American Television Reinventions - Part 1 (Comedy and Drama)

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The question must be asked: Why do Americans create their own versions of British programmes instead of simply broadcasting the original versions? Many countries, such as Australia and Canada, broadcast the British versions without having to create their own. The answer to this question is simple.

The American television format is different to the British television format in several ways. Whereas many British programmes can feature an entire series of just 6-12 episodes, a typical American series can have as many as 22-26 episodes per season. If the American networks were to show the original programmes, they would not have enough to fill an entire "season" of American broadcast. As such, they like to create their own version, which can feature the optimum ammount of episodes.

Also, in many cases British programmes can feature themes or specific references to British people or events, which may otherwise be unfamiliar to an American audience. While this is also true (in reverse) of most American programmes, there's a greater chance that we will understand an American reference than they will of understanding ours.

In the first part of this article, I will examine some of the programmes that have been adapted for American consumption, many of which have then gone on to become popular in the UK as well (therefore coming full circle). I will not be examining every programme that has been adapted, but a complete list of American remakes can be seen under its own catagory, on the main page.


Man about the House

"Man about the House" was a sitcom created by John Mortimer and Brian Cooke, that ran on British television from 1973 to 1976. It's premise involved a Catering student named Robin Tripp, who wakes up in a bathtub after a party to find himself being accepted as a flatmate to Chrissy and Jo, the owners of the flat in London where the party took place the previous night, and whom have just lost their previous flatmate. In an attempt to stop the Landlord George Roper from worrying about "a man sharing a flat with two women" the girls tell him that Robin is gay. Occasionaly during their misadventures of life Robin's friend Larry would also be involved.

Quite revolutionary for its time, "Man about the House" featured situations and settings that (while exaggerated) were not entirely uncommon to those of young people in that period of the 1970s. The joke of Robin being gay was very quickly dropped, within the first series of 7 episodes, which didn't seem to bother Mister Roper as much as the girls originally thought it would. Certain scenes in the first episode were re-recorded later in the series, which causes some minor visual continuity problems, but otherwise it has aged remarkably well.

Although fans expected Chrissy and Robin to get together (there was a great deal of sexual tension in all their scenes, and it was signposted from the start) by the end of the series she was getting married to another man, with Robin as the best man at the wedding. This is how the series finished in 1976, after 39 episodes. It remains to this day a classic of the genre. A feature film version starring the same cast was also produced in 1974.

"Man About the House" produced two spin off programmes. The first, "Robin's Nest", concerned Robin Tripp's attempts to run his own restaurant, named 'Robin's Nest', with his girlfriend Vicki. His many attempts to get closer to Vicki was thwarted by her father, who also owns a share in the restaurant. The final element of it all is Albert Riddle, the one armed Irish washer-upper, whose many platitudes on every situation often got Robin and Vicki into every more trouble.

Equally as much a success as the original, Robin's Nest allowed the character of Robin Tripp to go a step further. So authentic is the series that it can basically be seen as simply a continuation of the original -- The tone and humour are exactly the same and Mortimer and Cooke returned to create and write it. The series ended with Robin getting married.

The second spinoff, "George and Mildred", is arguably better known. It features the Landlords from "Man About the House", George and Mildred Roper, who have been forced to move out of their original neighbourhood and into a lower class one, causing them to often be at loggerheads with their new neighbours.

As large a success as "Man About the House", it has been commented that both "Robin's Nest" and "George and Mildred" are so similar to the parent series that they are virtually a continuation, just split in two. It was also produced a feature film in 1983, featuring the same cast. The film version turned out to be the final ever acting performance of Yootha Joyce (Mildred).

Three's Company

Jack Tripper wakes up in a bathtub after a party one night, unable to clearly remember how he got there. He finds out that he's in a flat with two girls, Chrissy Snow and Jo, who had staged the party for their previous flatmate, who was leaving them. Although initially quick to get rid of him, they find he has the talent of cooking and decided they'd rather have him as their new flatmate. Unfortunately, Landlord Stanley Roper doesn't want a man to share the flat with the two ladies, afraid all sorts of hanky panky would ensue. The girls convince him that Jack is gay, which Jack plays along with.

American producer Norman Lear, who was a big name of television comedy in the 1970s and was responsible for several US remakes of UK programmes, bought the rights to "Man about the House" in 1976 and "Three's Company" was first broadcast from 1977 to 1984. It ran for a staggering 169 episodes before being cancelled, and was immensely popular in the America of the 1970s for much the same reasons as its British forebear: That it somehow tapped into the psyche of the young audience of the time.

The major difference between "Man about the House" and "Three's Company" is that the latter sticks closer to the original premise. All the seasons feature a number of "Adapted" scripts where only minor details were changed, no less the pilot episode (titled, humorously, 'A man about the House') which was almost word-for-word identical to the British original, with the exception of the character names.

As a US Season features more episodes than a British one, it was necessary to write new scripts as well. It also became clear that as the actors brought their own adaptations to the orignal characters, that they were evolving in a different way to those in the original British series. It was decided (unlike the original) that the running joke of Jack being a gay man would not be dropped, therefore allowing star John Ritter to showcase his comedic talents opposite Stanley Roper. This necessitated a key change to many later scripts (the originals of course not featuring this element) which led to the US series creating a life of its own.

The biggest change occured when co-star Suzzane Sommers, who played Chrissy, decided to leave the show. This meant that an assortment of new characters had to be created to fill in her place, each of which had a personality of their own. On the British original, all the main cast members remained for the entirety of the series run. It was finally revealed in the final episodes that Jack was not gay, and he left to start his own restaurant business. This would be followed up in the spin-off, "Three's a Crowd".

Like the British programme, two spinoffs were created, each based on the relevant Brit spinoff. "Three's a Crowd" was a remake of "Robin's nest" and seen Jack Tripper opening his own resataurant with his finacee, Vicki, whose father also tags along to keep an eye on things. He is helped by his Hispanic kitchen hand.

The second spin-off of "Three's Company" was called "The Ropers" and it was a remake of "George and Mildred". Stanley and Helen Roper move into a new neighbourhood, causing much grief to their neighbours.

Both series returned to basics and used the original UK scripts for the most part. Each only lasted a single season before being axed. Although popular in their way, neither managed to get the ratings of the parent series.

Till Death us do Part

Brilliant and controversial, this 1960s BBC sitcom starred Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett, the outspoken head of a lower class family living in London. His comments often harsh and bordering on racist, it was a rapid departure from the standared sitcom fare of the day: Garnett was not afraid to argue with his wife and to his daughter and her husband, a situation that many real families could often relate to at the time.

"Till Death us do Part" often pushed the boundries of satire, but each and every comment was valid. From political observations to familial disputes, there was a real-ness to the programme that many sitcoms, both before and since, were afraid to go near. Mitchell revelled in playing the elder man, and was more than an admirable foil as his wife.

The programme spawed a spinoff programme almost 20 years later, "In Sickness and in Health", also featuring Mitchell as a now alone Gartnett, battling to live his life in the modern 'Thatcher influenced' world of the 1980s but sticking as ever to his single minded views on life and the British way.

All in the Family

Arguably more famous and popular than the original, this remake of "Till Death us do Part" featured Archie Bunker, a similarly outspoken father in a family featuring his wife, daughter and son in law.

The format was the same as the original but the scripts and situations were considerably different. Norman Lear (the producer also responsible for adapting "Three's Company" and "Sanford and Son" from the British versions) reportedly bought the rights to remake "Till Death us do Part" without having ever seen a single episode of the original. He seen the potential in the format alone and he was proven correct, as this series became a ratings winner in the US.

Each episode of "All in the Family" opened with an announcer and caption slide, which warned that the programme "All in the Family" contains subject matter that may be offensive to certain viewers. While comparably tame compared to modern television, "All in the Family" broke through several boundries of American Netwrok television and paved the way for many of the sitcoms made in the US today.

A single spinoff series, "Archie's Place", was produced later, featuring solely Bunker. It wasn't however the success the parent series had been, and soon vanished from the airwaves.

Steptoe and Son

A 1960s sitcom by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and starring the brilliant Wilfred Brambell and Harry Corbett as two "Rang and Bone Men", one the father and one the son, in charge of their Junkyard.

The dynamic of this series was that the two characters very clearly despise each other, yet at heart they care deeply for the other. The premise was born out of the 1960s series "Comedy Playhouse" which featured a single episode of these two characters in a sketch. The idea was one that the two writers seen as a good one and they soon had permission to adapt it into its own series.

Steptoe and Son spawned two feature film adaptations during the 1970s, featuring the same cast.

Sanford and Son

Created as a vehicle for comedian Redd Foxx, this adaptation moved the Scrap Merchant business to San Fransisco and featured Foxx as Sanford, the black owner of a scrap merchants, constantly getting in the way of his sons ambitions.

A fairly accurate adaptation, although the chemistry that had existed between the characters in the British original was noteably lacking. It was however a great success during the 1970s, particuarly with the African American audience. It ran from 1972 to 1977.

The actor who played the son ultimately left the series and it became known simply as "Sanford". However it did not survive long in this new format and was eventually cancelled.

On the Buses

Written and created by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney, this was a London Weekend Television programme from the late 1960s and early 1970s, featuring Reg Varney as Bus driver Stan Butler at the fictional Luxton Bus Depot. A key factor in the success of this programme was that it featured a lively home life, with Stan going home to his mother (who was often henpecking him), his siter Olive and his brother in law Arthur, neither of whom seemed to have a thing in common.

The main comedy came via Inspector Blake, played by Stephen Lewis, who often found out about Stan's various schemes to get on with the clippies or carry his mother's washing home on the bus. Also involved in the fracas was Stan's friend Jack, shop steward and general pain in Blake's side.

A huge success at the time, this programme ran from 1969 to 1973 and was created mainly as a showcase of Reg Varneys talent as a comedian. Stan's Mum was played in the first series by Cicely Courtneidge, but was replaced for the second (and all subsequent) series by Doris Hare.

It spawned three films, all featuring the same cast in their relative roles.

Lotsa Luck

Instead of a bus driver, the US version focused on a down and out clerk at a lost and found desk in a bus depot. It was concieved, much as the UK version was, as a vehicle for its star Dom DeLuise who played Stanley Belmont.

The same framework was used for the familial scenes, where Stanley went home to his mother Iris, his sister Olive and brother in law Arthur Swan. But a spark was missing from the adaption and it only managed a season before being cancelled.

It is interesting to note that arguably the most well known character of the UK version, Inspector Blake, does not have any equivielent character in the US adaptation ...

Men Behaving Badly (UK)

This 1990s sticom about two disgusting layabouts managed to become a firm favourite during its time. It starred Matrin Clunes, Neil Morrissey and Caroline Quentin. A lot of the appeal was in the fact that the two leads were totally unlikeable people, it remains one of best known UK comedies of more recent years.

Men Behaving Badly (US)

Unfortunately, this version took only the format of the programme and changed everything else to the point where even the title, "Men Behaving Badly", no longer actually applied to the characters. It starred Rob Schnieder and was cancelled after a single season.

TRIVIA: This series went out in Australia and New Zealand under the title "It's a mans world", further distancing it from the original concept.

One foot in the Grave

The classic sitcom from the 1990s by David Renwick, it features Richard Wilson as Victor Meldrew, who finds life in retirement considerably less enjoyable than he thinks it should be.

Constantly complaining to his wife Margaret (played by Annette Crosbie) about how bad each day of his life is, this series became a classic and a constant ratings winner. The finale seen Mildrew killed, and the papers were filled with "Bring back" letters for the next week!

The theme song, by Eric Idle, is also one of those wonderful toe-tapping tunes that is very hard to forget.


The more recent Bill Cosby series was originally concieved (and the format was bought from) the UK series "One Foot in the Grave", although you'd be hard pressed to pick that out from casual viewing. I myself watched it many times during its run, and the thought that it in any way resembled "One foot in the Grave" never occured to me.

The series follows the life of Hilton Lucas, played by Bill Cosby, who has been "retired" by his employer and as he now has to deal with retirement and the changes it will mean to his life.

As near as I can tell, once they had Cosby himself aboard they threw the original concept out the window and instead tried to followup on Cosby's original success, "The Cosby Show", which ran during the 1980s. Although Cosby doesn't actually play his character from that original programme (Dr Huxtable) he certainly takes his cues from that character and several of the original stars of that programme made guests appearences in this one as members of his family.

Although it didn't get the success the producers had hoped for, it did run for a few seasons and got moderate ratings. It ran from 1996 to 2000.

Red Dwarf (UK)

Dave Lister's life is in misery. He's stuck on a ship in the middle of nowhere, following the orders of a complete twit named Rimmer who thinks his job as cleaner of the chicken soup machines is the top of the chain. But one day, when Captain Hollister finds that Lister has snuck an unchecked animal onto the ship, he is sentanced to Stasis for the rest of the journey. Unfortunately he awakes several billion years later to find that the crew is dead, and that he must now live with a hologram of Rimmer and a evolved form of the cat.

Running from 1988 to 1998, "Red Dwarf" is a strange series that has a look and feel all its own. The hero is a slob, there are him and the ships computer, Holly, has gone so loopy he has had a head-sex change to turn him female and back again. It has however managed to attain a large fanbase, both in the UK and in American thanks to the broadcasts on Public Television (PBS).

Red Dwarf (US)

Television Executive Linwood Boomer bought the format to Red Dwarf in 1992, with the intention of adapting it for the American audience. He was very much in favour of staying as close as possible to the look of the original series, and to that extent it has sets and special effects that are nearly identical to the ones on the UK series.

Dave Lister (Craig Bierko) is a long way from his home town of Detroit. Stuck aboard the mining ship Red Dwarf, he's forced to obey the orders of a stuck up but similarly lowly officer named Arnold Rimmer (Chris Eigeman). His duties mainly involve pushing a cart around while Rimmer fixes the soft drink machines on board ship. But all that changes when Captain Tau (Lorraine Toussant) finds out that Lister has snuck a cat aboard, and she sentances him to the stasis booth for not telling her where the cat is hidden. Thousands of years later Lister is reanimated to find that the crew is dead and he now has to share the enitre ship between himself, a hologram of the dead Rimmer and a lifeform evolves from the original cat (Hinton Battle).

The first pilot was based on the original episode "The End" with the main exceptions being that Holly (the ships computer) was now female (and played byJane Leeves, who can now be seen on US sitcom Fraiser) and Kryten (Robert Llewellyn, reprising his role from the UK version), who didn't join the UK series until Season 3, was there from the very start. Naturally this meant the script had to be extensively rewritten to include the new character. But it also had to be shortened to allow for commercial breaks (the series was to have been shown on NBC). The UK script was therefore shortened to 22 minutes from its original 30 minute slot (on the commercial-free BBC) while actually including more within it. The adaptation isn't able to manage this shift and it makes very little sense on viewing.

A second pilot was also shot, featuring a new female version of the Cat (Terry Farrell) but it too was not to be. Universal television passed on the series and the pilot has never been broadcast. Extremely low quality "bootleg" tapes of it can be found at science fiction conventions, however, and it is through one of these that I have seen it ...

Many Red Dwarf fans (this author included) wouldn't mind a full commerical release. After all, it's only sitting there in a studio vault gathering dust ... why not allow us to have a commerical copy?


Queer as Folk (UK)

In this series by Russell T. Davies, we follow the daily happenings and relationships of the people around a gay club in Manchester, this series gained a great deal of acclaim during its initial run on Channel 4.

It ran in 1999 and 2000.

Queer as Folk (US)

Following an established formula, the setting is changed to Pittsburgh and the characters names, occupations and hobbies are also altered (for instance, the character Vince who was portrayed as a Dr Who fan in the UK version is seen to be a comic book collector in this US one), but the early scripts keep remarkably close to the UK ones.

As with many other series that make the crossover, as the actors and producers get more comfortable in their roles and begin taking them in their own directions the series begins to evolve away from the original. This is very true here, as not only has this series managed to make more than double the number of episodes of the UK original, it is now virtually unrecognisable in all but name.

UltraViolet (UK)

In interesting cop/drama/fantasy series following Michael Colefield (Jack Davenport) who uncovers the strange, unknown world of Vampires.

Running in 1998, it is an interesting blend of ideas and it picked up a reasonable fanbase. It is no longer in production.

UltraViolet (US)

Adapted to the American market under the same basic idea. Original UK cast member Idris Elba returns as the very same character he played in the UK original.

Once again, an example of a programme getting as far as a Pilot but never being broadcast - A sadly common occurence not only with UK/US remakes but also with US television in General. As with Red Dwarf, the pilot exists in a complete form and no doubt fans of the original series would like to see it released in some form. But unfortunately it seems unlikely ...


A comedy/drama made for Channel 4 in the UK, this series follows a day in the life of each of a group of teenagers living in London, as they move on with their lives (such as one episode centring on one of the young men having a relationship with an older woman). Typically, the action follows a single teenager per episode, sometimes going over the same stories in different episodes from different prespectives within the group.

Other little touches include the teens addressing the camera directly, something very rarely done in programmes of this sort.


A direct crossover, this series featured original UK castmember Emily Corrie playing the same role alongside new actors.

It ran for a few weeks on UPN, immediately following Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But apparently it failed to make much of an impression, and has now been cancelled.

I must admit, I have not seen this version of the series. I certainly would if given the chance though as I rather enjoy the UK version.

Doctor Who

The longest running Science Fiction series in the world, Doctor Who began in 1963 as a small adventure programme where the intention was to teach youngsters about history by having our heroes interact with it, via their time machine (the TARDIS, stuck in the shape of a 1960s British Police Telephone Box). With the introduction of the dreaded Daleks, the series took a turn away from this initial brief, and instead became a series about monsters from outer space. The main hero, the Doctor, is able to change his appearence and did so 7 times throughout the 26 year run of the programme.

A programme with a large cult following in both the UK and the US, it was almost cancelled in 1985 and was finally ended in 1989. However, its large fanbase remains and survives through spinoff audio CDs, Novels and Webcasts.

Doctor Who: The Movie

Producer Philip Segal (a British born television Producer) had always had a fondness for Doctor Who, ever since his childhood. When he became a Producer for Steven Speilberg's Amblin Entertainment in 1989, he began to wonder if he could perhaps make his own, American based series of Doctor Who. After some telephone calls to the BBC, he managed to secure the format rights and began creating his new series in 1992.

Initially a complete "reinvention" (as with many of the above programmes) it went through several stages before production changed into a single TV Movie, to be broadcast on Fox Television. Segal decided rather than "recreating" the series he would instead continue directly from it, and to that regard he brought in Sylvester McCoy, who had played the 7th Dr Who in the original BBC series. McCoy returned for long enough to hand of the reigns to Segal's chosen actor for the new Dr Who, Liverpudlian Paul McGann. One of the changes Segal made to the original series included making the hero half-human (when in the UK version he was an alien from another planet).

The pilot episode was broadcast in 1996, on both the Fox Network and BBC1. Ratings in the UK were great, with over 9 million people tuning in to see the new Doctor Who take his first stumbling steps. However, in America it went very poorly, and Fox quickly turned down the option of a full Season.

The American Doctor Who pilot is availible on DVD under the title "Doctor Who: The Movie". Actor Paul McGann has since returned to the role via the spinoff Audio CDs, produced by Big Finish Productions in the UK.

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