A cuppa media: Mrs Brown’s Boys in America

Written by Alex Veeneman

It has grown in popularity since debuting in 2011, and provided top ratings for BBC One’s programmes this past Christmas.

It has grown in popularity since debuting in 2011, and provided top ratings for BBC One’s programmes this past Christmas. For Mrs Brown’s Boys, and its star and creator, Brendan O’Carroll, success has appeared, and with it much international interest, particularly from the United States.

However, as discussions have taken off, concerns by interested networks on the language in the programme have seen a block appear in negotiations. O’Carroll has said he would not edit the programme because of language.

In an interview with the Irish Mirror newspaper, Rory Cowan, who plays one of Mrs Brown’s sons, Rory (and also is his manager), said O’Carroll would prefer the programme in its original format.

“The problem with us in the US is because there is swearing in it—there cannot be swearing in any TV shows on any network channel,” Cowan said according to a report of the interview on the Digital Spy web site. “By law if there is any swearing it has got to be beeped, and not just change the words. Brendan won’t agree to that at all.”

The language battle

The laws in question come from the Federal Communications Commission, the US government’s communications agency (equivalent to Ofcom), and may impose fines or revoke licences if content falls in violation of the Commission’s rules, according to a fact sheet by the Commission.

The Commission says it is against US law to air obscene programmes, as well as broadcast indecent programmes or coarse language during specific broadcast hours (specifically 6am to 10pm in any of the US time zones). However, when evaluating a complaint, the Commission says it would consider the context of the content that was broadcast.

The public television network PBS, the premium cable network HBO and the digital streaming service Netflix have expressed interest in acquiring Mrs Brown’s Boys for American audiences, the Digital Spy report says. Spokespersons for Netflix, PBS and HBO did not respond to Kettle’s requests for comment.

Established interest

A spokesperson for BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the BBC that handles distribution and sales, said Mrs Brown’s Boys was not one being distributed by them.

Cowan says though conversations continue despite concern on the laws.

“Brendan is talking to HBO and PBS about doing it in America and they do want it as it is, swearing and all,” Cowan said. “Brendan is also talking to Netflix and that’s how they will get around that.”

As the conversations continue, the issue of language in one of the top comedy successes in the 21st century will likely be at the centre of any talks ahead of bringing Mrs Brown’s Boys to audiences in the United States.

Already, Cowan says, there is a large interest in the programme from those who serve on Army bases.

“I know all the US Army bases get the DVDs,” Cowan said. “I don’t know where they get them.We are getting fan mail from all the army bases all over America. And they get them free – they’re being sent from somewhere.”

Whether other audiences in the US would react the same way to the programme however, remains unclear, and the language issue may hinder the abilities for audiences to access Mrs Brown’s Boys.

What do you think about Mrs Brown’s Boys? Should the programme be allowed to broadcast in America? Have your say in the comments section below.