Ten British TV Shows Remade for the US
[tweetmeme source=”awindram” only_single=false] My internet access has been intermittent for the past week. I know, I know, is there a more horrifying catastrophe that can befall an over-privileged, molly-coddled douchebag in this uncertain, technologically dependent world we call the Twenty-First Century? Just thinking about it makes me break into a cold sweat. I must have missed 3,000 Roger Ebert tweets while I was off-line. But not to worry, I ploughed through it all with admirable British fortitude like a modern-day Captain Oates.
So now I find myself not having posted much in the last week and a bit, and not wishing to lose my loyal readership of two dachshunds and a particularly snarky hamster, I think it’s wise to get a new post out even if that means going back on one of my original blogging dislikes by doing something as uninspired and unoriginal as a top ten list – I suppose needs must when the devil drives.
With that firmly in mind, and inspired, in part, by FOX’s constant adverts for their version of MasterChef along with the news that a US version of Shameless starring William H. Macy is on the way, here’s Culutrally Discombobulated’s Top Ten British TV shows remade for the US.
Before I start, I should lay some arbitrary ground rules. The top ten only includes successful-ish British TV shows that went on to become successful-ish US shows. Therefore, it doesn’t include television curiosities such as Bea Arthur’s attempt at remaking Fawlty Towers . Nor, for that matter, does it include John Larroquette’s attempt at remaking Fawlty Towers. Equally, the failed pilots of Red Dwarf or The Thick of It aren’t included. Likewise, I’m not including shows that, though we may think of them as being British, do in fact owe their origin to another country. Big Brother (Netherlands) and Dragon’s Den (Japan) fall foul on this rule. Somewhat contentiously I’m also going to include American Idol among their number as though that show was based on Pop Idol, Pop Idol was itself spun off from Pop Stars which was, in fact, based on a New Zealand show. I assure you, that I know these “facts” without resorting to Wikipedia is a continual source of self-loathing.
So here we go and in no particular order:
10. RAMSAY’S KITCHEN NIGHTMARES (UK version 2004-present ; US version 2007-present)
I’ve mentioned Gordon Ramsay before and his ubiquitous presence on BBC America, well the same is true on FOX where Ramsey’s plasticine-baked-in-the-sun face can be seen in two revamped versions of British shows (Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares). I’m going to leave off Hell’s Kitchen as the UK original always seemed to be a show groping for a format, whereas its more self-assured US version has always known that it is resolutely a reality show competition. Despite the name, they might as well be different shows. Not so, Kitchen Nightmares which is a bad retread of Channel 4’s original. The UK version gave us an insight into Ramsay the businessman has he often broke down the overheads along with the nous required in running a successful restaurant, the US version – which only ever seems to take place in Italian restaurants in New Jersey – opts for a more soap-opera approach focusing on the arguments and trauma and tries to gives us Ramsay the counselor as the foul-mouthed chef does a terrible impression of an actual living, breathing human being who cares about other people.
9. THE OFFICE (UK version 2001-03; US version 2005-present)
The most obvious, recent example of an American remake of a British show. How people groaned and complained when they heard the US were going to remake Gervais and Merchant’s The Office. And despite a shaky start that was far too close to the source material, we eventually ended up with something a lot more wacky and colourful than the BBC version. While the US version doesn’t convey the mind-numbing sterility of office -life that its British counterpart excelled at, nor is it anything like as cringe-inducing. Not that there was anything wrong with the original having so many cringe-worthy moments, but sometimes it’s just nice to watch a sitcom that you don’t find painful to watch. Both versions are great, but in very different ways.
8. WHAT NOT TO WEAR (UK version 2001-07; US version 2003-present)
There’s nothing more disappointing than being in a new country and realising one of the horrors you thought you’d escaped had, in fact, followed you to your new home. Two examples of this spring readily to mind. The first involved me sitting in a coffee shop in Philadelphia and realising with increasing horror that the bland strumming and whining coming out of the stereo was the new James Blunt song and that the Blunt-meister had a significant following this side of the pond; the second was realising that there was an American version of What Not To Wear. Unlike some other British shows remade for an American audience which chose to keep the original British hosts (The Weakest Link, Supernanny, How Clean is your House), What Not To Wear USA did away with Trinny and Susannah. Which is a shame as the only vaguely enjoyable bit about the UK original was watching those two Sloane Square harridans bully and grope their dowdy victims. I actively hate the American version for making me miss Trinny and Susannah – a feeling nobody with a soul should have to endure.
7. WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE (UK version 1998-present; US version 1999-present)
Quiz show phenomenon that gave very strict rules to international versions that they had to keep as close to the British original as possible, keeping the same logo, music and sets. Also, each country’s host had to model themselves on Chris Tarrant, the original British host, even going as far as asking contestants “is that is your final question?” with the same maddening intonation as Chris T to wearing similar shirts and ties as him. You had to feel for Regis Philbin, fifty-plus years of showbiz experience in the US television industry and all of a sudden he has to model himself on a former Tiswas presenter. It’s not right that we ask anyone, nevermind showbiz royalty, that they have to try and be more like Chris Tarrant.
6. THE WEAKEST LINK (UK version 2000-present; US version 2001-03)
Ross: Ha, good father, Thou seest the heavens, as troubled with man’s act, Threatens his bloody stage. By th’ clock ’tis day, And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.Is ’t night’s predominance or the day’s shame and with spiked tongued Mistress Robinson’s New World fame darkness does the face of Earth entomb When living light should kiss it?
Old Man: ‘Tis unnatural, Even like the deed that’s done. On Tuesday last, A falcon, tow’ring in her pride of place, Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed.
Ross: And Duncan’s horses—a thing most strange and certain—Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race, Turned wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out, Contending ‘gainst obedience, as they would Make war with mankind.
Old Man: ‘Tis said they eat each other.
5. LIFE ON MARS (UK version 2006-07; US version 2009)
Not great, but not terrible remake of the BBC original in which a modern-day cop is hit by a car and wakes up in the 1970s. That’s would have been my summing up of the US version of Life On Mars had it not been for the actual ending. Eschewing the ambiguity of the original’s ending for…for that floating turd of an ending. I don’t want to give away spoilers for those who haven’t seen it, but suffice to say they took their David Bowie lyrics a little too literally…but really? That was the best they could do? They had Harvey Keitel in the cast. How do you go wrong with Harvey?
4. THREE’S COMPANY (UK version 1973-76; US version 1977-84)
Inexplicably popular British sitcom Man About the House
becomes inexplicably popular American sitcom Three’s Company.
3. DANCING WITH THE STARS (UK version 2004-present; US version 2005-present)
Dancing with the Stars, the US remake of Strictly Come Dancing made two fatal errors when adapting the British original: 1) They picked completely the wrong judges from the original version to appear in the US version; 2) they made the mistake of thinking the actual focus of the show was dancing.
Okay, they went with the tiresomely hyperactive Bruno Tonioli and the dodderingly avuncular Len Goodman. But really, if you want to steal judges off a British reality show, you want to go for the complete dicks, not the Uncle figure. The two judges that didn’t make the transfer to LA, Craig Revel-Horwood and Arlene Phillips really would have brought Cowell-esque levels of twattery to proceedings. They’d have been far more interesting. The other problem is the charisma-free zone that is the host, Tom Bergeron. The point about the UK version isn’t the dancing, but that the show is a new vehicle for light entertainment’s favourite octogenarian, Bruce Forsyth. Not so much a silver fox, as a silver bewigged meerkat, millions tune into see whether the eighty year old who is light on his feet and quick with his tongue is going to trip over and break a hip. Always the unlikeliest of Lotharios, there’s the added frisson of whether ol’ Brucie is going to make a move on his thirtysomething co-host Tess Daly.
2. SANFORD AND SON (UK version 1962-65 & 1970-74; US version 1972-77)
Steptoe and Son, possibly my favourite sitcom of all time. Familial ties, power relationships, a gnawing sense of claustrophibia – if Harold Pinter had ever written a sitcom it would be like this. Remade later for the US market as Sanford and Son. Like The Office it’s breezier and more optimistic than its British equivalent, and, again like The Office, early episodes were often a little too dependent on scripts from the original show as shown in these two clips.
1. ALL IN THE FAMILY (UK version 1965-75; US version 1971-79)
I’d often heard about All in the Family. It seemed to be one of those quintessential American shows that is regularly referenced in real-life or in pop-culture. So when I finally managed to catch an episode of the show, I found myself having a strange case of deja vu. There was something pecuilarly familiar about it all. The way the bigoted Archie Bunker ranted at his family – which consisted of his wife, daughter and son-in-law – reminded me of someone. And then it struck me – Archie Bunker was, in fact, Alf Garnett. A quick check on the internet revealed that my suspicions were right and this sitcom everyone had been mentioning was a remake of Till Death Us Do Part.
EDIT: here’s a follow-up post on American shows remade for the UK.
If you want to stay discombobulated, don’t forget you can subscribe to Culturally Discombobulated using the email subscription button on the right hand side of the screen. Or, if you are a real masochist, you can follow me on twitter at @C_Immigrant or at @awindram.