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April 24 , 2011

American Remakes of British Television

Transformations and Mistranslations


Ever since Norman Lear remade the BBC series Till Death Us Do Part into All in the Family, American remakes of British television shows have become part of the American cultural fabric. Indeed, some of the programs currently said to exemplify American tastes and attitudes, from reality programs like American Idol and What Not to Wear to the mock-documentary approach of The Office, are adaptations of successful British shows. Carlen Lavigne and Heather Marcovitch's American Remakes of British Television: Transformations and Mistranslations is a multidisciplinary collection of essays that focuses on questions raised when a foreign show is adapted for the American market. What does it mean to remake a television program? What does the process of 'Americanization' entail? What might the success or failure of a remade series tell us about the differences between American and British producers and audiences? This volume examines British-to-American television remakes from 1971 to the present. The American remakes in this volume do not share a common genre, format, or even level of critical or popular acclaim. What these programs do have in common, however, is the sense that something in the original has been significantly changed in order to make the program appealing or accessible to American audiences. The contributors display a multitude of perspectives in their essays. British-to-American television remakes as a whole are explained in terms of the market forces and international trade that make these productions financially desirable. Sanford and Son is examined in terms of race and class issues. Essays on Life on Mars and Doctor Who stress television's role in shaping collective cultural memories. An essay on Queer as Folk explores the romance genre and also talks about differences in national sexual politics. An examination of The Office discusses how the American remake actually endorses the bureaucracy that the British original satirizes; alternatively, another approach breaks down The Office's bumbling boss figures in terms of contemporary psychological theory. An essay on What Not to Wear discusses how a reality show about everyday fashion conceals the construction of an ideal national subject; a second essay explains the show in terms of each country's discourses surrounding femininity. The success of American Idol is explained by analyzing the role of amateur music in American culture. The issue of translation itself is interrogated by examining specific episodes of Cracker, and also by asking why a successful series in the U.K., Blackpool, was a dismal failure as an American remake. This collection provides a rich and multifaceted overview of approaches to international television studies.
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