From The Office to Ten Percent: Why Some Remakes Soar (And Others Fear) | Television
Jhere are some good remakes, and then there are some so brilliant that the US president sends personal congratulations. The US version of The Office might be the greatest TV remake of all time – and the moment that cemented its success was when Barack Obama got in touch.
“Steve Carrell [who plays Michael Scott] came with this letter,” actor Oscar Nunez recalled in the 2021 book Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office. “He was like, ‘You might want to read this.’ He would say something like, “Dear Steve, I just want you to know that at the White House, The Office Thursday is family night.”
But for every The Office US, there’s a terrible US version of Skins or Gavin and Stacey (renamed Us & Them, at least having the decency to stand out from the original). It’s all too common for there to be great fanfare about a British show being adapted for another country, only for it to shamelessly bombard – think The Inbetweeners or Miranda’s remake Call Me Kat. which makes you cringe. With so many failing remakes, what’s the secret to surefire success?
When it comes to game shows and reality series, TV formatting — that is, taking a popular show from one region and making a new version of it in another country — is pretty easy. In the late 1990s, remakes of shows such as Big Brother (Dutch; franchised in 62 countries), Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (UK; 160 countries), Dragons’ Den (Japan; 45 countries) and Strictly Come Dancing (UK; 60 countries) have all proven to be a quick, easy and inexpensive way to make TV shows hyper-global. But remakes of fictional programs have always been harder to crack, with the need for new writers, sets and actors to make it culturally relevant and harder still – funny in a completely different market.
While it takes an extremely daring production team to watch a wildly popular foreign TV show and say, “We can do better,” there seems to be a lot of it. We will soon be seeing a UK version of the French hit Call My Agent! (called – in a direct translation of the original French title, Dix Pour Cent) and in the United States, a revival of the BBC Three mockumentary This Country airs, called Welcome to Flatch. Clearly, there’s something about shows like these that appeal to program creators.
“I loved the original series,” says Welcome to Flatch screenwriter Jenny Bicks, who was approached to adapt it by director Paul Feig. “I love this genre of ubiquitous British comedy for the moments where they sit in silence and the fact that you can have these tragic little moments in comedy. We were able to extract a ton of original stories from it that totally worked for the American public.
Bicks’ version takes the action from a Cotswold village to a fictional Ohio town; and the cousin duo of Kerry and “Kurtan” Mucklowe was morphed into Kelly and “Shrub” Mallet. Other major changes include the left-field cast of American Pie’s Stifler (Seann William Scott) as vicar, and the creation of an ensemble cast, allowing Bicks to “complete his world.”
It is, says Bicks, possible that the situation will remain more or less the same, despite the cross-cultural divide. “One of the issues people talk about with The Office UK was that American audiences didn’t like the character of Ricky Gervais because he seemed mean. It’s a very American thing; Americans want to have the felt like we were supporting the underdog, but our Kelley and Shrub characters were already underdogs, so we didn’t have to worry about them being unlikable.
One question that is always pressing when redesigning a fictional show is whether or not to involve the original creators of the series. For the This Country remake, Daisy May and Charlie Cooper were fully on board. “It was kind of like a blind date with them,” Bicks says. “We ended up in the Cotswolds, they showed us around and we sat in the basement of a little pub and just laughed.” But that doesn’t necessarily relieve the weight of expectation. In fact, for Bicks, it was more intense than any original series she’s written for, like Sex and the City or The Big C. “You don’t want to be the one screwing up the remake!” It’s a lot of pressure – and you have to own it. There should be enough to make it its own animal, so you don’t feel beholden to the original.
Ten Percent’s writer – John Morton of W1A fame – also seemed to feel a little apprehensive about adapting Call My Agent!, possibly due to the fact that the original French creator, Fanny Herrero, didn’t had no involvement in the UK version, which will stream on Amazon Prime Video. “I’m thrilled, surprised and in awe of the chance to recreate such a wonderful show like Call My Agent! for English-speaking audiences,” he said when it was announced. responsibility… If we are all very ambitious for this project, it is only because the original is so good.”
Which begs the question: why would a screenwriter or producer be so quick to remake a successful series? After all, it wasn’t until 2015 that Dix Pour Cent, about life in a Parisian actors’ agency, became a huge hit for French television, garnering a record audience share of over 5 million. viewership – eventually landing a solid UK audience on Netflix. Isn’t it too early?
Not according to Dr Andrea Esser, professor of media and globalization at King’s College London, who says demand for prestige shows is so high – the format market is estimated at $2.9 billion (2.2 billion) – on average, each format is matched around three times. “Due to the many streaming services, remakes have become extremely competitive, because there is so much content needed and not enough good talent. There are research companies that are dedicated to looking at what is happening in the world , which creates a buzz, to write reports and sell them globally.There is a huge desire to look abroad, see what is popular and copy it as quickly as possible.
As we have seen, the quality of these renovations can vary considerably, depending on the trends of the time. The rise of 2010s Scandi-noir thrillers such as The Killing and Borgen saw many versions emulated with varying levels of success. Since then, alongside The Office, other names that keep coming back to improve on the originals include House of Cards, Veep (based on The Thick of It, adapted by original series creator Armando Iannucci) and Shameless. These are all incredibly popular and critically acclaimed remakes of British series that have been given new life in a new region. More recently, Euphoria pulled off the same gripping feat – it’s a genuinely engrossing and thrilling American remake of the Israeli teen drama of the same name.
What seems to tie these shows together is that the remake shares the core values of the original, but manages to become its own entity. As Esser says, “There is no formula. You can’t say, “You can’t change more than a quarter or more than a half” or anything like that. A German producer who adapted Ugly Betty for the German market told me that if you ask a German screenwriter to adapt something, cultural sensitivities automatically come in without even thinking about it. He said, what’s really important is watching the original and trying to figure out what created the appeal of the original show. It’s the one thing you shouldn’t lose. After that, everything else falls into place.
But what if this is not the case? “The biggest pitfall is when people think it’s just about adapting or translating a text,” says Esser. “It’s not – you have to think about the audience. Are you adapting it for a television channel, and who is its target audience? BBC Four has a different audience than ITV. Or are you adapting it for Netflix and a global audience? It’s not so simple to say that it is adapted to a country – who is it aimed at? If you don’t know it and don’t do it right, an adaptation will never work.
Then there are the fans to contend with. Strong supporters of the original series will always have an air of superiority, but Esser points out that only a very small number of viewers will watch both versions. “Some of my research highlights that you have people who watch these shows religiously on, say, BBC Four, they will always prefer the original. So why would they want to see the adaptation? But then you have people who don’t even know something is an adaptation because they never go to the BBC Four to watch the original shows.These are the people the show is worth adapting for.
Also, she adds, we need to stop thinking about remakes in binary terms. “You can have an adaptation that you think is absolutely awful, but someone else loves. People have walked away from ‘good’ or ‘bad’ judgments of a TV remake because: what are your criteria? It’s really better to think of different audiences – “good” is if you see what makes this show great, keep it and adapt it.
Online, perhaps, the audience might not be so unbiased. However, Bicks is stoic about the response on social media for Welcome to Flatch. “I think since most people haven’t been able to watch This Country in America, that’s good for us I guess because it gets people in a little cleaner. I just want the show to be proud, and as long as Daisy and Charlie are happy, that means more to me than whether someone did it for the remake. Although, we imagine, a letter from the president wouldn’t hurt.
Welcome to Flatch East on Hulu in United States; ten percent will be on Amazon Prime Video in the UK on April 28.