Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The British are coming (Back)...

There is a very interesting article in the LA Times today about how American networks are adapting British shows for our audience. The article says that our ponderous (they say, "cautious and cumbersome") system of development has "has made it too difficult and expensive for fresh ideas to break through."

If this is an honest assessment of the development system in the USA, then how bad must it be in other countries where series take years to just go to pilot?

This is the main point of the article - America is robbing other country's shows because the development has already been done for them. All they have to do is translate the show to the American idiom.

Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Is America exposing its citizens to shows they otherwise wouldn't see ? Is it cultural cannibalism?

Light 'em if you got 'em and let's talk.

8 comments:

Piers said...

More on this later, but some food for thought in the meantime:

Group A:
Sanford & Son
Three's Company
Dear John
All in the Family

Group B:
The Ropers
Three's A Crowd
Lotsa Luck
Cosby

There's nothing new in Heaven or Earth, as they used to say round my parts.

Bill Cunningham said...

You of course mean:

STEPTOE AND SON
ROBIN'S NEST
DEAR JOHN (???)
THOSE WERE THE DAYS (was that the title?)

I don't know the originals from Group B...

Yes, it has happened for years.

DecoderRing said...

Yup... the title of yesterday's entry would have worked just as well today... "We've been doing it for years".

I don't think it's an indictment of the American system in any way, shape or form. It's the melting pot in action... all the "best" bits from all over the world, remade without funny accents.

Now, as a Canadian, I like my own mildly funny accent just fine, and I realize that the Britsh "Office" is funnier... but I don't see the harm in creating an adaptation that more Americans will watch.

Piers said...

Group B were the Couplings of their day and were immensely successful over here. The first two are actually both spin-offs from Man About The House - which was remade as Three's Company. And yes, Dear John was remade as Dear John.

UK titles, for those that are interested:
George & Mildred
Robin's Nest
On the Buses
One Foot In The Grave

In a way, what I actually find more interesting is that the traffic seems to be pretty much one-way (not counting gameshows). And though there have been a few US->UK sitcom remakes none have succeeded.

Is it just that we've already seen the originals? That we just plain didn't cast and staff the shows right? Or is there a deeper, cultural reason for the failure?

On the original question of cultural cannibalism, I'd have to put the answer down as no. We couldn't make The Office over here for more than 12 episodes and a Christmas Special. The development process simply doesn't allow for it. So if you want more of a good thing, you have to remake. There's simply no choice in the matter.

And sure, when it goes right in the UK it goes spectacularly right. Fawlty Towers springs to mind. But parlaying those 12 episodes into a multi-billion dollar industry? (I'm looking at you, Friends.)

Can't happen over here.

One more interesting point before I sign off on this one - the successful remake traffic appears to be all sitcoms. No drama remakes that I'm aware of have succeeded, though several have been tried.

wcmartell said...

I have never laughed so hard as at an episode of COUPLING... and never *not* laughed as much at an episode of the US version of the show. Problem is, once you take the *idea* you still need the writing to back it up. Where do those writers come from if we aren't creating our own shows? We end up with chimps instead of creative people.

Another issue is that often shows are written by *one* person and have a limited run... not the American concept of a huge staff of writers and a minimum of 5 years.

- Bill ("Does this haircut make me look Gay?")

Piers said...

Most US TV writers work on shows that weren't created by them.

So whether the original act of creation occurred in the UK or US is irrelevant to the chimpiness or otherwise of a US TV writer - they have to pay their dues whichever way it is.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe I'm about to disagree with Martell.

the truth is that most of that first ep of COUPLING came from the Brit script - just as the first ep of the US Office did.

It wasn't the writing -- it was the performance + context. The characterizations had nothing to do with the material.

The types in COUPLING were recognizable British types...the US version were space aliens.

And you can't blame the actors either...

the Patrick role was filled by the guy who's now great on Eureka...

...The Susan role was Rena Sofer, who's great,and Sonya Walger, who I think is grand, was in it too.


But they just weren't recognizable American, Chicago types. it HURT watching the show. It seemed these people came from space.

Bill Cunningham said...

Yes, THE OFFICE was "translated" well (I was initially skeptical) and COUPLING wasn't.