American Remakes of British Television: Transformations and Mistranslations
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Ever since Norman Lear remade the BBC series Till Death Us Do Part into All in the Family, American remakes of British television shows have become part of the American cultural fabric. Indeed, some of the programs currently said to exemplify American tastes and attitudes, from reality programs like American Idol and What Not to Wear to the mock-documentary approach of The Office, are adaptations of successful British shows. Carlen Lavigne and Heather Marcovitch's American Remakes of British Television: Transformations and Mistranslations is a multidisciplinary collection of essays that focuses on questions raised when a foreign show is adapted for the American market. What does it mean to remake a television program? What does the process of "Americanization" entail? What might the success or failure of a remade series tell us about the differences between American and British producers and audiences?
This volume examines British-to-American television remakes from 1971 to the present. The American remakes in this volume do not share a common genre, format, or even level of critical or popular acclaim. What these programs do have in common, however, is the sense that something in the original has been significantly changed in order to make the program appealing or accessible to American audiences.
The contributors display a multitude of perspectives in their essays. British-to-American television remakes as a whole are explained in terms of the market forces and international trade that make these productions financially desirable. Sanford and Son is examined in terms of race and class issues. Essays on Life on Mars and Doctor Who stress television's role in shaping collective cultural memories. An essay on Queer as Folk explores the romance genre and also talks about differences in national sexual politics. An examination of The Office discusses how the American remake actually endorses the bureaucracy that the British original satiri
Lash and Celia Lury, Global Culture Industry (London: Polity, 2007), 4–5. 21. See Thomas Frank, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). See also Jim McGuigan, Cool Capitalism (London: Pluto Books, 2009). 22. Lash and Lury, Global Cultural Industry, 5. 23. Charles Fairchild, “Building the Authentic Celebrity: The ‘Idol’ Phenomenon in the Attention Economy,” Popular Music and Society 30, no. 3 (2007),
it plays on his car radio. When he reaches his casino (undergoing construction for its opening day), he then does a dance number as he wanders through the construction. A few construction workers join in, but the camera’s focus remains on Ripley alone, and there is no applause when he ends—only his accountant, Jonesy, calling his name with irritation. Blackpool presents its opening music much more confidently, and Viva Laughlin’s use of song as solo performance—echoed several minutes later by
(more on this later), has been very successful in the United States. Moreover, Trinny and Susannah have made several appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, accosting unsuspecting American women in shopping malls and dragging them to Oprah’s studio for an impromptu makeover. Recently, the pair has made a more permanent shift to the U.S., hosting Making Over America with Trinny and Susannah on TLC. Despite Trinny and Susannah’s crossover success, however, close attention to the ways in which the
unflattering the participants’ wardrobe choices really are. Furthermore, they often use their own bodies for the purpose of comparison. Susannah has a large bust, while Trinny refers to herself as “flat-chested”; they regularly touch their own bod- “Making Do” vs. “Making Anew” 105 ies and draw attention to their own “problem areas” so that the participants may better learn how to dress their own bodies. Trinny and Susannah’s use of vulgar language and brash invasion of the participants’
the trappings of violence is not. Both new and informed viewers expect that of the Doctor: it was established by the seventh Doctor when he first exited the TARDIS, only to be the victim of a hoodlum’s gunshots. The external symbols of an American other must be integrated with an internal struggle to constitute the self, which in the TV movie is shown as the Doctor’s struggle with amnesia. The plot of the TV movie strings along the audience: will the Doctor remember who he is in time to save the