The Brit hits making a killing across the Atlantic - with the original stars

'Broadchurch' is the latest example of a UK drama being remade in the US with its original star

What do you do if you’re a US television executive remaking a hit British crime series for an American audience and determined to keep the flavour of the original show without alienating a new audience?

The answer, according to the executives  behind the US version of Broadchurch, is to make sure that you have not just the series’ creator but at least one of the original stars on board.

Thus when the Broadchurch remake arrives on US TV screens in early 2015, it will star David Tennant reprising his role as a downbeat cop complete with an American accent to suit his new small-town USA surroundings.

Nor is Tennant the only actor to be revisiting an old role. The US remake of Low Winter Sun, currently nearing the end of its first season on Fox in the UK, stars Mark Strong as an American version of the conflicted copper he first played in Channel 4’s 2006 mini-series and while the HBO remake of Criminal Justice was unable to get the in-demand Ben Whishaw to reprise his role as a young man accused of murder, they have still turned to the UK for help, casting Riz Ahmed in the Whishaw role. Here in Britain we might still be raving about the latest US hit but  increasingly America is looking back across the Atlantic for inspiration.

So just why is that? In part the sudden interest in our dramas can be seen as part of the fallout from the Scandinavian effect. American cable channels have already remade The Killing and The Bridge and a reworking of political drama Borgen is still in the works – surely it was only a matter of time before they turned elsewhere? And the UK seems an obvious choice. As Jane Tranter, head of BBC Worldwide Productions, remarked when HBO’s  remake of Criminal Justice was first  announced: “There’s this British obsession that American dramas are better than British ones – but American cable companies love our dramas.”

Chris Mundy, the executive producer of Low Winter Sun agrees. “British series start and end with character, which is always the best way into any drama,” he says, adding that a large part of British television’s appeal was the way it allows for “more novelistic television”: “Whether it’s Luther or Criminal Justice or Broadchurch, they all zero in on their central characters and if you start with that, your chances of pulling off a compelling show increase exponentially.”

Yet while there’s no doubting that US television executives are falling in love with the most recent crop of UK dramas, it’s also clear that that love is not yet strong enough for them to simply buy-in the original. Criminal Justice is a co-production with BBC Worldwide but with the setting moved to New York, a cast that was to include the late James Gandolfini and the plot retooled by Richard Price to cover that city’s complex legal system. Similarly, while Broadchurch’s creator Chris Chibnall will write the first episode of the US show, the action will be moved to a small American town and the show will spin off from there.

Chibnall was upbeat about the new version telling Entertainment Weekly: “I’m very, very fascinated to see this story in a different landscape with an acting ensemble that’s just as strong but taken from really great American actors. The DNA of the original is absolutely intact and filtered through a new prism, so it should still feel just as vibrant, and interesting, and strange, and unique, and beautiful, but just in a different setting. We’re not gonna do the terrible version. We’re gonna do a great version.”

Yet while it’s easy to see why something like Criminal Justice, which is currently reshooting following Gandolfini’s death, was a remake – for all there are those of us who thrill to the intricacies of the Swedish political system as intricately explained by Borgen, it’s much simpler in legal dramas to start with a system that the audience understands – Broadchurch and Low Winter Sun are more complicated beasts. Are US TV bosses really saying their audiences won’t take a chance? Are they suggesting that small-town England is too alien for small-town Americans to understand? Or that there’s nothing to be said in Edinburgh that wouldn’t be better repeated in Detroit?

“The beauty of Low Winter Sun is that the original was only two parts,” says Mundy. “We very naturally had to divert from the path because we were planning a 10-hour season (and hopefully more to come) versus a two-to-three-hour original. The original Low Winter Sun was a fantastic jumping-off point – we knew it worked because we’d seen it but by the nature of the beast, the American and British version would quickly be quite different.”

Mark Strong, who agreed to reprise his role as conflicted cop Frank Agnew because “it was too fascinating a chance to let go by”, agrees that the new version is different in crucial ways. “I think the Americans have cherry-picked the best moments of the original and run with it,” he says. “It’s similar in that the story points are the same but completely different because the culture is different.”

The point about the difference in  culture cuts to the heart of why US  networks will always prefer remakes. To a US audience, the Edinburgh of Low Winter Sun is bleakly alien. Yes there might be a portion of the audience who are prepared to take the leap with the show and watch anyway but many of them will simply switch off. By contrast, British audiences willingly embrace US dramas, even when they are set, like  The Wire or Low Winter Sun, in the crumbling and unfamiliar settings of cities such as Baltimore and Detroit.

However, we still tend to export the past to America. We sell them heritage houses and upright countesses; we deal in thwarted love and the stiffest of lips and they both love that and are less  interested when we try to say something new. It’s no surprise that our biggest hit remains Downton Abbey  or that US audiences have enjoyed both Doctor Who and Sherlock, two shows with a foot in heritage Britain for all their claims of breaking new ground.

As for Tennant, perhaps the strangest part about his new role in the American Broadchurch is that he may yet be back for season two of the original. Which means that come next year audiences may well be watching him play the same character at the same time with two different accents on two different versions of the same show. That’s enough to make even the Doctor’s head feel like it might explode.

'Low Winter Sun' is broadcast on Fridays at 10pm on Fox

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before