The inspiration for a successful TV show can come from anywhere. It can be based on true stories like Tiger King or The Crown, or it can be a foreign-made show with subtitles like the hugely popular Narcos.
Very often, it is a product of its own environment and culture, something we see in the UK, which has a long, proud history of producing quality TV, be it period dramas, adventures or comedy. Some of the most popular TV shows in the US have their roots on the other side of the pond. But as Oscar Wilde famously once said, ‘we have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language’. British humor can be hard to fathom for those not used to their brand of double entendre, high camp and subtle class differences, so it is quite common to see UK shows repackaged to cater to a more US sense of humor and setting.
We’re going to look at a few UK shows that have been successfully adapted for the US markets.
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
This is one of those rare shows where nothing needed changing in the transition between markets. Described as a show where everything is made up, and the points don’t matter, the British version lasted for 11 years before two of its regulars, Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles, took it to the States, where it’s still going strong. Best described as an improvisational comedy show, it is based on a panel of four making up their own funny sketches from obscure situations by using props, aping a movie genre or performing a song with musical backing. The format hasn’t changed, though; the addition of the multi-talented Wayne Brady has taken it to another level.
The Office started life as a mockumentary featuring the lives of the staff in a boring company in a dull English town. Starring Ricky Gervais as the general manager and Martin Freeman as a sales representative, it focuses on awkward office situations involving the characters whose egos and anxieties push up against each other, providing for a number of ongoing subplots. Short-lived though it was, just the two series were made, it was the fifth most popular British TV show of the noughties, according to Gala Bingo Happy Hub, and its popularity saw it remade for US audiences from 2005 until 2011. The American version of The Office lasted a lot longer than the UK original; nine series and the show’s legacy continues with memes from both the UK and the US, being frequently shared across social media.
It helped that Steve Carrell starred in The Office – he was already familiar to US viewers through his work on Saturday Night Live with Jon Stewart – but he has struggled to recapture the success of those two shows. His most recent effort, Space Force, was cancelled after two series.
While the first two shows we looked at saw either no change or minimal, Three’s Company would have been unrecognizable to British viewers beyond the show’s basic premise. Launched in 1973, Man About the House was a sitcom based around two young ladies and a young man flat sharing in a grey terraced house on an anonymous London Street. To add to the characteristics of British comedy in the first paragraph, in this show, we see a bumbling landlord happy in his skin married to a domineering wife with dreams of social advancement.
Three’s Company, which The Digital Bits reveals celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2017, moved the location to a far more glamourous location by the beach in Santa Monica, California but kept the innuendo with the landlord mistakenly believing the male tenant to be gay and the landlady frequently mocking her husband. As with the UK version, the show’s characters became so popular it ran for eight seasons compared to Man About the House’s six; there were a number of spin-off series over the years, as well as a movie.
Grant Wilkinson is a content editor at The Landscape Insight, where he helps to produce engaging and informative articles about the industry. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for quality, Grant works closely with a team of writers and designers to bring the latest news and insights to readers. You can reach Grant at – Grant@landscapeinsight.com or on Our website Contact Us Page.