Media junkie Sam Blacker explains what is lost (and sometimes gained) when a TV series is adapted from one country to another.
I’ve recently started watching The Office (US), because (a) I’m a trend-less loser, and (b) all I do with my life is watch TV.
I previously held off, because it’s an American adaptation. Not that I’ve watched the UK version, but I was burnt after watching one episode of the American version of Kath and Kim, which brought on such a cold chill and sense of impending doom that I felt like I needed to call my mum and tell her I love her.
The desire to adapt shows to an American market is both fascinating and, for many, infuriating. And for those on the fence, somewhat unnecessary.
When it comes to successfully adapting a show, the rope tiptoed upon seems to be one that fits the need of the market and being true to the original. The recent deluge of Sherlock Holmes adaptations would be a perfect example of this.
In the original text, many people interpret the Holmes character as sophisticated, intelligent and, above all, in control. This is believed to have led to the success of the original stories, in a time of quick societal change and uncertainty, Holmes provided for many a character who could swoop in and solve the problem whilst maintaining the status quo.
In the modern adaptations (Sherlock, Elementary and, of course, the movies) Holmes is still an incredible character, albeit one who is far more reactionary and deeply flawed.
Why? The modern audience wants someone they can invest in, who can develop and grow, and the modern Holmes has been toggled to provide this. Beyond that, the stories, the procedure and the Holmes/Watson dynamic remain, which is why a lot of these adaptations have been successful.
Elsewhere, there is a difference of decades between the original and the adaptations.
What of the shows such as Kath and Kim, The Office, Being Human, Wilfred, Skins et al, those that get immediately adapted to an American audience? While there may be a few involved in the decision with a creative goal, more often than not they get adapted for marketing/money reasons.
In the American market, there is a higher turnover of shows and the TV networks don’t want the shows to fizzle, so they make more episodes.
This has lead to an Oprah-esque mindset (you get an episode, you get an episode; everyone gets an episode) to creating more seasons and more episodes than the UK equivalent.
This happened with the US version of Kath and Kim.
In Australia, each season had eight episodes; America chose to kick off the disastrous first season of the adaptation with 17 episodes. As you can tell from the trailer, they really went for “style” over substance, ignoring elements of the original that would have been easy to keep…like the actual character names! Kel becomes Phil, and Sharon…is either Angel or Tina (she doesn’t even get a mention in the trailer).
But what most likely determines the reason for adapting a show for an American audience is, purely and simply, the length.
Shows from the Australian or British Broadcasting Corporation are created without the need to include times for advertisements.
This means that if an American network were to directly take a show from the BBC or the ABC and air it, there would be no room for advertisements, hence no profit.
It seems pretty obvious, but when an adaptation is done for monetary reasons rather than creative reasons there is a good chance that the “fit the market” side will greatly overwhelm the “be true to the original” side; with quality, authenticity and originality often falling to the wayside as a result.
For example, obviously US and UK politics differ in their mechanics, but because the goal behind the adaptation of House of Cards was creativity over making a buck, they managed to keep a lot of the style of the original and just built upon it, rather than remaking it completely but keeping the name.
(Feel the suspense of the music, the intensity of the main character?)
(Oh wait, it’s more talking, more intensity. They kept it the same!)
This sometimes leads to shows being so different they birth their own originality (The Office), so the process begins again, in a format created by the process in the first place, and on it goes.
Hopefully with the freedom born from the world of online streaming, this may change.
While we may keep seeing adaptations from time to time, hopefully, they will be inspired by a need for creativity rather than money, and we will continue to bear truly unique fruit, and taste a sweet television pie like House of Cards (US) more often