Translating humor

When translating humor fails

Arguably one of the best comedy shows on TV these days is 30 Rock. Multiple Emmy Awards prove that I am not alone with that opinion. Now, tell that to the Germans. This week, an average of 30,000 viewers tuned in to channel ZDFneo to watch Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. That’s a whopping 0.1% market share!

This is what The Hollywood Reporter found out:

’30 Rock’ registers with German viewers
Second showing achieves 0.1% market share

By Scott Roxborough — Nov 5, 2009, 10:27 AM ET

COLOGNE, Germany — Things are looking up for “30 Rock” in Germany. An average of 30,000 viewers tuned in to channel ZDFneo Wednesday night to watch the Emmy-winning sitcom — enough for a 0.1% market share, according to German ratings agency Media Control. While that might not sound like much, it’s a major improvement over “30 Rock’s” free-TV debut in Germany where the show scored a zero rating, a figure that translates to fewer than 5,000 viewers. But other shows didn’t do much better on the digital niche channel, a subsidiary of pubweb giant ZDF, which has been struggling to find an audience since its Nov. 1 relaunch. The share for the ZDFneo premiere of “In Plain Sight” — 0.2% — was barely visible. German crime series “Das Duo” flopped in primetime just ahead of “30 Rock” with a 0.1% share. ZDFneo is being closely watched by the German industry. Germany’s pubwebs have a reputation of being staid and risk adverse with an audience demographic tilting heavily to the over 50s. ZDFneo is targeting a younger, hipper crowd — 25 to 49-year-olds according to the network – with more cutting edge fare. The association of German television and film producers has thrown its support behind the channel, saying it hopes it will become “a motor of innovation” for the local industry. But judging by this week’s start, that engine is still spluttering.

One possible reason for this failure to connect with a German audience may be the lousy translation and/or dubbing of the original episodes. Or maybe it’s just that certain humor doesn’t translate very well. Which, come to think of it, might be the issue with a New York-centered showbiz satire that mines a lot of its humor from semi-obscure nuggets of American pop culture.

Perhaps they need to show the episodes in which Liz Lemon unveils her German language skills. Priceless:

Singing “99 Luftballons”

Bragging about her time in Frankfurt

3 thoughts on “Translating humor

  1. Loved your post on Humor, especially the supporting videos suggestions for navigating the tricky waters in translating!

    You Cultural Compass is certainly working!

  2. ZDFneo is a loser channel….and it’s simply not going to draw people, period….that’s the real problem here. Let’s face it….state-run TV in Germany is basically designed for folks over 45….and no young person (15-25) is ever going to admit watching ZDF and any of it’s sister channels.

    This attempt with ZDFneo isn’t going anywhere and they will quietly declare this a successful failure in a year or two.

    • ZDF has always been the old folks’ pubcaster. But I don’t care. If they buy the rights to good TV shows like “30 Rock” (same desaster with “Sopranos” a couple of years ago, btw) they should promote the hell out of it and put it on a decent spot.

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