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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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The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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