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10 British Sitcoms Inspired by American Shows

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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Mister Rogers Is Now a Funko Pop! and It’s Such a Good Feeling, a Very Good Feeling
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It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood for fans of Mister Rogers, as Funko has announced that, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the kindest soul to ever grace a television screen will be honored with a series of Funko toys, some of them limited-edition versions.

The news broke at the New York Toy Fair, where the pop culture-loving toy company revealed a new Pop Funko! in Fred Rogers’s likeness—he’ll be holding onto the Neighborhood Trolley—plus a Mister Rogers Pop! keychain and a SuperCute Plush.

In addition to the standard Pop! figurine, there will also be a Funko Shop exclusive version, in which everyone’s favorite neighbor will be wearing a special blue sweater. Barnes & Noble will also carry its own special edition, which will see Fred wearing a red cardigan and holding a King Friday puppet instead of the Neighborhood Trolley.

 

Barnes & Noble's special edition Mister Rogers Funko Pop!
Funko

Mister Rogers’s seemingly endless supply of colored cardigans was an integral part of the show, and a sweet tribute to his mom (who knitted all of them). But don’t go running out to snatch up the whole collection just yet; Funko won’t release these sure-to-sell-out items until June 1, but you can pre-order your Pop! on Amazon right now.

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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hollywood Food Stylists
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Hollywood food stylists are little short of magicians—only instead of pulling rabbits out of hats, they’re turning piles of mashed potatoes into ice cream sundaes. Indeed, making food (or food-like products) appear photogenic and appetizing onscreen is a job for a true illusionist. Mental Floss spoke to a few food stylists working in TV, film, and commercials—from Game of Thrones to Taco Bell—to bring you the tricks of their magical trade.

1. MOST OF THE FOOD BEING FILMED IS REAL.

While food stylists are well-versed in the old-school swap tricks—using a pint of white glue to impersonate a glass of milk, for example—those are being phased out. Now, directors want actors to interact with their food, and high-definition camera lenses have made the fake stuff much more obvious. Plastic food props only appear in the background of scenes today, where they're less visible and susceptible to scrutiny.

“I only deal with real food,” says Chris Oliver, who has styled food for movies including Gone Girl (2014) and TV shows such as Seinfeld and Big Little Lies. “You also have to think about how a character would cook something or put a plate together. Realistic food is not all beautiful and perfect. I make ugly food and burnt food, too.”

There’s a trend in commercial food styling to present dishes that are less-than-perfect, too. Shellie Anderson, who styles food ads for clients including Burger King and Ragù, says it’s the consumers who are demanding food look more realistic and therefore more approachable.

“People are tired of seeing something in a TV commercial and then ordering it in a restaurant and it doesn't look the same,” she says. “You don’t want it to look staged anymore. You want a burger to look like the cheese naturally dripped off and landed on the plate.”

2. THEY GO THROUGH A LOT OF FOOD ...

Bowl of strawberry ice cream
iStock

If a food stylist needs one sprig of parsley for a shoot, they’ll often order 10 bunches. They never know what the condition of the parsley is going to be when it arrives from the produce vendor, or if the shoot is going to require more than they originally planned for. Carving a turkey in a scene? That may require two dozen birds if an actor keeps flubbing his line.

“It really depends on how much of a story point the food is and how important the scene is for the director,” Oliver says.

Food stylists usually have relationships with produce vendors, who can look for products with the specific size, shape, and color that stylists need. No bruises or dents, and no frozen lettuce! But stylists can hide those things if they have to.

Ice cream is infamously hard to keep intact because it melts so quickly. Food stylists have been known to replace the scoops with dollops of meringue, which don’t melt, or butter rolled in sugar. Oliver makes her sundaes the day before and sticks them in the freezer, spoons and straws and all. If they freeze rock hard overnight, they can last a few hours on set the next day before being replaced with another sundae lined up in the deep-freeze. Anderson sprays her ice cream with cold spray, an aerosol can of super-chilled gas used for cooling electronics.

3. ... BUT THE FOOD RARELY GOES TO WASTE.

On film and TV shoots, there are rarely leftovers. In fact, good food stylists often compete with the caterers: Actors usually have to eat the food during their scenes, and the crew finishes off the scraps. While shooting a Chinese New Year scene for the show Fresh Off the Boat recently, actress Lucille Soong told Oliver, who was styling that episode, that she was going to skip lunch because she wanted to enjoy eating her food on camera. “That was pretty freaking flattering!” Oliver says.

Because Oliver works on multiple TV shows in a single day, if an item doesn’t get used on set and never comes out of her cooler, she can just take it back to her shop and recycle it for use on another show. If something can’t be used again, she’ll take it home and make salsa or jam. “When it gets really old, I'll just stick it in vodka,” she says.

Commercial shoots tend to have more unused food. Anderson says anything that’s still edible will be given to a food pantry. “I once donated an entire swordfish when we did a commercial for a fish restaurant,” she says. “We never even used it. So I kept it on ice and took it to a men's homeless shelter. They were thrilled to have it.”

4. THEY VALUE FOOD SAFETY.

Another reason food stylists swap out on-camera food so much is because of safety concerns—hot and cold foods need to be kept at certain temperatures that may not be practical on-set. Sushi-grade tuna may be replaced with watermelon, for example, because the fish spoils so easily.

Oliver requires all of her employees to have a food handler’s license. She also only works out of commercial kitchens (including the one on her fully-equipped food styling truck). But not every food styling team does; some prepare food in their homes. “The reason that I get so much work is that everybody knows I'm a chef and I have a real kitchen,” Oliver says. “People trust my food. I’ve done a bunch of movies with Reese [Witherspoon] because she knows that if I’m on set, the food is safe to eat.”

5. WOMEN DOMINATE THE FIELD.

woman styling food
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While there are a few well-known male food stylists, for the most part the key food stylists in the U.S. are women. (Both of Anderson’s daughters are food stylists, too.) The reason for this dates back decades.

Before food styling became its own career in the 1990s, it was up to network employees with home economics degrees (almost always women) to cook on-camera food. Then props departments became responsible. “But props guys can’t even make spaghetti,” Oliver says, laughing. So according to her, these guys would go home and ask their girlfriends or wives to make whatever food was required for the next day’s scene. “Eventually they would just hire their girlfriends or wives to do it; keep the money in the family,” she says. “I know five food stylists who at one time were in relationships with prop masters.”

Also in the 1990s, networks began making more multi-camera TV shows. A lot more food began appearing on screen, and actors openly discussed their dietary restrictions. They were vegan, sugar-free, and low-carb all of a sudden. Oliver trained at the Culinary Institute of America and had worked in restaurants and catering jobs before stumbling into this career. “Because I was a chef, and I understood how food works, I knew how to feed people and make food last on set,” she says. “And I could charge anything I wanted to.”

To get a job as a food stylist today, it helps to know someone already in the industry and have a culinary background. Everyone starts as an intern, and then may be able to work their way up to being an assistant and then a stylist. “Not everybody can be a food stylist,” Anderson says. “You have to be able to cook, but you still have to be creative. And you have to be able to work fast and under pressure.”

6. THEY LIVE OUTSIDE OF LOS ANGELES NOW.

Now that movies and TV shows are frequently filmed all over the world, instead of just on sets in Los Angeles, food stylists can be based anywhere. There is a concentration of stylists who live in Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, because that's where many shows are now filmed. Labor laws also often require production crews to hire locally, so residing outside of L.A. can be a real advantage.

Some commercial food stylists, like Anderson, are flown in for shoots. “Food stylists can make or break a commercial,” she says. “And if you have trouble and you don't know what you're doing, it can be a real problem for production.” This is especially true on out-of-the-country shoots, when stylists don't have the resources that they’re used to. So clients who know her and her skill level, such as Taco Bell, will fly her to wherever they're filming.

7. THEY TALK LIKE CHEFS AND FILMMAKERS.

hand styling pancakes
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Food stylists use a mix of back-of-the-house kitchen lingo and film jargon. Some examples: The “hero” is the food that is written into the script, is being shot, and must appear in front of the actor. “Bite and smile” is when an actor takes a bite of food and pretends to like it. “All day” is the total number of items needed; if they needed five turkeys on a set, they would say “five all day.”

8. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO BE IN THE MOVIES.

Food stylists usually specialize in different media: film, TV, commercials, or print editorial. Stylists often prefer one over the other. Print editorial is shot in a controlled studio and tends to have more leeway for creativity. Commercials are tied to a brand’s specifications. Film and TV shoots on location are in unpredictable settings and can be physically demanding. But everyone tends to work long, 12- to 14-hour days. For commercials, it can often take three days to shoot one 30-second spot.

When working on a movie or TV show, the actors’ demands usually take precedence over the food needs. After working on one film, Anderson had had enough and dedicated herself to commercial work. “When I do commercials, the food is the star,” she says. “So [the directors] want to make sure I have everything I need. On a movie, they could care less about you.”

9. FOOD STYLISTS DON’T JUST MAKE FOOD.

Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford, Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter on Hannibal
NBC

Sometimes food stylists are expected to create sci-fi props—what would a person eat in the year 3000?—or fantasy items that they have no experience with. While working on the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Oliver made gooey, edible slime from her imagination. “I also had to roll with the [actors’] different dietary needs,” she says. “I had to be able to make vegan slime, sugar-free slime, gluten-free slime, gelatin-free slime … Slime, any way you want it.”

Oliver also has to make items that you don’t really want to put in your mouth. While filming the TV show Big Little Lies, she made green-colored vomit for actress Reese Witherspoon of cucumbers and parsley. She says it was tasty, like green gazpacho. For a war film, she had to make 400 pounds of “dirt” for a group of prisoners of war to eat. She got Pakistani soil shipped to California so she could match it exactly. (Her recipe: ground-up Oreos and graham crackers, mixed with brown sugar and white sugar.)

Janice Poon, the food stylist behind the cannibal-centric TV show Hannibal, had a more challenging obstacle: how to make dishes that resembled human flesh. She refused to do research on cannibalism websites, she told HopesAndFears.com, but she studied a lot of anatomy books. “I’m just like Dr. Frankenstein,” Poon said. “I’m always stitching things, exchanging, putting one kind of meat on a different bone, patching stuff together. ... The key is to let the viewer’s imagination do more of your work.” She transformed veal shanks into human legs, and used prosciutto slices to mimic slivers of a human arm.

10. THEY PACK SOME SERIOUS GEAR.

When shooting, stylists need to be prepared for anything. They carry tools including tweezers, scissors, paint brushes, knives, offset spatulas, wet wipes, syringes, rulers, Q-tips, and spritz bottles.

“Think about your kitchen: all of your mixing bowls and utensils … I have that times 10 in my kit,” Anderson says. She also has a torch on hand for quick-cooking burgers and cold spray for extending the life of ice cream. Other stylists may have glycerin for adding shine or Kitchen Bouquet sauce for adding color. Poon often uses a white ceramic knife so she can see what she's doing on dark sets and work more quietly, so as not to disturb the acting process.

Food stylists sometimes work in erratic environments. Oliver brings her own 17-foot, cab-over truck to shoots. “It has a lift gate and everything's on wheels, so I can take everything out and have a kitchen in the middle of the desert, if I want,” she says. Inside, she has a full commercial kitchen: a six-burner stove, refrigerator, microwave, grill, freezer, prep tables, storage, TV, and a generator.

11. THEY’RE SKILLED AT IMPROV.

When production starts, the prop team sends memos to actors or their reps asking about food allergies and dietary restrictions. As trained chefs, most food stylists are happy to accommodate such limitations, cooking convincing swap-outs. “I find out what they will eat and make it happen,” Oliver says.

For example, Poon once made a convincing vegan “raw meat” on Hannibal using only grains. “I made lamb tongues out of bulgur and water,” Poon told HopesAndFears.com. “It’s like making a Lebanese kibbeh. You mix cracked wheat with water and it makes a kind of mush that holds together. The texture is a little 'nubbly,' so I added a pink food coloring, made little tongues out of kibbeh dough, steamed them up, and they were my little lambs’ tongues.”

Sometimes a director changes his or her mind at the last minute, and what was supposed to be a spaghetti dinner, for example, is now a breakfast spread. So the food stylist will squish down the meatballs and turn them into sausage patties. In an interview with NPR, food stylist Melissa McSorley recalled a time when a movie director suddenly decided to cut open a birthday cake she had made. The problem: It wasn’t real.

“So we had to cut the cake that was made out of Styrofoam, and I had to use a saw in order to do it because none of my knives could get through it,” McSorley said. “And then we had to layer in cake so it did look like it was real and then we had to send people scurrying to many markets to find white layer cake so it looked like people in the background could be actually be eating the cake.”

12. THERE’S ALWAYS THE SPIT BUCKET OPTION.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, David Bradley in Game of Thrones
HBO

Professional actors will often pick at the food in front of them, but not eat it because they know their scenes are going to require a lot of takes; they could be eating birthday cake for eight hours straight. Others dive right in. For a scene in The Guilt Trip (2012), actress Barbra Streisand had to pretend she was in a steak-eating contest. Oliver says they went through more than 300 pounds of meat for that scene’s three-day shoot and Streisand was totally game.

“But there’s a part towards the end where she has to eat really quickly and do a line without, you know, choking and dying,” Oliver says. “So I switched out the steak with seared watermelon. She took one bite and it sort of dissolved in her mouth, so she could do her line. If you watch it, and you really listen, you can hear the crunch of the watermelon.”

Sometimes, though, the spit bucket is the only option. In season one of Game of Thrones, the character Daenerys Targaryen had to eat a whole horse heart. But the actress who plays her, Emilia Clarke, actually had to eat 28. They were made of solidified jam, which tasted like “bleach and raw pasta,” she told The Mirror. “It was very helpful to be given something so truly disgusting to eat, so there wasn’t much acting required. Fortunately, they gave me a spit bucket because I was vomiting in it quite often.”

13. SOMETIMES THEY’RE SURPRISED BY THE FINAL PRODUCT.

Food stylists who work on multiple projects at a time, like Oliver, can’t always stick around to see how their food will be used. They may later find out that a gorgeous spread was relegated to the background, or worse. For a scene in Seinfeld, Oliver was once asked to prepare a perfect, glistening turkey. “Later I was home watching the episode and they had put the turkey on Kramer!” she says. “I was literally crying I was laughing so hard. Never in a million years did I think my turkey was going to end up with a guy’s head.”

14. THEY THROW EPIC DINNER PARTIES.

Food stylist preparing vegetables
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You’d think that being around food all day would make food stylists tired of making things look nice. But most food stylists love to cook, and on the days they aren’t working, they love to throw parties. “People always expect to have beautiful food,” Anderson says. “And I don't disappoint.”

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