With this year’s pilot season truncated by the writers strike, networks seem to be relying increasingly on foreign imports to pad their schedules.
Canadian imports Flashpoint and The Listener recently were handed series orders by CBS and NBC, respectively. David E. Kelley is doing a remake of the BBC series Life on Mars for ABC that has some of us at TV Bacon very concerned. And NBC is planning remakes of both the British Father Ted and the Australian Kath & Kim.
Yesterday, CBS picked up two more pilots based on foreign imports. NY-LON is a remake of a six-episode U.K. series that aired in 2004, about a man and a woman who attempt a long-distance romance between New York and London after a chance meeting. The Office‘s Rashida Jones starred in the original, but it’s unknown if the actress, currently appearing in Fox’s mid-season comedy Unhitched, will reprise her role. Mythological X, from Veronica Mars scribe Diane Ruggiero, revolves around a woman who begins revisiting all of her old boyfriends after a psychic tells her that she has already dated the man she is destined to married.
And today Fox greenlighted two pilots based on British series: Outnumbered, about parents struggling to raise three intelligent children, and the dreaded McG-produced remake of the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright hit Spaced. Another Fox comedy based on a British import, Don’t Bring Frank, has reportedly begun casting, although it has yet to receive a pilot pickup.
Since I can think of all of one whole successful American remake (NBC’s The Office) and a whole string of spectacular failures (Viva Laughlin, The IT Crowd, and Coupling, just to name a few of the most recent), one must wonder why, exactly, the networks continue to cling to remakes. On its face, I suppose it must seem like an easy out–take a proven formula and refit it with a fresh American cast and writing staff. Simple as pie, right?
Not so much. Because it takes more than just a great premise to make a show work. Just like it takes more than just a great actor or a great writer. It takes a mysterious, magic formula that combines all of these things, along with a hearty does of that undefinable quality known as chemistry, to hit the butter zone.
Okay, so it worked with The Office. But only because they just happened to bring together one of the best writing staffs in television with one of the best comedy ensembles in television. And even then it took them almost a full season to hit their stride. It wasn’t until they stopped following in the footsteps of the British original and started to develop their own unique voice for the series that it really came into its own.
If anything, I’d venture to say that it’s actually much harder to turn a remake into a success, because you have to fight an uphill battle to move out of the shadow of the original, especially if you’re remaking a show like Spaced or Life on Mars that’s widely available in the U.S. To borrow a phrase from another series to spawn a limp remake, it has to be better, stronger, faster.
Otherwise, why should I watch a watered-down American copy when I can enjoy the real thing in all its glory? Which is exactly the question I suspect audiences will be asking themselves this fall.