On The Rocks

I have an unhealthy fascination with British sitcoms that have been remade as US shows, and some of the ones that fell through the cracks. We all know about the Red Dwarf USA pilot, or The Young Ones one, or the various efforts to port Fawlty Towers. And we all know about the mild successes like Dear John, and the huge hits like All In The Family and The Office.

It’s hard to know what will work once converted, and so it’s interesting to see what’s even attempted.

Today I learned that there was a Girls On Top US pilot made, and also a Nightingales one. Maybe it’s not surprising that those never made it to series.

One show that did get to full a full season though was On The Rocks.

It should be obvious what show it’s based on …

It ran for 22 episodes on ABC in the autumn of 1975 – which means it has more episodes than it’s progenitor Porridge. Looking at the episode guide, it seems that most of the episodes are based on the plots of the original, if not the scripts themselves.

A review in the New York Times said:

“On the Rocks,” a new series on ABC [asks] the question: can a prison be funny? Answer: yes … After the tragedy of Attica, after numerous exposés of the gross inadequacies of the American penal system, a TV comedy set in a prison can very well be considered insensitive, to say the least. But don’t jump to any easy conclusions about the insensitivity being peculiarly American. “On the Rocks” is based on a British series called “Porridge,” and it is being written by the same authors, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

There is a certain type of comedy atrocity with roots deeply embedded in television. The trick is to reduce something that might be powerfully disturbing to a level of silly meaninglessness … What is even more unsettling, “On the Rocks” does contain a reasonable quota of effective gags … Confronted with reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” (“Like the man said, we’re in prison to be punished”) and convinced, given the current state of the economy, that there is only “a very slender line between making a living and fraud,” the prisoners of “On the Rocks” are prepared to tickle the mass audience’s fancy.

ABC aired it after Barney Miller, and promoted the pair as ‘funny cops, and funny robbers’.

According to Mark Lewisohn, On The Rocks weathered “initial criticism from the US National Association For Justice, which worried that the show was painting too rosy a picture of prison life.” He also notes that there was a spin-off pilot, which aired in March of 1976 called I’ll Never Forget What’s Her Name. No coincidence surely that this was the title of an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads. This pilot was written by Clement & La Frenais, and directed by John Rich.

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