- American TV networks have pulled inspiration from British screens for decades, but the results haven’t always been great.
- The popular British romantic comedy “Gavin and Stacey” underwent an American adaption titled “Us & Them” in 2014 starring Alexis Bledel, but the remake wasn’t seen until 2018.
- MTV nearly had a perfect adaption of the British teen drama “Skins” until campaigners denounced the show as “child pornography” and called for a federal investigation into its production.
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There is no argument that the U.K. produces some of the best television in the world, so it’s easy to understand why so many British productions find themselves travelling so far and so wide. From heavy crime dramas and witty comedies to daytime game shows, the British blueprint has influenced many. Although there is one country which continues to pull from British screens more than any other: The U.S.
Unfortunately, the results aren’t always great. It is now almost a ritual for a hit British TV show to receive a somewhat botched American facelift.
Keep on reading below to find out which American TV series didn’t live up to their British counterparts.
‘Us & Them’ –– a remake of the British romantic comedy ‘Gavin & Stacey.’
After three hugely popular seasons in the UK, “Gavin & Stacey” was primed for an American spin-off. Fox was the quickest off the mark and teased “Us & Them,” which reimagined the show with a promising cast that included Alexis Bledel (“Gilmore Girls”) for a 2014 premier.
Shortly after the show began production, however, Fox decided to scale down the number of episodes from thirteen to seven, and ultimately ended up shelving the show entirely burying it until 2018 – five years after its original air date when “Us & Them” premiered on Sony’s niche streaming service Crackle.
What went wrong?
During a Q & A for his late night talk show, the show’s originator James Corden said that American networks “never understood what the show was about” and insisted on more conflict between Gavin and Stacey’s families.
“But our show wasn’t about that,” Corden said. “It was about the fact that most people’s everyday life involves very little conflict. Most people like their friends. They might even hate their job, but they sort of get on with it. We wanted to make a show that held up a mirror to real life.”
Corden said that he and co-creator Ruth Jones were asked to write a US adaptation several times, however, they did not believe an American sitcom was the right fit for them.
“How can we write a show about two American families when we’re from England and Wales? We were like, ‘Good luck,'” he said. “But it’s not a surprise they were never able to make a go of it.”
MTV’s adaption of the British teen drama “Skins” looked like a winner. The show’s premiere brought in 3.3 million viewers and seemed to find favour with MTV’s key demographic.
But it quickly fell victim to sustained attacks from conservative viewers who opposed its engagement with explicit topics such as teenage sexuality and substance abuse – the blueprint which brought critical and commercial success in the UK.
The onslaught began with the Parents Television Council who denounced the show as “child pornography” and called for a federal investigation into its production. This was followed by several advertisers such as Taco Bell, Wrigley gum, and General Motors who all pulled advertisement spots from MTV.
The US version of “Skins” lasted just one 10-episode season while its British predecessor enjoyed six seasons.
“The IT Crowd”
NBC has been trying to adapt “The IT Crowd” for over a decade. The network first began its troubled love affair with the comedy in 2007, one year after the original first aired on Channel 4 in UK.
Presumably hoping to capitalise off the success of the similarly work-based comedy and British import “The Office,” NBC cast Joel McHale (“Community”) to play Roy and recruited Richard Ayoade to reprise his role as Moss, but the remake never made it to screens.
Speaking about the remake during an interview on “The Graham Norton Show,” Ayoade said that he found his experience working on the US version “deeply weird.”
“I was the only one dumb enough to do it,” he said. “It was a bit like a play where everyone else had left. It was very odd.”
NBC tried again in 2014 picking Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs”) to helm the remake; but again, it didn’t come to fruition. And finally in 2017, NBC announced that it would once again try to adapt the comedy for US audiences, but this time with the backing and guidance of the original series creator Graham Linehan.
Three years later and there is still no word on where NBC or Linehan are with the remake.
While “Skins” was a dramatic depiction of teenage life “The Inbetweeners” took a more comedic approach. After an unsuccessful attempt by ABC to adapt the teen comedy for American audiences in 2008, MTV stepped in once again and hired writer Brad Copeland who is best known for his work on network comedies such as “Arrested Development” and “My Name Is Earl” to write the script, with Taika Waititi – the now Oscar winning writer-director of “Jojo Rabbit” – chosen to direct.
But unfortunately “The Inbetweeners” suffered the same fate as “Skins” and was cancelled after two months while the British edition enjoyed three seasons and spawned two popular big-screen adaptations.
Critics have often identified MTV’s decision to recreate the show without its trademark pre-pubescent vulgarity as the main reason why the adaptation failed.
During an interview on British television, star of the original show Joe Thomas said: “They tried to make an American version of ‘The Inbetweeners’ and it was very hard because they couldn’t really swear very much because it was on network TV.”
He added: “Then you couldn’t show them drinking and stuff and that’s kind of the whole show. Just do the credits then the beginning credits and the end credits. Just film the outside of a school, and that’s it.”
‘Gracepoint’ –– a remake of the British cop drama ‘Broadchurch.’
Fox’s remake of the huge British cop drama “Broadchurch” is curious, not least because the original version, which aired on ITV in the UK also aired rather successfully for American audiences on BBC America. So why bother remaking it?
David Tennant, who is the lead in both editions, told Variety: “I thought doing the British show was such an extraordinary experience and when it broadcast, it created such a stir,” he said.
“So, I thought ‘Well, I’m not going to miss out on the chance to tell this story to a whole new audience that hadn’t heard it yet.'”
Adding: “It’s not just repeating the same.”
“Gracepoint” did, however, have the same writer, director, and leading man as “Broadchurch” – although former “Doctor Who” actor Tennant does adopt a fleeting Californian accent for the remake.
The two shows are nearly identical, not only in characters but also dialogue. The pilot episode of “Gracepoint” – which is set in California instead of the British South Coast, is practically a shot-for-shot recreation of “Broadchurch’s” first episode. Although there is one key ingredient missing: Oscar-winning actor Olivia Colman.
Coleman’s role as Detective Ellie Miller was handed to Anna Gunn (“Breaking Bad”). The switch was likely an attempt to appeal to American audiences, but “Gracepoint” failed to charm and was abandoned by Fox after one season while “Broadchurch” continued to air for two more seasons in both the UK and US.
The BBC had broadcast three seasons of “Coupling” by 2003 when NBC commissioned a remake of the show for American audiences. The original creator and writer Steven Moffatt was brought across the pond to executive produce the adaptation, which NBC hoped could replace “Friends,” which was coming to the end of a ten season run.
NBC ordered thirteen episodes but due to ruthless panning from critics, the network pulled “Coupling” off-air after only four episodes had been broadcast. A further six episodes that had already been filmed were never broadcast, and the remaining three episodes were never produced. At the same time, BBC America began to air the original British edition of the show for American audiences.
“Top Gear America”
Just as the original cast of Jeremy Clarkson and co. were booted off the British version of “Top Gear,” BBC America were prepping their own spin-off with actor William Fichtner (“The Dark Knight,” “Armageddon,” “Prison Break”) steering the wheel.
Fichtner was joined by professional drag racer Antron Brown and British journalist Tom Ford. Eight one-hour episodes aired on BBC America throughout 2017, and all seven were met with damning reviews. The show was not picked up for second season.
Earlier this year, however, BBC America announced that they are giving “Top Gear America” a second chance with new hosts and a new home on the American automobile magazine MotorTrend’s new streaming service.
“An American Education” –– a remake of “Bad Education”
ABC called on British comedian Jack Whitehall to adapt his popular BBC comedy “Bad Education” in 2013.
The remake was called “An American Education” and saw Alfie Wickers, played by Whitehall, travel to Chicago and focused on how the young teacher navigated the American education system with his unorthodox teaching techniques.
The pilot was written by Whitehall himself and during an interview with Digital Spy he said that he was “very conscious of trying not to make the same mistakes” as previous American remakes.
“There are some shows that are very good over here [in the UK] and have gone over there and not worked,” he said. “Hopefully we did a pretty good job of it. If any British viewers watch the American version, I think they will enjoy it.”
Unfortunately ABC executives passed on the pilot episode and “An America Education” never made it to American screens. “Bad Education,” on the other hand, ran for three seasons and a feature length film.
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