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The Brits are Coming … But Don’t Tell

September 15th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

Of the new shows this Fall, three are American adaptations of British originals: The X-Factor, Free Agents, and Prime Suspect. What I find interesting, though, is that the promos don’t seem keen to admit to their origins.

It’s not as thought any of them are actively obscuring their origins. The trailer for Free Agents at YouTube, uploaded by NBC, explains below that it’s based off the “cult UK series,” for instance. But none of the three shows’ webpages advertise the fact, nor do any of the trailers themselves. The Brits, in other words, are good enough to copy from, but clearly FOX and NBC don’t feel it’s wise to build the success of the British originals into the promotions for the American shows.

Part of this weird act of hide-and-seek might seem to be motivated by a desire to make their shows look newer and fresher than they are. They may simply not want to look like copies, in other words.

But it also offers messages about Hollywood’s odd relationship with UK TV, and about its perception of its audience’s odd relationship with UK TV. Perhaps there isn’t the faith that enough people would know the originals, granted, but one might think that an audience would be reassured by the shows’ success in their British iterations. They are proven entities that aren’t being sold as such. Is the concern, therefore, that American audiences will see success in England (or anywhere else) as a bad thing? If so, why?

These questions only multiply for me with Prime Suspect, since of the three, it seems the least like its original. Word is that it’s a procedural, not a serial. And with Maria Bello, and with the overplay of her stupid hat in endless promos, NBC’s clearly trying to make Jane Tennison slightly younger and significantly hipper. (The hat does look a bit like a female cop’s hat in the UK, but in the US it reads as a wannabe-hip hat). There’s also that annoying line in the ads, “Cop. An Attitude” that puts the attitude before the performance, rather than letting it come from within the performance, as with Helen Mirren. All that we seem to have remaining from the British show, therefore, is the notion of a woman called Jane trying to get by in “a man’s job.” Did that really require licensing, though?? One would think that the American adaptation would either stick closely to its Brit original since that original did well, or tout the fact that they’re adapting the cult British hit for an American audience and thereby still cash in on the power of the intertext, or not bother and just make a different show about a woman surrounded by men, one that doesn’t require licensing fees. I’m confused by NBC’s fourth option, to buy the rights, keep the name “Jane” and do little else. Mind you, I learned in the Leno years not to seek sense in some of NBC’s decisions.

Clearly, I need to understand what Hollywood thinks of the Brits better, so I’m off to read my colleague Michele Hilmes’ great new book, Network Nations: A Transnational History of British and American Broadcasting. Perhaps there’s a chapter on Maria Bello’s hat.

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  1. September 22nd, 2011 at 07:28 | #1

    Mary Mother of God!!! Not ANOTHER tough as nails (but beautiful, we’re told) female cop, put on this earth to teach all of those wicked, self-absorbed, chauvanistic MALE cops a thing or two about law enforcement, with of course, ATTITUDE!! By the way, did you see the teaser where “Jane” slams her shield and GUN against the protective glass in the rear of a taxi, in order to terrify a cab driver? “Jane” probably gets away with it, because, well, she’s Jane!!! Anybody else would be hearing from IAD.

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