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10 British Sitcoms Inspired by American Shows

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It's not unusual for television producers to adapt successful British sitcoms for an American audience. For example, Three's Company, Sanford & Son, and, of course, The Office all started as British shows. It is unusual, though, for British television to adapt an American show. And when they do, the result is rarely a hit with UK audiences. Here are the stories behind 10 attempts to translate American laughs into British humor.

1. Days Like These

Growing up in the 1970s is pretty tough for Eric Forman. Between his overbearing father, Ron, his doting mother, Kitty, and his girlfriend, Donna Palmer, trying to keep everyone happy is sometimes more than he can handle. Thankfully he has his friends – clueless Michael Mcguire, ditzy Jackie Burget, burnout Dylan Jones, and good-natured foreign exchange student Torbjorn Rasmussen – by his side to help him through.

Although some of the names and cultural references were changed, the 1999 Britcom Days Like These was virtually a word-for-word remake of the popular American series That 70's Show. The original producers created the British version, and they got Bob Spiers of hit British comedies like Absolutely Fabulous and Fawlty Towers to direct, so they had high hopes that their show would translate well for a British audience. It didn't. Often called one of the worst British sitcoms ever, Days Like These was canceled after only six episodes, though another four aired later on to little fanfare.

Compare the Days Like These pilot, above, to the pilot of That 70's Show.

2. Married for Life

By the end of its 11-year run in 1997, the Fox Network hit Married...with Children had lost a lot of steam with American audiences. However, even today the show is incredibly popular in syndication across the globe, and has been remade for foreign markets in places like Russia, Hungary, and Argentina. One of the first countries to hop on the Married... remake bandwagon was the UK with Married for Life, which debuted in 1996.

On paper, Married for Life should have been a hit. In typical fashion, the British version changed the names of the characters – Al Bundy became Ted Butler – and replaced American phrases with British ones, but otherwise they used the original show's scripts. The cast was also pretty solid for a sitcom. Julie Dawn Cole, who got her start as Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, had been on British television for 25 years when she played Judy Hollingsworth, the Butlers' next door neighbor. Married for Life also starred famous funnyman Russ Abbot, who had hosted two popular British sketch comedy shows in the 1980s. But Abbot couldn't save this stinker – the show only ran for one series of seven episodes before being canceled.

Thankfully one member of the cast came out of the experience unscathed – Hugh Bonneville played Steve Hollingsworth, but he is now known as Lord Grantham on the hit ITV series, Downton Abbey.

3. Brighton Belles

Short-lived sitcom Brighton Belles, a UK version of The Golden Girls broadcast on ITV, premiered in 1993, a year after the American version ended its seven-season run. Despite an attractive cast of funny, older women, Brighton Belles was doomed from the start, because Golden Girls was already wildly popular in syndication on rival broadcaster Channel 4. Treading over familiar territory, the show never found an audience, but managed to stay on the air for nearly two series, ending its run after 11 episodes.

4. Nobody's Perfect

It's well known that the groundbreaking American sitcom All in the Family was a remake of a British sitcom called Till Death Do Us Part. Of course the Bunkers were a success in their own right and spawned a number of spin-offs, including 1972's Maude starring Bea Arthur as an outspoken, liberal woman in suburban New York City. Maude was also a big hit, lasting for five full seasons and a partial sixth before Arthur decided she was done in 1978.

In an unusual move, British television remade Maude in 1980 as Nobody's Perfect, starring Elaine Stritch, known today as Jack Donaghy's mother on 30 Rock, and Richard Griffiths, who played Harry Potter's uncle in the successful film franchise. The show only aired for 14 episodes between 1980 and 1982 before it was canceled.

Elaine Stritch and Bea Arthur's careers would cross paths again a few years later, when Stritch was the producers' first choice to play Dorothy on The Golden Girls, a role described as "a Bea Arthur type." However, Stritch blew the audition when she nervously inserted expletives into the script, so the producers had no choice but to actually approach Arthur for the role.

5. The Fosters

Not only did Maude inspire a British version, but it also had a spin-off of its own, Good Times, starring Maude's housekeeper, Florida Evans, played by Esther Rolle. Good Times was on the air from 1974 until 1979, depicting the day-to-day struggles of a middle class black family in Chicago, and was itself a ratings success for much of its run. During its peak in 1976, it was remade in Britain as The Fosters, which used scripts from Good Times but changed names and shuffled characters around slightly to differentiate itself. The show ran for 27 episodes, but was never a big hit with audiences or critics. In fact, although it featured the first all-black cast on British television, many felt it actually reinforced racial stereotypes, a critique often leveled at Good Times as well.

The Fosters was the first major role for Lenny Henry, who played Sonny Foster, the British equivalent of Jimmie Walker's Good Times character, J.J. Evans. Henry has since become a respected actor, writer, and comedian, appearing on numerous British TV shows, comedy specials, movies, and plays.

So, to summarize, a British sitcom (Till Death Do Us Part) was remade as an American sitcom (All in the Family), creating a spin-off (Maude), which inspired a British remake (Nobody's Perfect) and an American spin-off (Good Times), which was then remade as a British show (The Fosters). Despite this tangled web, the British versions were not connected in any way.

6. The Upper Hand

Widow Caroline Wheatley is a career-minded single mom doing her best to raise her nerdy son, Tom, in the English countryside. Her man-hungry mother, Laura, can occasionally lend a hand, but what Caroline really needs is a live-in housekeeper. Much to her surprise, Laura hires Charlie, a former professional soccer player sidelined by an injury who will do just about anything to get his daughter, Joanna, away from the rough London neighborhood they currently call home.

If this sounds familiar, that's because The Upper Hand was a British remake of the long-running American sitcom, Who's the Boss?. Unlike many British remakes, though, this one was actually very successful, receiving seven series for a total of 95 episodes between 1990 and 1996.

While the original counted two veteran sitcom actors in the cast, Taxi's Tony Danza and Soap's Katherine Helmond, and made a star out of friend-of-the-Floss Alyssa Milano, The Upper Hand had a former Bond girl and star of The Avengers, Honor Blackman, who played the feisty Laura. The remake got a shot of American star power when Helmond made a cameo appearance as a carnival psychic named Madame Alexandra during the series four finale.

The show borrowed quite a bit from the original, but it went where Boss? was afraid to go when Charlie and Caroline tied the knot at the end of series six. However, as with so many sitcom romances, when the sexual tension went away, so did the audience, and the show was canceled after the seventh episode of the seventh series.

Compare the pilot for The Upper Hand, above, to the pilot for Who's the Boss?.

7. In with the Flynns

The latest remake of an American sitcom is the BBC's In with the Flynns, which adopts many aspects of Grounded for Life, a sitcom starring Donal Logue and Megyn Price, which ran from 2001 to 2005 on Fox and the WB. Flynns debuted in June 2011, running for a six-episode series, and has been renewed for a second series to air this year, though the critical and audience reception has been lukewarm at best.

Inspired By...

Some British shows aren't direct adaptations of American shows, but they're similar enough in tone or concept to draw comparisons between the two.

8. Lead Balloon

The BBC comedy Lead Balloon, which ran for four series between 2006 and 2011, took its cues from the long-running HBO hit, Curb Your Enthusiasm. The show starred comedian Jack Dee as fictional comedian Rick Spleen, who is constantly putting his foot in his mouth, then tries to find a way out of his predicaments, usually in the most self-serving ways possible. Spleen is surrounded by his kind and polite wife, Mel, and his sometimes-polite friend, Marty, who try their best to keep Spleen's bile in check.

9. Saturday Live

Between 1985 and 1987, the UK had their own version of Saturday Night Live, called simply Saturday Live. Although they didn't reuse the scripts or characters from SNL, the format – a guest host, musical acts, and a live broadcast with a studio audience – was clearly, and admittedly, influenced by the long-running American sketch comedy show. Saturday Live was short-lived but influential, helping to launch the careers of comedians Harry Enfield, Ben Elton, and the comedy duo Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

10. Coupling

When Coupling debuted in 2000, it was impossible to dodge the comparisons to America's Friends. Both shows followed a group of young people as they supported each other through the trials and tribulations of love, life, and careers. Over four seasons, Coupling was able to distinguish itself by featuring more experimental narratives and directorial choices from current Doctor Who showrunner, Steven Moffat, but the label "The British Friends" will always haunt the show. In an odd twist, as Friends was winding down its run in 2003, NBC tried to retain the same audience with an American remake of Coupling, which only lasted four episodes before it was canceled.

Compare scenes from the first episode of the British Coupling with scenes from the first episode of the American Coupling:

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entertainment
The 10 Best TV Shows on Amazon Prime Right Now
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Amazon

If you’re a subscriber to Amazon Prime, you’re entitled to free expedited shipping, free Kindle downloads, and lots of other perks. But some customers are perfectly content to relegate their use of the service to the company’s considerable streaming video options.

If you’ve already explored their extensive library of HBO classics like The Sopranos and The Wire, don’t worry—there’s plenty of binge-watching left. Check out our picks for 10 of the best TV shows on Amazon Prime right now.

1. HANNIBAL (2013-2015)

At first glance, Bryan Fuller’s (Pushing Daisies) take on the Thomas Harris novels featuring the gastronomic perversions of Hannibal Lecter seems like a can’t-win: How does anyone improve on The Silence of the Lambs and Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of the diabolical psychiatrist? By not trying. Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter is a study in composure; FBI agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is the one who seems to be coming unhinged. While Fuller has time to explore the finer details of Harris’s novels, he also has the temerity to diverge from them. Hannibal’s brief three-season run is a tragedy, but what’s here is appetizing.

2. GOLIATH (2016-)

David E. Kelley (The Practice) wrote this eight-episode limited series about a downtrodden lawyer (Billy Bob Thornton) who brushes up against his former law firm when he tackles an accidental death case that turns into a sprawling conspiracy. Thornton won a Golden Globe for his performance; William Hurt should've won something for his portrayal as the diabolical firm co-founder who keeps pulling Thornton's strings from afar. A second season is set to premiere in 2018.

3. THE AMERICANS (2013-)

If Stranger Things stimulated your appetite for ‘80s paranoia, FX’s The Americans—about two Soviet spies (Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell) embedding themselves in suburban America—is bound to satisfy. As Russell and Rhys navigate a complex marriage that may be as phony as their birth certificates, their allegiance to Russia is constantly tested. Prime has the first four seasons, with the recently-aired fifth season due soon; the show's sixth and final season will air in 2018.

4. SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005)

A celebration of life under the watch of death: Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under chronicles the Fishers, proprietors of a Los Angeles funeral home who struggle to carry on following the abrupt death of their patriarch. Darkly humorous and emotionally charged, it’s also got one of the most talked-about (and gut-wrenching) finales in television history.

5. JUSTIFIED (2010-2015)

Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) makes his intentions clear in the opening moments of episode one: If he draws his weapon, he’s shooting to kill. That’s more or less what transpires in six seasons of this FX series, which ambles along like a modern-day Western but is transformed by the lyrical dialogue inspired by novelist Elmore Leonard. And like any good white hat, Givens needs his foil. He gets it in the form of Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), who stole the show on another FX series, The Shield, and does the same here. When the two finally face off after years of circling, it’s nothing you’ll have seen coming.

6. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2000-)

“Social assassin” Larry David is returning from a six-year sabbatical for a ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm in October. In the meantime, you can relive every awkward moment from the first decade of his loosely-improvised show. Ambling through Los Angeles, the selfish, abrasive David rarely encounters a situation he can’t make worse.

7. OZ (1997-2003)

Oz, HBO’s first hour-long drama, set the stage for a Golden Age of television, pulling no punches in its depiction of the fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility and its cast of scheming, volatile prisoners trying to survive in an experimental ward. Twenty years later, it might still be the most boundary-pushing series ever to air. 

8. MAD DOGS (2015-2016)

An Amazon original limited series that flew under the radar, Mad Dogs plays like a travelogue for a trip you never want to take. Friends gather in Belize at the behest of a friend (Billy Zane), whose connections with the country’s criminal element wind up being problematic for everyone involved.  

9. MR. SHOW WITH BOB AND DAVID  (1995-1998)

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’s HBO series mixes surrealism with intricate plotting to produce some of the most inventive sketch comedy on television. If you don't believe us, check out "Pre-Taped Call-in Show" from the 10th episode of season three.

10. THE JOY OF PAINTING (1986-1994)

Happy trees and clouds await viewers of legendary painting instructor Bob Ross, whose canvases beam into your living rooms like digital Prozac.

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Disneyland Opened Today in 1955
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YouTube // Surf's Up Studios

On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened to the public, complete with a 90-minute live TV special aired on ABC. With hordes of press on location, the affair was a media circus. For people attending the park in person, the launch was a real mess, as thousands of people crashed the party using counterfeit tickets.

Despite the launch troubles in person, the TV coverage was great fun, and it was cohosted by Ronald Reagan alongside Art Linkletter and Bob Cumming. It was a major television event, and you can tell from watching it that such a big show had a lot of moving parts—at one point Linkletter introduces Davy Crockett as "Cinderella." The special aired 61 years ago today, and in a minor coincidence, Reagan accepted the Republican nomination for US President on the same date in 1980. Anyway, strap on your Mickey Mouse wristwatch and go back to 1955 for a wild ride:

(If you'd like to save a copy for later viewing, the Internet Archive lets you download the whole special.)

In 1990, Disney held a 35-year anniversary bash. Here's some TV coverage (again featuring Reagan) from that event, including a sort of blooper/highlight reel of the 1955 event starting just past the 2:00 mark.

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