In previous blogs we’ve met Norman Lear, a man with a prolific sitcom output. He flew 52 combat air missions during the war too, but that’s a different blog entirely.
The first show he produced was a Henry Fonda vehicle called The Deputy. It was a half-hour Western, and this episode guest stars DeForrest Kelley:
But it was Lear’s remakes of UK sitcoms that I want to really discuss here. He’d made two previous attempts to launch a blue-collar sitcom on US screens, neither of which made it past the pilot. But his third offering was All In The Family, a re-working of Alf Garnett’s Till Death Us Do Part. Initally a ratings flop, strong numbers during summer re-runs helped it to the number one spot in its second season on CBS. As we’ve seen before, it spawned a number of hit spin-offs and continuations including Maude and The Jeffersons.
Here’s Mr Lear talking about how All In The Family came about:
And here he is talking about how Alf reminds him of his father, and the casting process:
And this is the title sequence of the show – remind you of anything?
For his next show, he repeated the remake formula, this time turning to Steptoe & Son as the inspiration for Sanford & Son. The new setting was the Watts area of Los Angeles. It starred Red Foxx and Desmond Wilson, and was an instant hit on NBC. Here’s Norman talking about casting Red Foxx:
And here’s an entire episode:
Not all transatlantic remakes were as successful of course. The recent Coupling never emulated The Office for example, and Nigel Planer never hit big in the states with The Young Ones. Men Behaving Badly did a little better, lasting nearly a season and half as It’s A Man’s World, and starring Ron Eldard and Rob Schneider.
An adaptation of The Fall And Rise of Reginald Perrin called Reggie, starring Richard Mulligan as the eponymous Reggie Potter lasted a season too. Not that Norman Lear had anything to do with these of course.
Other 70s hits failed to land Stateside. Fawlty Towers was re-made twice. The first time it was called Amanda’s, and featured Bea Arthur in her first return to TV since Lear’s Maude. It lasted half a season.
Bea Arthur seems a better casting choice to me than the next attempt with John Larroquette (who I like a lot, but not in this). Payne was a mid-season replacement on CBS in 1999, and featured Julie Benz. Eight episodes aired, nine were filmed. The audio quality is terrible, but it’s possible you don’t want to hear this anyway.
Red Dwarf never made it past the pilot stage. Well, it did, but only to a second pilot. Each one starred Robert Llewellyn as Kryten and Jane Leeves as Holly, with Craig Bierko as Lister. In the first, The Cat was played by Hinton Battle, but re-cast in the second with Terry Farrell, and two actors played Rimmer – Chris Eigerman and Anthony Fuscle.
Here’s part one of three of the first pilot:
And here’s the first part of the second pilot:
But a few less obvious choices did have their runs. You Again? was a re-make of Home To Roost, the UK sitcom starring John Thaw. His American version was played by Jack Klugman, and the show was broadcast on NBC for two season between 1986 and 1987.
Here’s a comparison of their title sequences:
Elizabeth Bennett appeared in both versions, which involved frequent transatlantic commutes. Eric Chappell created the original Home To Roost, as well as Rising Damp, Only When I Laugh and Duty Free.
Another successful adaptation was The Ropers, which lasted for two season on ABC. It’s a spin-off from Three’s Company, which is itself a re-make of Man About The House. The Ropers is based on George & Mildred, which answers my question from the other day about UK spin offs (Man About The House spawned George & Mildred and Robin’s Nest).
Weirdly, I can’t find YouTube clips of either The Ropers or Three’s Company, which is odd given their success.
Finally, one you’d not really expect: Dear John.
This fabulous sitcom, starring Ralph Bates, lasted fourteen episodes here in the UK, and was written by John Sullivan. Get it on DVD, it’s brilliant.
A year later it began a four season, 90 episode run on NBC, with Judd Hirsch in the title role. Some of those episodes even aired here in the UK.
It’s not all one-way traffic. The Golden Girls became Brighton Belles here in Blighty, but was cancelled by ITV before it had aired the full series – which is unusual for British TV. There’s no audio in this clip:
That 70s Show became Days Like These, written by Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong before they moved on to Peep Show. It was directed by Bob Spiers, and like Brighton Belles, it was cancelled before the first season finished.
And Who’s The Boss became The Upper Hand. But you don’t want to know any more about that, I’m sure.