six, has a rare and aggressive form of childhood leukaemia.

He is undergoing chemotherapy but his best chance of fighting the disease is a bone marrow transplant.

Watch the Victoria Derbyshire programme on BBC Two and BBC News Channel, 10:00 to 11:00 GMT – and see more of our stories here.



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Taylor Swift says AMAs performance in doubt amid music feud

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Taylor Swift performs at the MTV Video Music Awards in New Jersey, US, 26 August 2019Image copyright
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Swift is being named Artist of the Decade at this month’s AMAs

Taylor Swift has said her performance at the upcoming American Music Awards (AMAs) is in doubt because she is being barred from performing her own songs.

In a message to fans on social media, the singer said music managers Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta would not let her perform songs from her past albums, which they own the rights to.

She said a Netflix documentary about her life had also been put in jeopardy.

Braun and Borchetta have not yet responded.

Swift made the allegations in a statement posted to Twitter with the caption: “Don’t know what else to do”.

“Right now my performance at the AMAs, the Netflix documentary and any other recorded events I am planning to play until November 2020 are a question mark,” she wrote.

Why is there a feud?

In June, Swift revealed that the masters of her early music had been sold to Braun by her former record label, run by Borchetta, and alleged that she was not told about it.

At the time the singer accused Braun, who also manages Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato, of “incessant, manipulative bullying”.

  • Swift v Braun: Personal or strictly business?
  • Taylor Swift ‘bullied’ by man who now owns her music

Swift also accused Braun of attempting to “dismantle” her “musical legacy”. While he did not respond to her comments, he was supported by Lovato and Bieber, who claimed Swift was just out “to get sympathy”.

The singer confirmed in August that she planned to re-record music from her first six albums so she could own the rights to the new versions.

What about the AMAs and Netflix documentary?

Swift is set to be named Artist of the Decade at the AMAs later this month and said she had been planning to perform a medley of her hits.

But in her statement on Thursday, she said the two men had blocked her from performing her old songs on television, claiming that this would be re-recording her music before she is allowed to next year.

They also blocked the use of her older music or performance footage in the upcoming Netflix film, she claimed.

Swift alleged that Borchetta told her team she would only be allowed to use the music if she agreed “not to re-record copycat versions” next year and stopped talking about the two men.

“The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished,” she wrote.

She went on to ask her fans to help to pressure Braun and Borchetta into changing their minds and to appeal to the artists they manage for help. She also asked for help from the private equity firm The Carlyle Group, which she said financed the sale.

Fans responded instantly, with the hashtags “IStandWithTaylor” and “FreeTaylor” trending on Twitter.



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