Thursday, April 12, 2007

British TV's Atlantic crossing accelerates

In recent years, British TV has achieved great success in exporting show to network across the Atlantic. Pop Idol was quickly supplanted by X Factor in the UK, but offspring American Idol is a ratings juggernaut across the pond, streamrolling any and all competition in its sixth season at present. Most of the programmes that have been transplanted in American hits are quiz shows, reality TV or light entertainment, such as The Weakest Link, Wife Swap, Strictly Come Dancing or Supernanny.

Attempts to recreate UK comedies and dramas on US networks have struggled, as shown by the likes of Cracker, Coupling and Men Behaving Badly. Perhaps British fare is too quirky for mainstream US audiences? Queer as Folk has endured in its American incarnation far longer than it did on UK TV, but that's on a subscription channel, not network TV.

A new wave of US remakes are being attempted as part of the current pilot season. Ashley Pharoah's Wild At Heart is getting an American version, Hugh Jackman is behind efforts to recreate Via Blackpool across the Atlantic and David E. Kelley hopes to turn Life on Mars into a success Stateside [though casting issues have held it back from any potential launch this autumn].

Of course, the fact these shows are being made as pilots is not guarantee any of them will be picked up by US networks, let along become hits. In an effort to get ahead of the game, CBS has signed a first-look deal with Britain's Red Productions, home of the original Queer as Folk, Bob and Rose, and Clocking Off. The pact includes guaranteed development of a pilot by Red for CBS, plus the chance to dip into Red's archives. It'll be interesting to see what emerges from the deal.

Perhaps my favourite new drama of the current US TV season concluded last night in America. The fate of Friday Night Lights remains unresolved, with no formal pick-up for a second season likely to be announced before mid-May. That's when American networks have something known as the upfronts, where they unveil their new roster of shows for the 2007-2008 season. Programmes on the cusp spend most of April and the initial days of May waiting for a decision from on high. The good news for FNL fans is NBC has ordered six more scripts; the bad news is that's no guarantee of anything.

Also still waiting for news about a possible renewal is the much-loved but even lower rating Veronica Mars. The third series sent the sassy teenage detective to college, but got bogged down in a messy date rape storyline and sidelined too many of its core characters. Recognising that wasn't working, creator and showrunner Rob Thomas juggled formats and went for shorter, lighter mysteries, getting back to the kind of episodes that made VM such a favourite in its first season. Rumours abound of a massive revamp if Veronica somehow makes it back for a fourth season, with the story being fastforwarded several years so she can become an FBI trainee. Would it work? who knows? Let's hope Veronica's network gives her another chance.

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