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15 Failed American Remakes Of Foreign TV Shows

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While American TV shows like Friends, The Nanny, and Married With Children have been exported to foreign markets, Americans have seen their fair share of poorly adapted remakes of foreign TV shows. Once in a while, there are imports—The Office, Sanford & Son, and All In The Family among them—that find their place in American pop culture, but every now and then, there are some straight up duds. Here are 15 that just didn't translate.

1. The Killing

In 2011, AMC premiered a new crime drama called The Killing. It was based on a popular TV series titled Forbrydelsen (The Crime) that first aired in Denmark in 2007. While both versions focused on the investigation of the brutal murder of a teenage girl, The Killing seemed to have plateaued in its 13-episode first season after its pilot episode, while Forbrydelsen thrived with a longer and more intricate 20-episode first season. The Killing’s season one finale was extremely disappointing and angered viewers, who didn’t return when the TV series came back for season two the next year.

The Killing was canceled after two seasons, but was later resurrected after Fox Studios, the studio behind the crime drama, made a deal with Netflix and AMC to bring the TV series back for a third season, which premieres June 2. Perhaps the third season will be the charm. 

2. Kath & Kim

Premiering in Australia in 2002, Kath & Kim was an instant success with viewers and TV critics alike. Australian writers Gina Riley and Jane Turner created Kath & Kim and also played the title roles, respectively. Although the original series ran for four seasons and spawned a TV movie and full-length feature film, its American counterpart—which starred Molly Shannon as Kath and Selma Blair as her daughter, Kim, and aired on NBC—struggled to sustain a full 22-episode season of TV. It was unceremoniously canceled after 17 episodes in 2009.

3. Spaced

Before actor Simon Pegg appeared in the movies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, he created a very popular TV comedy in the UK with writer Jessica Stevenson and director Edgar Wright. Spaced was a surreal, pop culture-heavy comedy with rapid-fire dialogue and jokes. The original British TV series was critically acclaimed and was thought to be a good fit for American audiences.

In 2007, Fox announced that director McG would make an American version of the show with actors Josh Lawson, Sara Rue, and Will Sasso in the lead roles, but the idea was scrapped after negative reactions from the original series' creators and its fans.

4. Fawlty Towers

The creation of Monty Python alumnus John Cleese and his then-wife, writer and actor Connie Booth, Fawlty Towers is considered one of the best British TV series of all time. The comedy surrounded the staff of a fictional seaside hotel and their zany misadventures.

There were actually three attempts to remake Fawlty Towers for American TV. In 1978, a pilot starring Harvey Korman and Betty White called Chateau Snavely was in development for ABC, but never saw production because of the numerous changes to the source material.

The second starred another Golden Girl: In Amanda’s, Bea Arthur played the owner of a seaside hotel. The show ran for 10 episodes before it was canceled in 1983. The third and final remake was called Payne and starred John Larroquette. It was a mid-season replacement on CBS and only aired for a month before it was canceled in 1999.

5. Cold Feet

Airing at the tail end of 1998, the British TV comedy-drama Cold Feet—about the up-and-down relationships of three couples—was considered ahead of its time. British critics applauded the show's depiction of social issues and use of pop music, as it was relevant to its contemporary audience.

The TV series was adapted for American audiences the following year, but received low ratings after its premiere episode, despite mostly positive reviews from critics. It was canceled after airing only four episodes of its eight-episode season.

6. The I.T. Crowd

The UK’s Channel 4’s The I.T. Crowd gained a cult following in England, but failed to make it to American TV when NBC commissioned a remake in 2007. Actor Joel McHale played the awkward Roy, originally played by Chris O’Dowd, while Richard Ayoade reprised his role as Maurice Moss from the original British sitcom. A pilot was made, but NBC’s new chairman, Ben Silverman, rejected it. In 2010, the original sitcom’s creator Graham Linehan stated a new American remake was in the works, but ultimately the project was junked after negative fan reaction.

7. The Weakest Link

In 2001, after the success of ABC's primetime game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, NBC tried to replicate that success with another foreign import. The Weakest Link was a similar game show that focused on a team elimination format rather than an individual one. The new version even imported the original host, Anne Robinson, to moderate the American contestants. 

At first, The Weakest Link saw strong ratings, but soon after it plummeted; American audiences seemed uninterested in the game show’s rules and the gimmicky catchphrase, “You are the weakest link—goodbye.” The show lasted just one year on NBC, with a follow up year in syndication on PAX TV and the Game Show Network.

8. The Ex List

Based on the Israeli TV series The Mythological X, The Ex List was developed for American TV by CBS in 2008. The comedy-drama followed Bella Bloom (Elizabeth Reaser), who is told by a psychic that her future husband was someone she used to date. According to the prediction, if she doesn’t find him within one year, she will remain single forever. This led Bella to explore her past relationships, hoping to find her future husband.

Although The Ex List received mostly positive reviews from critics, general audiences didn’t take to the series’ unappealing characters. It was canceled a month after its premiere.

9. Skins

The British teen drama Skins met commercial and critical success in the UK. The show followed a group of teenagers in Bristol, South West England, and depicted teen social issues including adolescent sexuality, substance abuse, and death. It was an unconventional series that changed out its main cast of characters every two years to keep the teen drama as accurate as possible. When it was adapted for American TV, it found a home on MTV.

While controversy surrounded both versions of Skins, American advertisers abandoned the teen drama because of its very candid subject matter. The U.S. version lasted just one 10-episode season, while its British counterpart enjoyed six good seasons of quality TV.

10. The Inbetweeners

While Skins was a dramatic depiction of teenage life, The Inbetweeners took a more comedic approach to the subject matter. The comedy followed a group of four awkward high school boys who weren’t cool enough for the cool kids, but not anti-social enough to be considered losers—hence the title.

The UK version spawned three highly rated seasons and spun off a successful movie adaptation. When The Inbetweeners was developed for American TV in 2012, it was picked up by MTV, but suffered the same fate as the American Skins. It was canceled after two months.

11. Sit Down, Shut Up

After the cult-classic Arrested Development was canceled in 2006, writer Mitchell Hurwitz developed a new animated TV series called Sit Down, Shut Up that was based on a short-lived Australian TV series of the same name—but while the American version was animated, the Australian version was not.

The remake reunited some of the Arrested Development cast, including Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, and Henry Winkler. Both series followed the staff and students of a dysfunctional fictional high school. The U.S. Sit Down, Shut Up only aired four episodes on Fox before it was canceled in 2009 due to very low ratings. 

12. Coupling

Created by Scottish writer Steven Moffat, Coupling was a big success in the UK from its premiere in 2000 until its cancelation in 2004. It followed a group of friends consisting of three men and three women, and even drew comparisons to popular American TV shows like Friends and Seinfeld.

When the TV series was imported to the U.S. in 2003, it failed to connect with American audiences, who didn’t appreciate the word-for-word translation of the original pilot episode. (By the time the show premiered, the British version had already gained cult status after it aired on PBS and BBC America.)

NBC canceled Coupling after five episodes. Former President and CEO of NBCUniversal Jeff Zucker later said that it “just sucked.”

13. Life On Mars

The science fiction TV series Life On Mars was also a police procedural that followed a modern day police detective who fell into a coma after a terrible car accident. When he woke up, he found himself in 1973 instead of his own time. The show was such a hit in the UK that it spawned a successful spinoff series, Ashes To Ashes.

When it was developed for American TV, critics gave the cop drama glowing reviews for its vision and premise. Then, the show took a two-month hiatus, and after it returned, it could no longer sustain the interest of American audiences. To add insult to injury, the American version’s season one finale was one of the most perplexing finales in TV history: It revealed that the detective was actually on the first manned mission to Mars, and that both the 1973 and 2008 "realities" he experienced were created by the ship's computer while he was asleep. Fans across the board were furious.

14. Free Agents

Although the original British version of Free Agents was short-lived, the U.S. remake’s life span was much shorter. The series was a black romantic comedy that followed two co-workers dealing with a harsh breakup. The UK's version was raunchy and explicit, but the US remake had to tone down its language and subject matter to placate American censors and networks. It was canceled after airing four episodes in 2011. The remaining episodes were released on a few months later.

15. Football Wives

The American show Football Wives was based on the very popular British TV drama Footballers’ Wives, which followed the fictional Premier League football club Earls Park F.C., its players, and their wives. The American remake changed the sport from soccer to American football as the series followed the fictional NFL team the Orlando Stingrays.

While Football Wives had an all-star cast, including Lucy Lawless, Gabrielle Union, and James Van Der Beek, ABC did not pick up the TV drama after its pilot episode tested poorly with audiences in 2007.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Smart Shopping
This Week's Best Amazon Deals You Can Still Get
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As a recurring feature, we share some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. These items were the ones that were the most popular with our readers this week, and they’re still available.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!


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