Why Cracker sank over the Atlantic

Tonight British audiences can see `Fitz', the made-for America version of `Cracker'. It was hailed as a triumph for Granada - but the series was pulled mid-run in the US. Rob Brown reveals why.

It was hailed as the biggest exporting breakthrough in the history of British television. Cracker had cracked open the world's biggest marketplace. The Brits were coming to America (again) and this time they'd show those dumb Yanks how to make truly gritty TV dramas.

But ABC recently lost faith in Fitz and cancelled Cracker mid-run. It had originally planned 22 episodes - the American norm for such a series - but it pulled the plug after just 11. A further five episodes have been produced and are now gathering dust in an LA studio. There are several competing theories as to why the series bombed. Poor scheduling is the one preferred by Granada. But others believe the product they supplied was of questionable quality and, in particular, Robert Pastorelli (who played the Californian Fitz) wasn't a patch on Robbie Coltrane.

First off, let's deal with the prime suspect - Pastorelli. His profile and past record - the house painter in the sitcom Murphy Brown - didn't make him an obvious candidate to step into Coltrane's shoes after the oversized Scot gave the thumbs down to personal involvement in the US project. Then again, Pastorelli wasn't being asked to play the exact same character. Cracker had to be somewhat toned down for the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Californian Fitz (like his Manchester-based predecessor) is a forensic psychologist who "cracks" cases with his sharp insight into the criminal mind, but his vices aren't anywhere near as big as big Robbie's. He has a shambolic marriage, all right, and a bit of a drink problem, but he's never as menacing and bloody obnoxious as the character portrayed by Coltrane. He certainly never drinks and drives. Pastorelli's Fitz is a smoker, but you only ever see him with an unlighted cigarette. "Standards and practices are different here," explained Peter Locke, one of the ABC show's co-producers. "You can't have your leading man walking around drunk and smoking cigarettes all the time." Critics who compared the two Fitzes largely preferred the British original, which had already developed a cult following across the Atlantic through sporadic instalments on the A&E (Arts & Entertainment) cable network.

When the US premiere aired, Pastorelli got panned in the Washington Post, whose reviewer Tom Schales wrote: "Pastorelli's Fitz is the pits, a sullen and self-adoring jabber-jaws... He seems to have more dialogue than Hamlet and Macbeth put together... turns a character who should be fascinating into one of the great cloddish bores of our time." The New York Daily News was just as damning: "Anyone who sees Coltrane will have a very hard time being impressed by Pastorelli's performance. He says all the same lines but doesn't say them the same. Coltrane is so intense, so brooding and so unsympathetic. Pastorelli's Fitz pales in comparison."

Pastorelli remained positive - in public anyway - shrugging off the negative comparisons with Coltrane. "We knew that was inevitable," he told USA Today. Other reviewers were rather kinder to him. "The remake does have a fine representation of Fitz - if 200 pounds lighter," observed The Hollywood Reporter. The New York Times thought Pastorelli handled the thankless task of trying to fit into Coltrane's shoes rather well. "While he doesn't go to the extremes of eloquence and chaos that Mr Coltrane did, he is just as relentless in showing how Fitz's pain can be illuminating."

So the case against Robert Pastorelli is - to deliver that uniquely Scottish verdict - not proven. Even had he been indisputably brilliant, there is still a strong chance the series would have bombed in the time-slots it was allocated. It was initially scheduled at 9pm on Thursdays against Seinfeld, which has been the most popular programme on US TV for some time. Even Murder One died a death in that slot.

Cracker got predictably slaughtered in the TV Valley of Death, pulling in only a fifth of the number of viewers who flocked to the aforementioned NBC sitcom. ABC shifted it to Saturday nights, but that was another graveyard slot. It's tough to attract viewers on date night with anything other than sheer escapism.

Granada - which established a Los Angeles-based branch, Granada Entertainment USA, to open up the American marketplace - refuses to accept that Fitz was a total flop. While openly disappointed that the show has been ditched, it remains proud of having been the first British production company to make a television drama in America for an American network.

Andrea Wonfor, joint managing director of Granada Productions, is hopeful that the 16 episodes of Fitz that have been made, and the critical acclaim which the series received, will serve as a useful calling card. "To have made 16 hours of original drama for the ABC network in the States is the sort of commission that most production companies only dream about," she said.

"We were always absolutely realistic about how tough the marketplace was that we were entering. We have learned a lot over the past few months, and Fitz is only the beginning of what we hope to do in the US."

The Fitz setback was slightly offset last week when Granada got the green light to produce two comedy pilots for competing US networks. Faith in the Future - a sitcom about a divorced woman and her grown-up daughter - is now in development with CBS, whilst NBC is taking Blind Men, which is about warring salesmen. Granada also negotiated a deal with Rupert Murdoch's Fox network to adapt Holding the Baby.

None of the above have been impressive prime-time performers in Britain. But that has plainly not put off the Americans. As the lukewarm response to the American adaptation of Cracker has shown, great ratings on this side of the Atlantic are no guarantee that a series will travel. It's the Neilsen ratings that matter to America's network bosses (and American advertisers) not the Barb ratings on this side of the pond - or the barbed criticisms.

Fitz appears on ITV tonight at 10.40pm.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

    £45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

    £50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

    Java Developer - 1 year contract

    £350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone