Television shows. We trade them back and forth. All about the world, someone is using something that has already been a success overseas. Sometimes it is the American shows that are getting adapted for overseas. Everything from The Nanny to Breaking Bad to The Price is Right, have been picked up to fit into another countries’ viewers’ demands. Then again, the U.S. has had their fair share of foreign adaptations as well. More often than not, these shows bomb once they cross into American borders. Successful shows like Coupling and The I.T. Crowd flatlined. In the case of The I.T. Crowd, they weren’t even able to get their pilot episode picked up.
Whatever the case may be, this has been a practice that has been present for decades. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of exact sciences as to what will fail and what won’t. Some shows will be well received, like the U.K.’s take on Law and Order. The Office has seen success from the U.S. to Chile. It’s a dice roll every time. Judging from the list below, reality television is the most successful show to adapt. Here’s hoping the rest of the list inspires the next wave of adaptations, wherever they may come from.
When people complain about America’s amount of reality television on the airwaves, they should look across the pond first. Most of American reality television started as shows across Europe. Pop Idol in the U.K., Created versions across the world, like American Idol. Big Brother started in the Netherlands in 1999. Sweden’s Expedition Robinson gave us Survivor and there are countless others. In short, there haven’t been many original reality shows in the U.S. since, The Real World launched in the early ’90s. While U.S reality TV may not be the cause of the boom, it has carried the trend much longer. Most of these shows ran for a handful of seasons in Europe. In the U.S., Survivor is entering it’s 29th season, while Idol recently crowned its 13th champion.
All in the Family
One of America’s most iconic television shows almost never was. If things turned out the way CBS has wanted, Carroll O’Connor’s famed crotchety, bigoted Archie Bunker would have been played by Jackie Gleason. Furthermore, the show would have been a retooling of the original British show, Till Death Do Us Part. Thankfully, Norman Lear bought the rights and the rest was American television history. There are some key differences between the shows. None that seem to stem from differences in culture. More likely, the differences were for storytelling. Unlike many adaptations, this one seemed to be popular on both sides of the pond.
Based on the Danish crime drama, Forbrydelsen (“The Crime”), The Killing has seen its own death quite a few times itself. After receiving two cancellations from AMC over its three-year span, the show will be closing up with a shortened six episode run on Netflix. The two shows seemed to vary in key areas that may have frustrated viewers. In the Danish version, they revealed Rosie’s killer in the first season. This probably had a large part to do with the different run times. With the U.S. version having a shorter season and playing time, the story-lines were most likely drawn out which lost some fans.
Sanford and Son
When there are countless shows failing to adapt to foreign audiences, it’s easy to forget a success story. Sanford and Son came from the popular British comedy, Steptoe and Son. The U.S. version ran for three seasons, while the English version ran eight series with several spin-offs. For any fan of American television history, you already know the cultural and comedic impact the show had on audiences. It still gets played on several late night channels. Most importantly, because of Steptoe and Son, a larger audience were able to experience the genius of comedian Redd Foxx.
Not all remade shows come from European television. ABC’s popular, Ugly Betty came from Colombia with the translated title “I am Betty, the Ugly one.” The remake received quite a bit of negative attention from Colombian fans of the original. The show received criticism for deviating from the originals telenovela platform. ABC removed the cliffhangers with a pure sitcom. Other complaints included different story themes and a different focus on the cast. The U.S. version ran for four seasons.
With series co-creator, Jason Gann donning the dog costume, Wilfred has become a successful series in both Australia and the U.S. Upon its premiere on FX, Wilfred became the channel’s highest debuting sitcom in network history. Both versions received positive reviews from critics and fans alike, for the most part. It may not be the most popular of shows by comparison, but Wilfred gained cult status in both countries. With a move to the comedy-based FXX, the American version will be wrapping production after its season four finale.
Queer as Folk
The men of Manchester’s gay district were adapted to Pittsburgh, PA for Showtime’s American (Although heavily filmed in Canada) version. Like most U.K. television shows, the original version aired for two seasons, while the American version ran five. The U.S. show received some criticism for its acting, but both seemed to have followings that carried them both to successful runs. Fun fact: Former Doctor Who head writer, Russell T. Davies was the main writer for the original version of the show.
This one is a bit different from the rest of the list. The ’70s British classic came from Monty Python alum, John Cleese and his then wife, Connie Booth. With the two of them writing and acting, it was no surprise that it became a classic that inspired several other versions. That has become the case in the U.S. Since its initial release in 1975, Fawlty Towers has inspired a remake in each decade between the ’70s and ’90s. In 1978, Chateau Snavely was the first attempt but it was never picked up. Then, in 1983, the Bea Arthur starring Amanda’s became the second attempt. It only lasted 10 episodes, making it the most successful of the adaptations. In 1999, the John Larroquette flop, Payne lasted a month before its cancellation. Some things are just too good to be redone.
Many channels seem to drop the ball when adapting foreign shows for U.S. airwaves. MTV has to be one of the worst. There are countless reasons why Skins should never have premiered on U.S. television. The most glaring reason is the censorship on U.S. television. The original Skins packed in endless amounts of underage sex, drugs and pretty much everything else that horrifies a parent of a teen. Without those elements, Skins is not the same show. Instead, the U.S. version started to look like a better version of Undressed. The other differences between the versions was quality. Through its six-year run in the U.K., Skins featured actors that have since become breakout talents. Even if the subject matter could be ridiculous at times, the writing quality was sharper as well. With the U.S. version facing all these hurdles it was no surprise that it got the axe two months after premiering. Without being on a premium channel, the show was doomed from the start.
The Inbetweeners was an original, witty and often crass comedy that fit with the dry and ludicrous styles of British comedy. The four leads were (And still are) some of the better young talents in comedy. That is why the original ran for four successful seasons with two movies. Like Skins, The Inbetweeners lost all its steam once it was adapted for the U.S. The leads cast for the U.S. version were a complete miscasting. The U.S. version lasted one season. Not even directing help from show creator, Iain Morris could save the adaptation. After watching one episode, it was safe to say that the U.S. version should have ended up like the attempted remake of The I.T. Crowd: never airing.
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