10 successful US TV adaptations

Nina highlights the TV shows that were successfully remade in the USA. These things do work sometimes....

Anyone who falls in love with a brilliant TV show also knows the frustration of watching it become butchered if it is remade without the proper care and consideration for the original material and the new audience. Well, that was the subject of my previous list (link down at the bottom). This time around I’m exploring American television adaptations that fared much better against the odds and the likelihood that, much like those that have tried before them and will try after, they would fade into obscurity.

Even though I was quite surprised by some of the findings on this list, the reoccurrence of reality-based shows came as less of a shock. Again, they are listed in no particular order.

The Office

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Let’s start with an easy one. It may have started out with a shortened six episode season, poor reviews, and declining viewership, but the American version of The Office quickly found its voice in its second season and never looked back. The trick was giving the show its own unique voice rather than, like the pilot, imitating the original in every way possible. Now, many lines from the show have bled into American popular culture and conversation. It will probably difficult for younger generations to understand that “that’s what she said” existed long before Steve Carell spat it freely and inappropriately at many Dunder Mifflin employees.

Out of all the shows on this list, this US adaptation probably had the littlest chance to succeed and still ended up giving its original inspiration quite a run for its money in popularity and critical acclaim.

Three’s Company

The 1977 sitcom remake Three’s Company had great success in the United States despite, much like The Office, predictions of cancellation or poor ratings. Its characters, the co-ed roommates and the landlords they fool to keep their living situation and its basic plot were pretty much identical to Man About The House, the British 1973 sitcom from which Three’s Company originated. The initial controversy regarding the mixed-sex living arrangements and the male lead pretending to be gay was also, in a way, shared by both versions.

Each programme went on to have their own success, Three’s Company producing spinoffs and living on in syndication as a classic American sitcom, and Man About The House achieving the same status along with spinoffs and a film.

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Ugly Betty

Yo soy Betty, la fea, a Colombian telenovela about an unattractive woman with a background in economics who gets a job as a secretary at a fashion conglomerate, has been remade in over a dozen countries like Israel, Greece, and the United States with Ugly Betty, which premiered on ABC in 2006. Starring America Ferrera as Betty, the show has won two Golden Globes and garnered quite a fanbase, even with inconvenient timeslot changes.

Ugly Betty differed greatly from Yo soy Betty, la fea, mostly because the former did not carry over the drama and suspense of the latter and opted instead to go with a more comedic edge. These changes brought about disapproval from some Colombian audiences and fans of the original, but US creator Silvio Horta took the foundation of the show and built something refreshing for an American audience that continues to thrive in its fourth season.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

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It may not be a scripted program, but Whose Line Is It Anyway cannot be underestimated as a huge crossover success in the United States. The improvisational sketch show originated as a radio program in 1988 and moved to television soon after along with its host Clive Anderson. It ran for ten years with rotating guests and a few regulars. And when it was brought to the United States, two of the most recent regulars, Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles, went with it.

The format of improvisational games in front of a studio audience added a layer of risk to the casts’ performances and showcased improvisation as a talent that isn’t seen particularly often on television in the US. It became as beloved as the original with regulars like Mochrie, Stiles, Wayne Brady (whose career was pretty much kick started by his stint on this show), and the host Drew Carey, even now that it has moved into late night syndication.

All In The Family

Both known for shocking and topical material, 1965’s Til Death Do Us Part and its American 1971 remake All In The Family were taken to rather quickly in their respective countries and retained their popularity long after they went off the air. Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor), the racist patriarch who constantly fought with his son-in-law Mike (Rob Reiner) about politics and social issues, has been hailed as one of the greatest television characters of all time. It was especially important that he was not a one dimensional bigot who became the show’s antagonist who is proven wrong every week. There were reasons why he was who he was, and that didn’t make it right, but it made the audience believe that these people were real and reflected certain views of that time that were not being openly explored in television.

Because of those realistic elements and the show’s brilliantly hilarious writing, All In The Family is not only one of the most successful US television remakes, but also one of the most successful and significant US television shows period.

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Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

If there’s money, a likeable host, and more than a few dramatic pauses, then you’ve got the perfect game show formula to attract high viewership, and that is exactly what happened with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? when it came to the States. Those elements, along with the show’s unique qualification process to be on the show by competing over the phone, brought in many players and a huge audience. Sure, there were many game shows that were adapted for the US and many other countries, but Millionaire lives on as a very popular game show in syndication and has spawned spinoffs and online, DVD, and board games.

Touching Evil

Yes, I know this show was cancelled very early on in America. Yes, there are more popular US TV remakes. And yes, a lot of Americans have likely never heard of this show. But during its 13 episode run and for long after, the show has reached a cult status and is frequently lumped in with other great shows that were cut off much too early.

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The show’s plot, which was altered slightly from the original, revolves around detective Creegan (Jeffrey Donovan) who is hired by the FBI after he survived a gunshot to the head and resulting personality and behavioral transformations. The show may not have been commercially profitable and it may not have found a larger audience had it lived on, but it was still an intriguing drama that was underestimated before it had a fighting chance.

Sanford And Son

And here is yet another classic American sitcom to come out of another UK hit, the similarly titled Steptoe And Son. Both sitcoms revolved around a father and son junk dealing business. And much like All In The Family, Sanford And Son introduced audiences to another hilariously realistic character in Fred Sanford played by the legendary and groundbreaking comedian Redd Foxx.

It is not difficult to see why all of these classic shows in the US were remade from classic British programs when we see the brilliance in the source material, so it is also not difficult to see that they grew to be such adored landmarks in television history.

Queer As Folk

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We may be reeling from the current exit of Russell T. Davies from a certain intergalactic television phenomenon, but let’s examine the international impact of another show of his that has a bit of a smaller scope. Davies created the controversial Queer As Folk, which not only delighted and angered audiences in the UK, but also caught the attention of Showtime across the pond and was remade for the US and Canada. The explicit sex and the subject matter surrounding gay culture, stereotypes, and social issues carried over to the States, but much of the main plot, characters, shock value, and overwhelming objections to said material did not follow suit.

Many fans of the original disapproved of the drastic changes made to the US version, but the show became a massive hit for Showtime and won numerous awards throughout its five seasons.

American Idol

As I said earlier, there are many popular competition, game, and reality shows that have originated in the UK and successfully adapted in the US that would be considered more popular than some of the selections on this list, but then this would have just been me rattling off one reality show after another.

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The ones chosen, in my opinion, had the most impact in their specific genre. For example, Millionaire was the most significant game show remake. And there is no reality-based program more popular and impactful today than American Idol. It is based on the British singing competition Pop Idol, which X Factor replaced in 2004.

Besides becoming a ratings juggernaut, it revolutionised the way reality competition winners were selected by giving the audience the power (although you could argue that Star Search in the 80s got there first).

As far as its role specifically in the United States, the show has produced a great number of successful singers that have gone on win Grammys, Academy Awards, and sell millions of records like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Jennifer Hudson, to name a few. American Idol has had an irreversible effect on US television and the music industry, and it will continue to be an extremely popular institution in American popular culture.

Thoughts? Comments? What do you think belongs on this list? Let us know!

For more from Nina, check out her blog at Perks of Quirk or follow her on Twitter.

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