American TV lightens up the miserable Meldrew

The BBC hit comedy One Foot in the Grave has been sanitised by the Americans - following fears that its television viewers would not watch a series featuring pensioners.

Last autumn the US sitcom company Carsey Werner bought the format to the long-running (and peculiarly British) comedy from the BBC and managed to cast Bill Cosby as the grumpy Victor Meldrew character.

But the sit-com executives apparently had problems with the title. They believed American viewers would assume it was about death and would be put off watching it.

When Cosby was cast to play the lead, however, the new title became obvious. It had to have "Cosby" in it - and as there was The Cosby Show already, there was only one alternative. It was retitled Cosby - short, sweet and effective.

But there were still other difficulties resulting from the comedy's British heritage. One was the name of the Victor Meldrew character and the other was the character itself: a cantankerous old Englishman.

It was decided to change the name to something a little more American - Hilton Lucas. Then the character was polished for US tastes, becoming warm and friendly.

By great good luck, Phylicia Rashad, who played his wife in The Cosby Show, proved to be available to play the screen wife in Cosby. She was hired - after Cosby ousted the previous choice, Thelma Hopkins, and the original producer.

A pilot and seven episodes have been shot and will be screened on CBS from 16 September.

Caryn Mandabach, president of Carsey Werner, explained the thinking behind the numerous changes. Americans, she said, think they are immortal and cannot handle poverty, the working class, old people, pensioners, or the unemployed.

"The American people will only accept winners," she continued. "Victor seems like a loser. We do not have people like that in this country."