Joy and Pain - Television in the Fall

In the past I have talked about my love of the fall.  The crispness of the air, a general feeling of calm and serenity as nature unwinds after a busy summer.  What else does fall bring?  You know what I’m talking about!

The joys and often-time sorrow of the new fall television lineup!

In a previous entry I wrote about American adaptations of hugely successful foreign shows, like the UK’s Skins or Australia’s Kath & Kim.  The American versions were terrible and completely flopped.  Is this failing formula going to have the same outcome with The X-Factor?

The original British version of the show has always been, and still is, immensely successful.  The American incarnation of the show, which includes series creator Simon Cowell as a judge, seems to be following suit.  The mistake?  Trying to re-create the original show, rather than reinventing it.  According to my research (also know as addiction to foreign shows) all signs point towards “yes, it’s a loser!”

 Next on the chopping block:  Ringer.  After starring in, arguably, the largest cult television show in history (and a personal favorite of mine) Buffy The Vampire Slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar has returned to television in Ringer.  While the plot of the show is extremely interesting, it seems to be depending on the cross-over fan loyalty of Buffy.  Not creating its own audience.  Mind you, it’s hard for me to say.  The first episode was pretty difficult to get through…

After the success of Mad Men, everyone seems to be obsessed with the 1960’s.  The suits, the hair, smoking and drinking without a care in the world.  Through the scope of 2011 eyes, these seem like fun and glamorous times. Now, here comes Pan Am to perpetuate the myth—starring big screen actor Christina Ricci as a flight attendant on the iconic Pan American World Airways.  The absurd espionage plot line is addictive and the refreshing innocence of the era can’t help bringing a smile to your face.  I see big things for this one!  Quite unlike another 60’s show—The Playboy Club

Many of the new shows will inevitably meet their fate… Cancellation.  Yes, making a successful TV show is tough.  Good writing and casting, but a lot of the success also relies on luck and timing.  Cross your fingers for your favorites, my friends! A happy winter depends on it.

Big Brother or Beverly Hills: Success or Disaster?


All this discussion about television has really gotten me thinking about the formulas for success or failure of revamped TV shows.  Success stories aren’t as hard to find as you might think.  The first to come to mind is the Big Brother series.

Originally developed by Endemol in the Netherlands in 1999 it was an instant success.  A British version was developed in 2000 that lasted right up until 2010, becoming one of the most successful shows in British history.  There have been several global incarnations of the show, including a US series that is still running with high ratings.  How did this show break the failure formula, and become such a hit?

In the British series, the rules of Big Brother are very strict, with the most fundamental rule being that Housemates may not speak of nominations or evictions at any time.  The series is not about scheming and plotting to get rid of people from the house, but more about the development of relationships between Housemates.  However, the American series is the exact opposite.  It’s about competition and alliances, following well-laid plans to be rid of enemies.

The only commonalities between the shows are the premise and name.  Big Brother USA was not trying to reproduce a show, but actually create something new.  Maybe this tactic could have been used when developing Skins for North America?  Rather than trying to make a replica of the series, take the premise of the show and build on that.

It’s not just imports that are suffering.  The remake failure trend goes further.  Does anyone remember the tragic remake of Beverly Hills: 90210?  Was it really necessary to bring back the base storyline of a brother and sister and their trials and tribulations in Beverly Hills? Or bringing back characters from a show 10 years retired?  The story would likely have thrived if it had simply been teens facing problems at West Beverly High.  Let’s contrast this particular failure with the new Degrassi series.  Although former characters were brought into the story line, they were not the focus of the main plot and most importantly, they were never used as a promotional tool.  A new cast was created to actually connect with the new target audience. 

The titles of these news shows often allude to a “next generation” or a “new class” and that’s really what it comes down to.  If a series is going to be remade, the core ingredients that made the original a success have to be refashioned to appeal to a completely different audience.

Lost in Translation


When Gina Riley and Jane Turner came up with a foolish skit, titled Kath & Kim for the Australian sketch show Something Stupid, they hit the jackpot. Then in 2002, they released a series portraying the hilariously dysfunctional relationship of a suburban mother and daughter.  It earned multiple Logie Awards and broke Australian television records.  So the idea of bringing it to North America seemed to be a great one. 

Not so much, the show bombed. What happened?  It got cancelled.  How could a pop culture phenomenon end up an epic fail? 

Recently, MTV decided to try their hand at adapting the foreign smash hit Skins.  The UK version of Skins is raw and risqué.  With a cast of teenagers, the show sparked enormous controversy.  Featuring plotlines grappling with issues like family dysfunction, mental illness, sexual identity, substance abuse and death, the public reaction could have gone either way. 

Man, did it ever go well.  Skins was a smash hit all over the world.  So MTV saw what they thought was a shoe-in for an uber-successful series of their own and said “why not bring Skins to North America?”  Wow, was that ever a big wrong.  The term “lost in translation” comes to mind.  The scripts are nearly word for word the same, but something just isn’t right.

The depiction of casual sex and drug use by a cast of underage actors was the first explosion of criticism.  Speculation of a child pornography investigation soon followed.  Kraft, L’Oréal, Foot Locker, Proactiv Skincare and Wrigley immediately pulled their advertising from the program.  And while MTV is defending their series, the numbers do not lie.  The premiere garnered 3.3 million viewers, while just one week later viewership dropped to 1.6 million. 

What happened? How could something so right go so terribly wrong? Perhaps it’s censorship.  In North America everything from advertising to human behavior is scrutinized with an ultra watchful eye.  Or maybe the problem lies somewhere in the repackaging process.  They remade something that worked so well in its original setting but lost the subtle nuances that made it great.  It could be casting, the dynamic between the actors or maybe even wardrobe styling.  Who knows? There may be no answer at all.  All we know is Skins is in big trouble.

Click here to watch comparative clips from each series.