It’s no surprise to me that some of the remade British shows that flopped in the USA are some of the best regarded here at home in the UK. There have been some huge successes – such as The Office and Veep (from The Thick of It) – but there have been some pretty big flops too, shows that have been immensely popular in the UK but just haven’t worked in their American adaptations. British writer George Bernard Shaw said that the USA and Britain are “two nations divided by a common language,” but I think we may be divided by a sense of humor on some issues too. Here are some of the remade British shows that flopped where the British equivalent was a success.
The fact that the US tried to make Fawlty Towers three times underlines how successful this series was in the UK. Even though only 12 episodes were made, Fawlty Towers always features in the top three of the Best British Sitcoms. Starring John Cleese, it is the story of a hapless hotel owner who is henpecked by his wife and constantly let down by his daft waiter from Barcelona and a motley collection of guests. It relies very much on the crazy characterization of Basil and much more so, his play on the idiosyncrasies of the British – maybe that’s why it didn’t translate very well to US audiences. His constant harassment of Manuel wouldn’t play well to the large Hispanic population in America and the “don’t mention the war” is a very British thing. It is one of the most high profile remade British shows that flopped, but there’s more.
This is the only drama on my list – all the others are sitcoms. The premise for the two shows is exactly the same – a veterinarian up sticks with his family to a game reserve in South Africa. The British version ran for seven much loved series. The US series lasted one season. In my opinion, the UK version worked because it was more authentic. It was all filmed in situ in South Africa and there were genuine British, Afrikaans and African accents. The US version seems contrived and even somehow manages to marginalize South Africa, its countryside, the wildlife and its people.
Want to know the differences between American teenagers and British teenagers? Sadly, you’d only get a small insight because the US version (made by MTV) lasted but one series. The UK version has been one of the most successful teen TV successes of recent times, even winning the audience award at the BAFTAs (the UK equivalent of the Oscars). There are also two spin off movies continuing the adventures of the four friends.
Even Rob Schneider couldn’t stop the failure of the US version of Men Behaving Badly. Although initially successful, with 22 episodes of season one aired, only six of the 13 filmed episodes of season two were ever aired, with the show dropped due to falling ratings. In the UK it ran for 6 series, survived the departure of its highest profile name (Harry Enfield) at the end of season one and moved from ITV to BBC. Where the British series was loved for the two male characters who are the antithesis of the new man eschewing all political correctness, the US version was viewed as having pushed “grossness” and sitcom humor to new heights and too far.
On the Buses is one of those amazing programs that began in black and white and finished in color. It ran for seven series and spawned three movies and a stage show. It also gave the UK a character that became one of the most popular impressions across the whole country for many years – that of Inspector “Blakey” Blake. Set in a London bus depot, it focused on the main character’s life at home with his family and his desperate need to escape the drudgery, and his conductor who always got the “bird” (girl). The US version starred comedy great Dom DeLuise but even his comedic stature couldn’t save this show full of toilet humor from going down the pan after one series.
This is a complicated little scenario. Robin’s Nest was a spinoff of a series called Man About the House. In the US, Man About the House was made as Three’s Company. Three’s a Crowd was a sequel to Three’s Company. Of all four series, Three’s a Crowd was the least successful, lasting only one season. The scenario becomes even more complicated because in the UK, Man About the House also spawned another spinoff – George and Mildred, which was remade for US TV as The Ropers. The Ropers, like Three’s a Crowd, did not fare as well as its British counterpart.
While Teachers UK ran for four successful seasons, the US version lasted 6 episodes. The UK version earned lead actor Andrew Lincoln much praise and the show a number of BAFTA and Comedy Award nominations. Sadly, there was no such acclaim for the US series even though it was created by Matt Tarses, who has had great success with Scrubs. For me, the most noticeable difference between the two versions is that the US series is shot in front of a live audience, like many US sitcoms – something pretty rare in the UK.
Now you’ve seen some of the remade British shows that flopped in the US, what do you think the cause was? Was it always a lost cause to bridge the gap between US and UK humor or was something else at fault?
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