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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
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

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable