Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why "Americanizing" Programs Doesn't Work

I was reading recently that once again, Fox is trying to adapt the cult British series Absolutely Fabulous for American programing. And have to say, after over 10 years of attempting to adapt this series, enough is enough. Seriously, as much as I love Absolutely Fabulous, or "Ab Fab" as its called for short, it just can not, and will not work with in the way American television is made. Its just not possible. Yes, it has a rather large cult following that is still big today, but it just will not work. The humor and writing that would be needed to write a show of this nature just will not make it past the FFC. They would feel a show thats basically a comedy about two rude, ignorant, social climbing, constantly drunk cougars and their misadventures as they slosh their way through life, isn't really appropriate for American viewers in its original form, so they would, as they have done with many other shows, strip it down to the point there is almost nothing recognizable there. They wouldn't be constantly drunk, they wouldn't be as smart mouthed or rude, they'd be dimwitted but think they aren't. That would be the American version of Ab Fab that they would allow on the air. Thats how the FCC rolls, they break things down, till they're almost devoid of all entertainment or stimulation, and think thats ok. But to be fair, I've long stated my issues with the FCC and how they operate.

The thing is, adapting a series for american viewers is a tricky process, not only because of the FCC, but also, alot of the time, a concept and writing staff that does great in one country, will not do great in another, because sometimes, stories and concepts don't really translate well. A recent example would be the Australian comedy "Kath and Kim", which in its original form, an Aussie comedy about a mother in her 40s thats trying to finally start a life for herself after her daughter gets married, only to realize that her daughter is a spoiled brat who at 28 thinks that "trophy wife" is an occupation, the show follows them and their odd little life as the mother ties to get her daughter to go back to her husband and allow her to live her own life. Now, the show in its original form was infact rather funny and ran for afew years, however, when it was adapted for American viewers, using basically the same jokes as the original version, it just didn't work out, and it was quietly canceled with no ending or even really a notice, it wasn't that the show wasn't funny in America, the jokes and situations just didn't all translate well. Which isn't uncommon. A similar thing happened the two times the British cult series Red Dwarf, was piloted and tested on American viewers, though unlike its original form, the American adaption fell flat on their faces, both times striking out with a less then 10% positive feed back from the test audience. The biggest complaint from the feedbag interviews? "I didn't get the jokes". Which means, as funny as hearing someone say "Your head looks like a giant novelty condom" in a british made series is, in an American series we're left wondering what exactly a giant novelty condom looks like, and only being left with images of the love scene from The Naked Gun film with the full size body condom. See, it just gets lost in translation.

In a similar way, recently when Israeli series "The Mythological X", was adapted into "The Ex List", the only way its writers knew how to write it, was to write it as a lackluster "single woman looking for love" type show, of which, we have dozens of already. The Ex List failed because they tried to adapt it just abit to far, and make it just another show like so many we have seen before, leaving us wondering what the point was of adapting a series about a woman that was told she'll marry the man of her dreams with in the next year, and that its someone she'd dated before, so she starts to go through all of her exboyfriends, to find him, when you downplay it and make it basically "men suck and will do nothing but treat you like crap, but hey lets laugh about it", which seriously, watch Lifetime for 2 hours you'll see, and also see adds for, about 20 shows like that. There was no humor, there was no awesomely done subplots or well thought out characters for her exboyfriends to be, they were just generic negative stereotypical male characters you'd find in any show that aims only at women, not that aiming a show at women is a bad thing, its just, its original form was way more then that, and well, it lacked that state side.

Now don't get me wrong, we here in America are able to understand and enjoy foreign humor and drama, but it seems to play best these days, when we know its foreign. Now yes, I know people will bring up shows like The Office and All In The Family and Sanford and Son, and how they're adapted from British programing, and went on to great success, but there is one key difference between those, and most of the adoptions out there, those shows were only adoptions in concept, not on content. You didn't see Archie Bunker trying to force a joke that only makes sense in the context of British humor with an American accent, and American wording, or Dwight from The Office calling people British insults, that would get insane comedic reaction in its native tongue. Thats what I mean by translation, calling someone "a right bloody chav" is hilarious in the context that we all know thats a British term, some don't know what it means, but will understand its an insult in that culture and know to laugh, if said in an American tongue, it just sounds stupid.

I should note at this point that the reason I keep using British programing for examples is because they're the most widely adapted by American television networks, there for are the easiest to recognize, and not for any personal favoritism or anything of that nature.

Now, I'm sure alot of you are wondering, how to counteract this kind of thing, do we stop borrowing ideas? Do we hit the writers until they stand up against the bully that is the FCC? Well no, but in a perfect world both of those things would be awesome. What we do to counteract is simple, we just start airing the programing as it is. Every other country in the world airs our programing, they don't adapt American programing, they just air it as it is, they let the humor and drama speak for itself, they don't feel the need to make it fit their country and its ideas, they just air it because they feel it will translate well as it is, and judging by the international ratings, they're doing a great job of it. American broadcast should take a lesson from that concept and just air things as they are, no more of these adaptions that fall just short of the mark, or are way off the mark because they've been hacked and slashed and watered down to appease the FCC. Its always been said, if a program is good, it will translate and be enjoyable anywhere in the world, maybe its time the network business men who claim thats true of their product, put that to the test. Plus, importing afew shows that are hits would be cheaper then producing a remake anyway.

But thats just my thoughts on the matter, so who knows?



No comments:

Post a Comment