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Accent on the Negative

I wonder if we are raising a generation of anglophobes thanks, ironically, to Brit Simon Cowell.

Ever since he established the wildly successful stereotype of the cruelly honest English-accented judge-provocateur in reality hit American Idol, the reality format seems to have adopted it as a staple, hoping some of that Idol ratings magic will rub off in the process.

There was the English-accented judge in Dancing With the Stars, the stickler for form who had some rather tough criticisms. Then there was that really tall English guy in American Inventor, though there seemed to be a soft center underneath that hard exterior.

Then, there is that judge in the Fox dancing show, and the mean-as-a-snake chef on that other Fox show, Hell's Kitchen and Piers Morgan from America's Got Talent. I'm sure I'm leaving out some English-accented judge somewhere else, but three makes a trend,so five is an epidemic. Of course, Simon Cowell is producing half the shows, so I probably shouldn't be surprised that he isn't messing with a format that works.

Still, making them the heavies could lead the next generationof TV fans–is it Generation Z, or have we started with A again, like hurricanes?–to believe that the English are rude and judgmental, which some are and some aren't.

When I was growing up, many of the English accents on TV were as phony as a three-pound note, but even they were somehow exotic. An English accent was something to aspire to, a sign of culture and, by contrast, the antithesis of rudeness. Butlers were big and Carnaby Street gals like Pet Clark were fantasy land.

Women with English accents were to die for. Diana Rigg, what's her name in Nanny & the Professor, Judy Carne, Patty Duke as Cathy. And the English guys all seemed smarter or funnier or more authoritative by dint of the accent. Sebastian Cabot, Alistaire Cooke, James "Scotty" Doohan, Benny Hill, all those Pythons.

Today, the accent is being pinned to hypercritical judges we hope get outvoted or shipped back across the big pond. Something to think about, though not too long.

By John Eggerton