Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, except when it sucks. Take this habit the US seems to have of straight-up jacking television material from other countries…without even changing plot lines or character names.
America merely spits them through a red-white-and-blue filter and thinks that no one will notice, because no one actually watches BBC America. Sometimes this method of TV creation works swimmingly and turns comedians into award show hosts and makes some funny actors uber-famous. But more often than not, these doppelganger sitcoms fizzle and die—only to live on in haphazard Wikipedia entries and blurry YouTube clips.
Despite the small success rate, it doesn't seem like networks are stopping anytime soon. Three of Britain's biggest heavyweights are already slated for American production in 2010. Will they crossover to our turf with ease? Or will censorship, non-transferring humor and a lack of sweet accents get the better of them? Only time will tell. But enough of that—onto the evidence!
What Shows Worked
Is there anything more universal than the misery of slaving your life away in an office with insufferable co-workers and a crappy computer running Windows 98? Well, yes—Death. But they aren't that different. This is precisely why David Brent's team reinvented into the loveable crew at Dunder Mifflin transferred to US screens without a hitch. I don't think it hurt that the first six episodes of both versions were pretty much the same exact thing. Take Tim/Jim's Jell-o prank on Gareth/Dwight. Jell-o, jelly—Tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to. How you say it doesn't matter. Some well-placed schadenfreude does.
Who doesn't love a good ugly duckling story? Apparently no one. Some incarnation of Ugly Betty has been broadcast in over 50 countries, starting with Colombia's version Yo Soy Betty, La Fea. For those of you that took 6th grade French, not Spanish, that means I am Betty, the ugly. Now, there was a bit of bad blood between Colombia and a few other Spanish-speaking countries when they started showing the American version with subtitles. That probably doesn't matter now that America Ferrera is out of a job. RIP Mode, am I right? But even though both our Betty and the original Betty la fea were gone too soon, that doesn't take away from the fact that she's constantly being made and remade all over the world, making the glasses/braces combo cool, much to the chagrin of TV's fake fashion world. Just look at this fan-made video. It features before and after shots of all the Bettys out there…and there are a lot.
What Shows Haven't Worked
In 2003 NBC tried this crazy new formula that saw moderate success on the BBC: Six young singles awkwardly dating each other in a big city. Three guys, three girls…sounding familiar yet? Yeah. Because that show had already been on the air for 8 years. A little sitcom known as Friends. The only problem was, after those similarities the shows really weren't that alike after all. Instead of Coupling standing alone with its Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus angle, the show came across as a sub par Friends 2.0. And as you can see from this video featuring identical clips from both versions, the original wasn't that great to begin with. Why NBC chose this out of dozens of other, better BBC shows to try and remake is beyond me. But then again, they've been making some pretty stupid decisions lately so I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise.
Out of all the remakes that failed, this one hurts the most. It was the hardest to mess up, but NBC (yep, again!) found a way. The template left by the successful British version was fool proof: An hour-long self-deprecating peek into the "real" lives of teachers. They hate their students and can't show it. Their love lives suck. They're functional alcoholics. And most importantly, there was no laugh track. The show let the audience decide when it was time to be funny. So what did The Peacock do? They cut it in half, took all the serious stuff and added a damn laugh track. Not even Justin Bartha could save it. The only redeeming quality was that the NBC version made fun of how much it sucks to be in New Jersey before it was hip to make fun of New Jersey.
Will These Shows Work? It's Too Early to Tell...
Why it might work: Everyone loves a good teenage drama, just ask Kevin Smith about Degrassi. But in all seriousness, a bunch of teenagers, who are actually played by teens and not some 20-somethings, running around getting into drug addled fights and having sex clearly sells. Just look at Jersey Shore! Sure, they weren't actually 16 but with the way their parents hung around that house, they might as well have been. Plus, if the late 90's success of Undressed is any indication, there is definitely room for a raunchy new show on the network Snooki built.
Why it might not: Not only will censorship not allow for the kind of raw antics that makes the real Skins so addicting, they're also equating Bristol to Baltimore. What we'll end up getting is more the red-headed stepchild of The Wire and Hairspray. I can see the pilot right now: the lead girl tries to win the Ms. Baltimore Crabs pageant to fuel the coke habit she started to get skinny. Okay, maybe not that drastic…but Skins did have a musical number at the end of season one so it's not totally out of the question. Anyway, I'll leave you with this montage of classic Skins moments you'll never be able to see on American basic cable.
Why it might work: An on the wagon vampire and insecure werewolf are housemates. Throw in a sexy-yet-vulnerable girl ghost as the third roomie and bam: television gold. This paranormal play on 20-somethings is beyond transcendent right now because millions of teenage girls will flock to anything even close to resembling Twilight. SyFy was pretty damn smart to pick up on this one. It doesn't have to be British to work. It just has to have brooding vampires and cutesy werewolves. As for the hot girl ghost? You're welcome, fellas.
Why it might not:
It will work. There is no possible way anything involving both werewolves and vampires will not test well until the Twilight Saga is but a distant memory.
Why it might work: The network that picked this dysfunctional family gem up? Showtime. Having a network that can do whatever it wants is the only way this show could be redone properly. Unlike MTV trying its hand at Skins, Showtime won't have censors panties in a twist over little things like statutory blowjobs between a 50 and 16-year-old. They'll be able to replicate the horrific, gritty and gratuitously violent situations that happen in Chatsworth without batting an eyelash.
Why it might not: For those who have seen any of this show's seven (and counting) season run, you know there's something special about the Chatsworth Estate urchin that can't quite be duplicated. The UK's cast is flawless and led by David Threfall's take on the ultimate anti-hero, Frank Gallagher-who spawned nine children by two mothers all while maintaining his drunken, unreliable and unemployed charm. William H. Macy is set to play the American version of the famous drunk dad…which is okay, I suppose. But I can't help but think Macy isn't dirty enough. And Emmy Rossum as his grown-up-too-fast daughter, Fiona? No, thank you. Emmy Rossum is about as trailer park as Blair Waldorf. I can't see her cleaning up after Macy's Frank and then fucking Steve (Justin Chatwin from that Dragonball Z movie) on the kitchen floor afterwards. The beauty of the show is in its trashy and self-aware characters, and frankly, I just don't see those who've signed on having the right amount of grit in their bones to pull off the Gallagher clan.