Original image

4 Great American TV Shows Stolen from the British

Original image

If British TV shows are so darned great, why do U.S. producers insist upon remaking them instead of showing the originals? There are plenty of reasons! For one thing, the shows make reference to political situations, local celebrities and places that are unknown to most Americans, so a lot of the jokes would fall flat. And then there's that pesky pronunciation thing "“ Left Ponders may not realize it, but they speak with a slight accent that some folks on the this side of the Atlantic find difficult to understand.

But we're really not criticizing the Brits, honest! Just take a look at how many of their great ideas we've "borrowed":

1. All in the Family

When All in the Family debuted on January 12, 1971, a nervous CBS ran a disclaimer prior to the opening credits, explaining that the purpose of the series was to demonstrate how absurd prejudice was. And the dialog was pretty shocking for its time "“ until then, no sitcom character had dared use derogatory terms like "spade" or "Hebe." But if Archie Bunker pushed the envelope when it came to discussing minorities, Alf Garnett licked it and stamped it. Alf Garnett was the main character on the British sitcom Till Death Do Us Part, the show on which Norman Lear based AITF.

Alf used more epithets than Archie ever dreamed of, and was far less loveable. However, there were similarities between the two characters: Alf called his wife Else the "Silly Old Moo," while Edith was Archie's "Dingbat." Alf despised his Liverpudlian son-in-law, whom he described as a "randy Scouse git;" Archie declared that his daughter's Polish-American hippie husband was a "Meathead" ("dead from the neck up"). Alf was devoted to the West Ham United football team; Archie loved midget wrestling. Both shows were huge hits in their home countries, with Till Death running 10 years and AITF nine. Compare and contrast a typical Alf/Archie discussion on race relations:

2. Three's Company

Man About the House debuted on Britain's ITV network in 1973. The sitcom was controversial from the get-go due to the plot: two young single women find a drunk man passed out in their bathtub after a party, and after finding out that he could cook and needed a place to live, they offered him their spare bedroom. The girls knew their landlord would frown on non-married tenants of the opposite sex sharing an apartment, so they hinted that their new roommate was gay. Sound familiar? Four years later ABC launched Three's Company, pretty much a play-by-play re-creation of its British parent. Even the names weren't changed very much to protect the innocent: Robin Tripp became Jack Tripper, Chrissy Plummer (along with her bustline) morphed into Chrissy Snow, and the landlords were still the Ropers. Despite the basic similarities between the two shows, the British version relied more on crisp writing and witty dialog than the slapstick and "jiggle" used to attract the American audience.

3. Sanford and Son

Steptoe and Son was a British sitcom about an aging, somewhat cranky but always wise "rag and bone man" and his argumentative son. The two lived together and even though the son had an occasional delusion of grandeur, he remained a partner in his father's junk business. Wilfrid Brambell played the scheming Albert Steptoe, whom his son often dismissed as a "dirty old man." (This running joke was referenced when Brambell played Paul McCartney's grandfather in A Hard Day's Night; it was often observed during the film that he was "very clean.")

When the show was revamped for American audiences, it became Sanford and Son, and while Redd Foxx's Fred Sanford was just as irascible as the elder Steptoe, the characters' personalities were reversed a bit in order to exploit Foxx's comedic abilities. His son, Lamont (lovingly referred to as "you big dummy" by his father), was usually the voice of reason when his father fell victim to a new con game or "get rich quick" scheme.

The Office

The pilot episode of the US version of The Office was a duplicate of the BBC series, with some minor changes in dialog (a reference to Camilla Parker-Bowles was changed to Hilary Clinton, for example). The reviews were decidedly mixed, with most critics dismissing it as a pale copy of the British series. As time went on, however, additional writers were brought on, the cast was expanded, and the overall tone took on a more American flavor. The British Office has an air of crushing depression; all the employees feel stuck in dead-end jobs, but luckily they find humor in their hopelessness. In the U.S. version, however, there is always a subtle undercurrent of hope among the workers. Even the lowliest drone likes to believe that if he at least gives the illusion of productivity, he can work his way up the corporate ladder.

Picture 21.png

Have a comment on which show ended up better- the British or American version? Is there another show we've borrowed that you think should be on the list? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images
The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images

On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

Original image
Getty Images
40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
Original image
Getty Images

Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


More from mental floss studios