Americans just can’t seem to get enough British TV at the moment. Sherlock, Life on Mars, Antiques Roadshow, Outnumbered, Footballers’ Wives, Celebrity Fit Club, Richard Blackwood’s Renaissance Showdown – they’ll remake practically anything it seems, even British programmes that they’ve already remade.
First Britain created Pop Idol. Then America snapped it up. Then Britain created The X Factor (essentially the same show as Pop Idol – but with red). Now America has their very own X Factor (American Idol – but with red).
The Yanks love bad British TV so much that they’ve even snapped up Jeremy Kyle to present exactly the same show as the one that he presents here – but in the US! He might have lost the intense neon blue lighting that made his programme seem like it was being presented from within an ultraviolet fly killer and gained a really small washed-out picture of the New York skyline, but essentially it’s the same – the same types of people, the same completely-unqualified-to-comment-on-anything advice being dished out, etc. Oh, how things were different way back when.
Once there was a time when the boot was on the other foot.
British TV used to be full of trashy American rip-offs and remakes. We’d help ourselves to anything.
“Card-based game show?” a TV executive might have said during this time. “Sure, we’ll take that, attach a minor British celebrity host and put their name in title, as if the card-based game show was actually their brainchild.”
Gone are those golden days of television, but as a reminder, for no reason whatsoever, here ten British programmes that have been heavily inspired by American television.
Feel free to add your own in the comments or generally hurl abuse at us.
Strange But True? (Unsolved Mysteries)
Strange But True? was a ‘90s documentary series that explored supernatural phenomena. It was essentially just a British version of the popular American series Unsolved Mysteries, but whereas Unsolved Mysteries was, at times, genuinely quite creepy, Strange But True? mostly consisted of Michael Aspel sporting a polo neck and speculating on the UFO activity of small Yorkshire villages.
In the first episode of Strange But True? Michael attempts to get to the bottom of a jaw-dropping mystery in which a dead body has been discovered on top of a pile of coal. “If there was no disturbance to the coal,” asks an interviewed policeman, who’s worryingly in charge of the case, “then how’d he get up there?”
So, yeah, coal disturbance. Coal disturbance is the best mystery this country could produce. Unfortunately, Strange But True? the mood and atmosphere or the show isn’t helped by its jolly little musical sting either. Rather than sounding eerie or unusual in anyway, it sounds as if it’s been lifted from a particularly awful ITV family drama.
There’s also just something about that title as well – Strange But True? Why is there a question mark at the end? And what does that mean? What is that short for?
Brighton Belles (The Golden Girls)
Brighton Belles was Britain’s long awaited, completely 100% necessary answer to US sitcom The Golden Girls. But whereas the title “The Golden Girls” had a warm, slightly cornball sound to it, Brighton Belles sounded like the kind of series you’d expect to find sandwiched between a couple of X-rated UK dogging DVDs in the scum section of CEX. This, coupled with the fact that it was awful, is probably why there’s very little mention of its existence online.
Only 6 episodes of the series aired during the Brighton Belles’ original run, with the final four episodes airing over a year later.
Fun House (Fun House)
It’s hard to imagine wacky, ‘90s game show Fun House without the programme’s beloved host Pat Sharp, unashamedly parading around a brightly coloured studio with his trademark lame jokes, good looks and well-cultivated mullet. Essentially, the games were always simply filler next to Pat’s segments. Each week he’d burst into the studio, often with the aid of a vehicle, wearing something like a turquoise tracksuit with the word “SASSY” written on it, before performing some of his latest material and introducing his two seductive co-hosts, Melanie and Martina (who we’ve interviewed no less).
But despite its lack of Pat the original Fun House isn’t all that bad. Hosted by all-American dreamboat J.D. Roth, who unfortunately takes a much less ridiculous approach than Pat, contestants, much like in the UK version, use their bodies and their brains as they compete to try and win the game. It’s wacky, fun, crazy, it’s outrageous; it’s still Fun House essentially.
The X Factor (The O’Reilly Factor)
Sure, one’s a really awful political show and the other’s a really awful TV talent contest, but the influence is there.
The X Factor was one of the first of a whole wave of programmes to adopt Bill O’Reilly’s notion that televised bullying is not only acceptable, but also completely justified, advocating it with ridiculously hammy editing techniques and reaction shots to remind confused viewers what they should be thinking. Both shows have become inexplicably popular over the years, mostly due to the fact that they contain non-stop caterwauling, shouting and impressive sounding swoosh noises.
But to be fair, these two shows do have their fair share of differences as well. Having the “X Factor” obviously refers to that indescribable quality, that certain something, that makes a mediocre pop singer seem marginally more talented than other mediocre pop singers. Whereas having “The O’Reilly Factor” quite clearly refers to that indescribable quality that makes somebody an obnoxious, unprofessional bigot who resorts to raising his voice at the drop of a hat.
Incidentally, The O’Reilly Factor has also provided the inspiration for Richard Littlejohn’s Batshit Insane Lunatic Hour, which currently airs every Wednesday at 7pm on Sky News.
Dale’s Supermarket Sweep (Supermarket Sweep)
The fundamental flaw with both of these shows lies with the fact supermarkets are actually quite depressing places. Admittedly, in the British version, Dale Winton’s trademark euphemisms and unapologetically orange charm help make the programme seem marginally less sad, but essentially it still feels like watching drunks in Tesco manically pack their trollies full of cider and peanuts.
The American version isn’t much better. The studio audience is a mixed blessing; on the one hand, it makes the show feel less like it’s being shot at 3am in an abandoned warehouse, but on the other, it makes the show seem like a 30 minute infomercial that’s forgot what its supposed to be advertising.
Sean’s Show (It’s Garry Shandling’s Show)
In It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, future creator of the fantastic Larry Sanders Show, Garry Shandling, stars as himself: a neurotic stand-up comedian, who just so happens to be aware that he’s a character in a sitcom. The other members of the cast are also aware that they’re on TV and sometimes show up to Garry’s house with the sole purpose of appearing on camera.
The British sitcom Sean’s Show, which stars comedian Sean Hughes, follows largely the same premise, but with a more surreal twist.
During the early part of the ‘00s, somebody decided that it was about time that Britain had its very own version of Friends. Then, bizarrely, the Americans decided that they wanted their very own version of Coupling (see here), seemingly unaware that it was very similar to one of their own shows. Then Britain decided that if America was allowed to have an American version of Coupling, then Britain should be allowed to have their very own American version of Coupling. And so on. And so on. And so on.
The Apprentice (The Apprentice)
The original American Apprentice stars Republican nutsack lookalike and business tycoon Donald Trump. It’s difficult to say which series is best; on the one hand, the American show features Donald Trump and gaudy, overly flashy graphics, whereas the British version simply able to fill us all with a great sense of national shame. It really is too difficult to call.
Bruce Forsyth’s Play Your Cards Right (Card Sharks)
“Okay, so we’ve got this American programme, right? It’s called Card Sharks, but naturally, I’m assuming that we’ll want to get either Beadle or Forsyth in on the action. I really can’t see the name ‘Card Sharks’ working in the UK. Brits don’t care for sharks. But they do love Forsyth, Beadle and lamo titles that don’t really mean anything. I’m thinking something like ‘Beadle’s Wonder Cards’ or ‘Bruce Forsyth’s Cards Ahoy!’. Something like that.”
Lead Balloon (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
It’s difficult to write about Lead Balloon without drawing comparisons to Curb Your Enthusiasm. The situations, the humour, the characters and the basic premise of both shows are undeniably similar – often to the point where Lead Balloon ends up covering ground that Curb Your Enthusiasm has already covered multiple times before. Both are grossly overrated.
This was a guest post by Jack Sharp who loves his television set much more than any human.
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