TV dramas' foreign accent
This fall a quarter of the new dramas will be adaptations of shows from overseas.
Beverly Hills, Calif.
As the broadcast television networks face rising costs and dwindling audiences, studio executives are scrambling for new ways to cut expenses. Increasingly, they are turning to their foreign counterparts, mining TV dramas, comedies, and unscripted reality and game shows from such faraway airwaves as Japan, Israel, Colombia, and Britain. Of the 24 new shows debuting this fall, 25 percent are adaptations from other nations, according to TV Tracker: "Life on Mars" (ABC, from Britain), "The Ex List" (CBS, from Israel), "Kath & Kim" (NBC, from Australia), "The Eleventh Hour" (CBS, from Britain). Even premium cabler, HBO, is getting into the act with its upcoming adaptation, "Little Britain USA."Skip to next paragraph
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"We are having a very different dialogue now," says Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment. "It's a global playground," she says, adding, "even writers and directors are bringing product to us from overseas."
All the networks are responding to the lure of lower costs and the appeal of new voices, says Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment. "You're going to see more of that."
But despite its growing popularity, this is no surefire strategy. The networks have witnessed the painful demise of projects that appeared to be shoo-in hits, notably "Coupling," a British ensemble comedy, remarkably similar to a certain American TV landmark show about a group of footloose, um, buddies who spent most of their time in a Manhattan coffee shop. Even NBC's "The Office," which is a retooling of its British predecessor, was not an instant hit and required several years of modest ratings to build into both a ratings and critical success for the Peacock network, anchoring its Thursday night comedy lineup.
Successful translation from one culture to another is more art than science, says Brian Gianelli, producer for Yahoo! TV, who adds that though the idea is to trim budgets, the more successful shows take the time to analyze the essential elements of the source material. "You have to get to the heart of the story," says Mr. Gianelli, "the gist of what makes the original show work, and then look for the equivalent situation in American life."
As with any move from one culture to another, every adjustment has the potential to create unintended consequences. Producers of the new CBS cop drama, "Life on Mars," about a modern-day detective suddenly and inexplicably transported to 1973, found that while the British series was set in the significantly smaller city of Manchester, England, the decision to set the US version in New York required all sorts of character adjustments. The men required tougher personalities to reflect the demands of a much larger, more cosmopolitan city police department. But, say producers, the lead female detective required cultural adjustments as well.