TV's `Married ... With Children' Is a German Cult Hit

ONE of the hottest programs on German television today is a show that is all too familiar to American audiences. With their voices dubbed into German, the Bundy family - from the Fox sitcom "Married ... With Children" - has quickly achieved the status of a cult.

Many cities have formed Bundy fan clubs. Restaurants and nightclubs sponsor "Bundy nights," featuring hours of commercial-free videos of the show.

The dysfunctional band of characters on the sitcom, who mercilessly flout the behavioral norms of happy television families, have found a sympathetic audience in the land that invented the word schadenfreude ("joy at another's misfortune").

"This family can't live together, but they can't live without each other," says a Berlin television producer. "I think that's a situation that many people know in their private lives, too."

People empathize with the plight of the Bundys, especially the family's hapless shoe-salesman father, Al. In the German magazine "Der Spiegel," doctoral student Fred Rolbe dubbed Al Bundy a "modern-day Sisyphus" who is "surrounded by a senseless world, hit with every odious fate, but - despite everything - he never gives up."

One of the country's new private TV channels, RTL, began broadcasts last spring using the German-language title "Eine Schrecklich Nette Familie," which translates directly as "A Terribly Nice Family." The show became an instant hit, even though it aired on weeknights at 1 a.m.

"We had a lot of spectators at night," says Robert Florin, at RTL's headquarters in Cologne. "It always went close to a million. That's good ratings for a time like that." In December, RTL began a second daily broadcast at 5:30 p.m.

Some people see the popularity of "Married ... With Children" as part of a new trend in German television-viewing habits.

"German viewers go to bed early," says Mr. Florin, "they don't stay up that long. But in the last year there has been a change in the habits of the viewers. They prefer laughing and they prefer watching sitcoms."

This month, RTL is to begin broadcasting a knock-off version of the sitcom shot by a Berlin film company using German actors. The new show, "Hilfe, Meine Familie Spinnt!" ("Help, My Family Is Crazy!"), features the Jupp Strunk family in a middle-class suburb of Cologne. Many of the scripts have been adapted from episodes of the American show, using local writers.

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