British Sitcoms And Their American Counterparts
British: Steptoe and Son (1962-1966)
American: Sanford and Son (1972-1977)
Synopsys: A curmudgeonly widower and his son try to run a junk business.
Comments: The UK version never ran in the US. The American was extremely funny, owing to the brilliant comic timing of Redd Foxx, Demond Wilson, and LaWanda Page. Repeat viewings are still funny and timeless. Unsuccessful spin-offs included Grady, The Sanford Arms, and Sanford.
British: Till Death Us Do Part(1962-1966)
American: All In The Family (1971-1979)
Synopsis: A bigot, his big-hearted but naive wife, hippie-ish daughter and left-wing son-in-law share the same house.
Comments: Another one that was never broadcast in the US. The American version was one of the most ground-breaking programs in history, confronting racial, political, and social issues. It ran for 9 seasons owing to the strength of the cast (Carrol O'Conner, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers, and future director Rob Reiner). A little dated today, but still good. Spinoffs include the very popular The Jeffersons, Maude (which spawned Good Times), and Archie Bunker's Place. Less successful were Gloria and Checking In.
British: Fawlty Towers (1st series: 1975, 2nd series: 1979)
American: Chateau Snavely (1978), Amanda's (1983)
Synopsis: A hapless innkeeper and his shrewish wife run a guest house with the help of a dim-witted Spaniard and a harried waitress.
Comments: Truly brilliant comedy by the incomparable John Cleese. Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs, and Connie Booth (Cleese's wife at the time) were a perfect ensemble cast.
The Yanks tried to copy it not once, but twice. Chateau Snavely starred Harvey Corman and Betty White, while Amanda's starred Bea Arthur. Neither one lasted more than a few episodes.
British: The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin (1976-1979)
American: Reggie (1983)
Synopsis: A middle-aged ad executive for a confectionary company has a nervous breakdown and gets through life by daydreaming and fantasising. He eventually fakes his own death, only to come back under a new identity.
Comments: Consistantly hilarious, owing to the perfect casting of Leonard Rossitor as Perrin. Other memorable characters were Reggies pompous boss CJ (John Barron) and his very sweet wife Elizabeth (Pauline Yates).
ABC remade it as Reggie, a painful excuse for a sitcom starring the usually great Richard Mulligan. The less said about this one, the better.
British: Man About The House (1973-1976)
American: Three's Company (19877-1984)
Synopsis: An aspiring male chef shares quarters with two beautiful women.
Comments: The American version was (inexplicably) one of the most popular shows of the 1970's and 80's. Future stars John Ritter and Suzanne Somers, as well as Joyce Dewitt, round out the principle cast. The show was passibly amusing, made much better by supporting cast Norman Fell, Audra Lindley, and, later, Don Knotts. It spun off The Ropers, which was itself a remake of the British George and Mildred. Man did not run in the US.
British: Coupling (2001-2004)
American: Coupling (2003)
Synopsis: Six twenty-somethings pal around and search for love.
Comments: A curiosity of a Brit remake of an American show (Friends). The original was fresh and funny and didn't wear itself into the ground as Friends did.
Coupling (US) was abysmal, to say the least. It ran four episodes before NBC mercifully pulled the plug. Starred no one you've ever heard of.
British: Cold Feet (1997-2003)
American: Cold Feet (2003)
Synopsis: Three couples in Manchester (Seattle, in the US version) face the ups and downs of relationships.
Comments: The UK version, which ran in the US on the Bravo channel, was engrossing, well written, and well cast. The always great James Nesbitt and Helen Baxendale were standouts.
The American clone not so good. In fact, terrible. Put out of its misery after 4 weeks.
Interesting article. I would like to make an addition.
Steptoe and Son did indeed originally end in 1966, but it was revived once more in 1970 in colour and it enjoyed a further 4 year run. In my opinion, the later colour episodes were much better than the earlier ones if rather more "grotesque" than what had gone before!
Being British, I never got to see the American version, nor do I really want to see it for that matter since I'm one of those who think the originals are always the best.
Keep up the cool work you have going on here!
Thanks, Baz. I think that "Sanford" wouldn't appeal to a British audience, just as "Steptoe" wouldn't go over in the States. Beyond the basic premise, I doubt they had much in common.
FYI, most, if not all, of British TV was for many years broadcast solely on (non-commercial) Public Television. We've been treated to "Are You Being Served?," "Keeping Up Appearances," and the like. Now that we have BBC America, we can finally watch some interesting shows.
Wasn't there a THIRD attempt to do a US version of 'Fawlty Towers', Starring John Larroquette?
I also seem to recall a terrible Whoopi Goldberg series where she ran a hotel ('Whoopi', I think) that was an obvious 'Towers' rip off...
And no list of God awful US remakes from UK gold would be complete without the US version of 'Red Dwarf'...;)
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