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Britons on U.S. TV: Long live the snark!

Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and others leave the politeness back home as they dominate American airwaves.
/ Source: Reuters

Simon Cowell gets booed, Piers Morgan reduces kids to tears and “Supernanny” Jo Frost marches screaming American children to the “naughty chair.”

Long cast as the villains in Hollywood movies, Britons with cut-glass accents and brutal put-downs are enjoying new success as the bad boys (and girls) of U.S. reality television.

Call it refreshing honesty or simply a British penchant for sarcasm -- Americans seem to be loving it.

— whose insults to wannabe singers range from the curt “Atrocious” to the fanciful “You remind me of a pet poodle” — is seen as crucial to the runaway success of the show over the last four years.

Cowell has been followed by former British tabloid newspaper editor Piers Morgan as a judge for summer ratings hit

Briton Nigel Lythgoe is dishing the dirt as a judge on “So You Think You Can Dance”, and Frost, a no nonsense career nanny, is about to start her third U.S. season of the ”Supernanny” parenting series.

Meanwhile chef Gordon Ramsay in “Hell’s Kitchen” is making Cowell “look like a choirboy,” according to RealityTV magazine. Ramsay, a short-tempered perfectionist, recently told one contestant his dish looked like “dehydrated camel’s turd.”

“The typical British stereotype is of someone who is very cultured and polite. These people are the reverse of that, and part of the reason being obnoxious works is because it goes against expectations,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television.

Morgan said the theme of the mean, sarcastic Brit on American TV was now so ingrained that “Americans not only expect it, but they really get into it.”

Sarcasm and irony come naturally to Britons who love to pillory their politicians and their celebrities, he said.

“We don’t always mean it in a brutal way. We just think it is funny. But I think that Americans have learned that as long as it is tempered with honest critique it is acceptable,” he said.

Morgan has already made three children cry. He told one family singing group they would be better off without the cute (and tone deaf) kid brother.

“I’m not there to make a child cry but if a parent is happy to put their kids on stage to win a million dollars, they know what might be coming their way,” he said.

Thompson said the British accent has a distancing effect that gives generally more civil Americans permission to delight in hearing their compatriots get trashed.

“Americans hate to be told what to do by other people, but they love to watch other people tell other people what to do.

“If we heard it from people who talk exactly like us, I think we would find it not amusing, but really unlikable,” Thompson said.