One of the oddest little things about the landscape of TV over the past few decades has been the phenomenon of ‘remaking a show for a foreign market’. Generally speaking, a show will get remade because network execs and producers recognise a show’s success in its home territory, and want to emulate that success but feel that the original show may be un-relatable to a new, foreign audience. It’s an off situation, because in the UK we don’t do a lot of remaking of shows. I don’t know what the reasons behind it are, but the UK audience is more accepting of a show in its original format regardless of how many domestic references are lost on us a s a result (The Simpsons and Family Guy are good examples of this, with their US-specific political and cultural refs). You don’t see UK versions of Battlestar Galactica, or 24, or The West Wing, or Two and a Half Men, or Frasier, etc. We’re happy to accept them ‘as is’.
Given the UK’s penchant for TV production traditionally being less slick or glossy as the US, you kinda understand why we don’t remake US shows as a rule. Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, ER was a huge hit on US TV (and a sizeable success over here), and the BBC tried to up the ante with the drama and spectacle in Casualty as a result. It just plainly doesn’t work. Even today, UK shows are embracing much higher production values, but with all the gloss in the world Doctor Who, Torchwood, et all still don’t feel like they have the slickness and sexiness of US productions. Life on Mars was superbly produced, but even so the production felt bigger, and more action-packed in it’s US counterpart. We’ll just not mention the storytelling…
However the UK is not averse to remaking US shows. Some beloved shows that now feel part of the British TV cultural landscape started as US shows (Fun House and Blockbusters were both US imports, University Challenge began life in the States as College Bowl, Family Fortunes famously spun off Family Feud…). These are more reuses of formats rather than fully fledged remakes, but ignoring a tonne of game shows and shitty reality television that gets remade for domestic audiences the world over, there have been some notable examples of US to UK remakes.
- Married For Life – So the UK remade Married… With Children as a vehicle for Russ Abbot. Al Bundy is gone, replaced with Ted Butler, but the general set-up is exactly the same as it’s American counterpart. Ed O’Neill had made the role of Al totally his own, and so Russ was fighting an uphill battle straight away. There was a definite sense of redundancy to the whole thing – the US original was being successfully shown in the UK before this remake, and predictably, it’s still being shown long after the 7 episodes of the UK version aired in March/April 1996 aired…
- Law & Order: UK – a rare example of the UK remaking a US drama. It sort of falls into the trap I mentioned above – trying to ape the sheen and glossiness of it’s US cousin, but not quite making it for some reason (although you have to admit, Kudos are among the best UK production companies in trying to nail that US-style). It is a true adaptation however – the stories to date are all rewrites of US scripts, with no UK originated stories. Still, good (if somewhat random!) casting in Bradley Walsh.
- The Upper Hand – a very successful remake of US sit-com Who’s The Boss. The original show aired sporadically in different UK regions since 1985, but the US version was aired nationally from 1990 thru 1996. Keeping an identical set up from it’s US parent, the UK version ran for a respectable 95 episodes. It pushed the show and it’s characters further in terms of character development, and ended with Charlie and Caroline getting married (something their US counterparts Tony and Angela never did). In a nice nod to it’s beginnings, Katherine Helmond (who played the Honor Blackman’s role in the US version) guest starred in the UK show a year after the US show ended (albeit as a different character).
The list is of course substantially larger for US remakes of UK shows, and the success rate varies… I’ll look over some of the more notorious US remakes in another blog at another time.