Television In Translation


“Remade for US audiences” – there’s a bizarre statement we’ve all heard too often. It seems with every popular British and, to a lesser extent, Australian TV show comes the inevitable US remake. Some have achieved success in their own right, a la ‘The Office’ and ‘House of Cards’. Others like ‘Kath & Kim’, ‘Rake’, ‘The Inbetweeners’, and ‘Broadchurch’ remake ‘Gracepoint’ however, have been at best weak imitations. The original shows were met with critical acclaim when they first graced the small screens, winning awards for their clever writing and strong performances; the remakes were critically panned and in most cases cancelled before the first season even finished airing. So with that in mind, why do American television networks feel it necessary to strip away the gold that is there and start again? Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply purchase the rights to broadcast the original show on your network? As the saying goes – why fix what isn’t broken? Well Ricky Gervais has one possible answer.

When discussing the differences between American and British humour, Ricky Gervais highlighted the reason why his original series ‘The Office’ would never have achieved the same level of success in the US as it did in the UK. According to Gervais, the British “brashness and swagger is laden with equal portions of self-deprecation” which “can sometimes be perceived as nasty if the recipients aren’t used to it.” (Gervais 2013) As a result, Ricky Gervais’ hilariously insufferable and inappropriate David Brent became Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, “a slightly nicer guy, with a rosier outlook to life.” (Gervais 2013) While “Brits are more comfortable with life’s losers”, Americans prefer to see their characters as being somewhat optimistic and of good fortune. (Gervais 2013) These sentiments on the cultural differences in humour are echoed by another one of Britain’s comedic icons, Stephen Fry.

“The American comic hero is a wise cracker who is above his material and who is above the idiots around him… All the great British comic heroes are people who want life to be better and on whom life craps from a terrible height and whose sense of dignity is constantly compromised by the world letting them down… they are Basil Fawlty, they are Del Boy, they are Blackadder… they are even David Brent from The Office…” – Stephen Fry

Given their success and status in the comedy world, Gervais and Fry are well placed to offer up an analysis such as this, and the plethora of British and American comedies that follow the formulas described only further support their claims. Considering that such a cultural comedy difference does exist between these two Westernised societies, surely it’s fair to assume it exists in other genres such as drama and crime. One could say this more than justifies the US’ propensity to remake all that is good and pure.


Gervais, R 2013, ‘The Difference Between American and British Humour’, Time.Com, p. 1, Health Business Elite, EBSCOhost, viewed 22 August 2015.

YouTube, 2015, ‘Stephen Fry on American vs British Comedy’, online video,, viewed 22 August 2015.

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