Are American Adaptations of British Shows Really Necessary?

American television producers are always looking for the next big hit, so it is understandable that they would keep an eye out for TV success stories "across the pond" and try to adapt them for U.S. audiences.  If it worked in England, odds are it should work in the United States, right?  It is funny how things often get lost in translation (even though Brits and Americans technically speak the same language).  MTV's adaptation of Skins is facing public backlash and sponsor revolt, while its award-winning U.K. inspiration, despite having almost identical controversial plotlines, continues to enjoy success in its fifth season.

My wife and I watched the first two episodes of Syfy's version of Being Human, and we enjoyed it, but as a fan of the U.K. version, which was pretty great on its own, I wonder why an American adaptation was even necessary.  Did the British accents really bother Americans that much?  Maybe Hollywood television bigwigs just assume they can do it better.

In some instances, they might be right.  I used to work for DLT Entertainment which struck gold by adapting the British Man About the House into the ratings hit Three's Company.  In that case, the American remake (in my admittedly biased opinion) was superior.  But if you "tap that well" too often, you are bound to come up dry, as evidenced by the failure of spinoffs The Ropers (based on George and Mildred) and Three's a Crowd (based on Robin's Nest).

Some American TV classics were inspired by British originals, including All in the Family (based on Til Death Do Us Part) and Sanford and Son (based on Steptoe and Son). Recent successful adaptations like The Office prove that the concept still has moneymaking potential.  It has proven lucrative to bring hit British game show formats, for example, to the U.S., like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and American Idol (based on the U.K.'s Pop Idol).

Failures, however, litter the television landscape, evidence that adapting British hits for American TV screens is still a big gamble.  Some fail because the new versions were uninspired, such as Coupling.  Others, like The Eleventh Hour and Life on Mars, had great potential, but never clicked with broad mainstream audiences in America.

No doubt, any British hit will attract the attention of American producers who will seek the rights to make their own U.S. version.  The question they should ask is whether or not an adaptation is merited.  Some will hit paydirt, while others will flop.  Is it a risk worth taking?  Does it diminish the legacy of the original?  Or is it a legitimate way to bring great stories to new audiences?


MediumRob said…
I think it can be worth doing. It just depends on who's doing the adaption. The US version of Touching Evil is one of my favourite shows of all time and makes the UK version look like amateur rubbish comparison. The UK version was created by Paul Abbott (Shameless), had contributions from Russell T Davies (Doctor Who) and starred Robson Green; but the US version was created by Bruno Heller (Rome), had contributions from Ronald D Moore (BSG) and starred Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air).

Get a decent team in place and you end up with something decent. Get a poor team in place and you end up with something derivative like the US/Canadian version of Being Human on SyFy.