Two centuries after we won our freedom from England, we Americans still care what the British think of us: Why else would we populate our TV shows with so many British judges?
The number of Brits on American TV suggests a national fascination — if not obsession — with something. Don’t we have any red-blooded Americans who can suitably introduce shows and judge contestants?
"America's Got Talent" judge Piers Morgan (left) took over for Larry King. The Scot Gordon Ramsay lays down the law in televised cooking. Hugh Grant came close to replacing Charlie Sheen. David Beckham is our go-to sexy athlete. Simon Cowell, as a host and executive producer of "American Idol," has ground up countless rival shows in the show's machinery, and hopes to do the same with "X Factor." Nigel Lythgoe executive produces "Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance," and judges the latter.
To host his new contest, "X Factor," Cowell named another Brit, the obscure-to-Americans Welshman Steve Jones (right). But Cowell couldn’t hold on to Cheryl Cole, who was replaced this week as a judge by ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, who had been a host.
Dashing Brits aren't just in front of the camera. "Idol" is the creation of British producer Simon Fuller. Paul Telegdy is NBC's head of reality programming. Fox entertainment chairman Peter Rice and ABC entertainment president Paul Lee are both British. (Jimmy Kimmel joked last week about Lee: "Who better to lead the American Broadcasting Company than an English guy with an Asian last name?")
These Brits seem to stick together, especially where "Idol" and "X Factor" are concerned. Fuller made Cowell a star in the U.S.; Cowell tried to do the same thing for his fellow "X Factor" judge, Cole. Cowell had already extended a hand to Morgan and Sharon Osbourne on “America’s Got Talent.”
Why did so many work out when Cole didn't? Because we like our Brits cool, smart, detached.
If there is a British X factor, it's the ability to carry off posh in a way few Americans can. Even the once-not-posh Osbourne has adopted this attitude, and we Americans bought it.
Cole (right) doesn't seem to have it. Her accent — closer to the Scot Susan Boyle than to Simon Cowell's dry gin martini — was part of the reason she didn't work out. When she says "judge," she endearingly pronounces the word "jidge."
Cowell introduced her to American audiences in a news release as a "brat." But you can't be bratty and aloof. One demands attention and the other couldn't be less interested.
Sadly, only Tim Gunn and Martha Stewart at her coldest can compete with U.K. exports for that semi-detached approval Americans seem desperately to want — like brats trying to get their parents' attention.
Britain, it seems, is still our parent. We've successfully won our freedom, but we still seem to crave its love.