In “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” Spock casually observed, “As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than create.” As such, it should come as no surprise that, when the networks have the opportunity to avoid creating something new in favor of destroying something old, they damned well take it. As we continue our look back at the TV of the 2000s, we decided to revisit several of the networks’ attempts to adapt popular British series to match American sensibilities. As “The Office” has proven, they can sometimes make it work, but as these five shows remind us, they very often can’t.
5. Eleventh Hour (CBS): In 2006, ITV broadcast a four-part series entitled “Eleventh Hour,” starring Patrick Stewart as Professor Ian Hood, a special advisor of the British government’s Joint Science Committee who investigated threats related to various scientific developments and experiments. Each episode was 90 minutes in length, and it was received well enough in the UK that CBS immediately set forth on a quest to develop the concept into a weekly series in the States. Stewart was switched out for another talented Brit – Rufus Sewell – and even though he dropped his accent in favor of going “American” with his character (now renamed Jacob Hood), we were still optimistic about the series. Alas, despite an intriguing premise, the adaptation suffered from a couple of major problems.
First off, critics perceived the show as “troubled” before its premiere because of the delay in releasing the first episode for review, but, fair enough, many series have managed to survive that particular issue. The bigger problem came from CBS’s steadfast determination to make “Eleventh Hour” fit into the same procedural mold utilized by all of its other series. As such, the predominant thrust tended to be about the crime of the week, leaving not nearly enough focus on Dr. Hood, whose considerable knowledge on scientific matters makes him an enigma. Viewers should’ve been left wondering, “Who is this guy? What’s his story?” But just as we were starting to learn about Hood’s past and getting the impression that he might actually be able to find romance for the first time since the death of his wife, the series steered back into a let’s-stick-to-the-case mindset, making its cancellation after only 18 episodes less disappointing than it might otherwise have been.
4. Worst Week (CBS): The original series – which bore the slightly longer title of “The Worst Week of My Life” – had three incarnations. The first focused on the week leading up to the marriage of its two lead characters, the second shone the spotlight on the week before the birth of their first child, and the whole thing culminated in a three-part holiday special entitled “The Worst Christmas of My Life.” Anyone who enjoys a good bit of slapstick would see the merit in trying to adapt the series for an American audience, but after watching the pilot, I wrote, “Despite the first episode being thoroughly hilarious, it’s hard to imagine how they’re going to keep up that kind of momentum on a weekly basis.” What I didn’t write – but what I did indeed wonder – was why, given how much testing goes into television nowadays, they didn’t change the title. I mean, c’mon, if you watched the show, then don’t tell me you didn’t find yourself wondering from Episode #1 just how long they were planning to drag things out. In the end, “Worst Week” ran for 16 episodes, and given that its final episode* was entitled “The Epidural,” it’s clear that the series never had a chance to expand much beyond its source material. Not that they could’ve managed it much faster: getting from premiere to bringing the pregnancy to fruition within five months is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Still, with all British-adapted series, the rule of thumb is that you should create your own identity as quickly as possible…and they didn’t.
* As far as the show’s chronology is concerned, anyway. The actual final episode was entitled “The Party,” and it should’ve actually been the fifth episode. Instead, it was held back from the initial run and was later (and somewhat inexplicably) thrown into the network’s Saturday night schedule some four months after “The Epidiural” aired.
3. I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! (ABC, NBC): A lot of game shows and reality shows have successfully made the transition from the UK to the US, but even after two attempts on two different networks, “I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!” has found American popularity elusive. But, come on, surely this is a case where you can see the problem immediately: the show’s very, very loose definition of the word “celebrity.”
ABC’s take on the show featured as contestants three models (Tyson Beckford, Nikki Shieler Ziering, Alana Stewart), two well-past-their-popularity-date former TV hosts (Downtown Julie Brown, Robin Leach), a dancer best known for knocking up a pop star (Cris Judd), a former radio sidekick turned talk show announcer (John Melendez), an Olympic athlete who hadn’t yet had his reality-show renaissance (Bruce Jenner), and an actress whose most famous movie was 20 years old (Maria Conchita Alonso). So, basically, the contestant with the highest profile was Melissa Rivers. That’s just sad…and NBC’s stab at the series wasn’t much better, which was evident from the moment it was announced that they were bringing on the wife of disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. Seriously, the only reason to watch was to see how much of a douche Spencer Pratt (“The Hills”) was going to be, and since we knew we’d end up seeing those clips on “The Soup,” anyway, what was the point in tuning in?
I’m not saying that the British version has been consistently better when defining “celebrity,” but they managed to convince John Lydon to participate in Season 3 of the show. No, the guy’s not as punk as he used to be (which you already know if you’ve seen him hawking butter), but at least he makes for interesting TV. In most cases, the participants in the American casts did not.
2. Viva Laughlin (CBS): I can’t even begin to imagine the level of intensity that the discussions about this show reached within CBS, but I’m guessing that, in the end, it boiled down to this key question: is the popularity of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine going to be enough to sell audiences on a drama filled with song-and-dance numbers? Someone decided that it was. It was not.
Yes, the curiosity factor may have there for viewers, but it was still too soon for TV critics to be able to resist bringing up “Cop Rock,” and the network was showing startling naivete if they thought otherwise. (Fact: we TV critics keep “Cop Rock” in our arsenal like Ollie Queen keeps the boxing-glove arrow in his quiver. You know the odds are long that you’ll ever need it, but you want to have it at arm’s length just in case, and when “Viva Laughlin” came around, you can damned well bet that we had that “Cop Rock” reference cocked and ready.) Plus, a casual observer with discerning taste…okay, it was my wife…watched the pilot and noted that waiting for characters to suddenly burst into song is like waiting for a bomb to drop. It was not a compliment.
At the time, I said of the series,” “It’s a unique show, make no mistake, and placing it on Sundays at 8 PM means that the possibility for a big family audience is there…but, then, a show about a casino doesn’t seem much like a family-friendly series. It probably won’t matter, anyway; neither the Jackman factor nor the novelty of waiting for the next song will be enough to keep it on the air for more than a handful of episodes.” If you define “a handful” as a mere two episodes, then I was right on the money.
1. Coupling (NBC): Try telling an American who’s never seen the original British version of “Coupling” that it’s one of the most hilarious sitcoms of the decade, and they’ll never believe you, but if you try telling it to someone from the same demographic who managed to catch an episode of the American version of “Coupling,” and they may never trust your opinion about television ever again. Still, I’m going out on that very limb, mostly because I know there are a lot of other folks out there who’ll vouch for me.
NBC’s attempt to bring “Coupling” to the States was accompanied by a huge advertising campaign, but what it did not come with, unfortunately, was anything original. The first episodes of the series to air – which, not coincidentally, ended up being the only episodes to air – slavishly followed the scripts of the British series, which only served to convince fans of the original that this had been a very bad idea. Meanwhile, BBC America did its part to secure that mindset by pointedly airing episodes of the original immediately after the new version, so that viewers could see exactly how much better the original version was. They could also see how much better the British cast was.
Certainly, the post-“Coupling” credits of our cast show that they had talent: Jay Harrington is the titular star of “Better Off Ted,” Colin Ferguson plays Sheriff Jack Carter on “Eureka,” Sonya Walger went on to “Lost” and is now on “FlashForward,” and if Lindsay Price hasn’t had the greatest taste in project, at least “Lipstick Jungle” and “Eastwick” have kept her working. Their problem was that they started with no chemistry and, by being forced to fit into the shoes of their British counterparts in an almost word-for-word fashion, they were never able to find any.
Honorable Mention: “The I.T. Crowd.” If this one doesn’t ring a bell as an American series, that’s because it never actually was an American series, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of NBC trying to make it one. Indeed, the network was excited enough about the adaptation for NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly to chat it up during the May 2007 upfronts, which – as you may recall – also included chatter about the much-vaunted “Heroes” spin-off that never was, but the sitcom was set for a mid-season debut, eventually getting wiped off the slate altogether. So can we blame the infamous writer’s strike on the fact that we never saw a Stateside take on “The I.T. Crowd”?
If so, then it’s something that fans of “Community” should probably be thankful for, as it was originally supposed to star Joel McHale. Same deal for “NCIS” fans, since Rocky Carroll – now better known as Director Leon Vance – was also penciled in as a cast member. What really had our hopes up, though, was the fact that Richard Ayoade was set to play the same role on the American version as he had in the British version. The idea of seeing Moss interact with Americans seemed like it would’ve been comedy gold, but would “The I.T. Crowd” have been the next “Office,” or would it have been another “Coupling”? The world will never know.