ITV pins sitcom hope on US guru

THE PRODUCER of Roseanne and The Cosby Show flew to Britain yesterday to oversee the launch of a first for British television - the adaptation of an American sitcom by American producers for ITV.

The broadcaster, which has not made a successful sitcom since the Seventies, has brought in Tom Carsey to remake his US comedy That 70s Show with a British cast and setting. The programme goes on air on 12 February and ITV hopes the pounds 2.5m it is paying will end its comedy jinx.

In the past, sitcom traffic has been all the other way, with programmes such as Man About the House and Till Death us do Part becoming Three's Company and All in the Family in America. Only the Golden Girls was turned into a UK-produced show, Brighton Belles, and it was so bad it was taken off air halfway through its run.

Now ITV's lamentable record at producing sitcoms has forced it to import Hollywood "comedy factory" techniques.

While most UK sitcoms have runs of just six episodes in a series, Days Like These has been commissioned for an initial run of 13 weeks with a further nine to come if it is a hit. Americans producers believe having more episodes of a comedy allows audiences to get to know characters quicker. In the UK sitcoms are traditionally in their second series before they become a hit.

"We're supplying the expertise of having produced hundreds of comedy shows," said Mr Carsey yesterday.

The other aspect of the factory system is the writing. That 70s Show was written by a team of 12 writers who test jokes on rehearsal audiences before they reach a script.

The UK series will be rewritten by two British writers, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, and will be set in Luton, Bedfordshire, rather than Wisconsin. The premise of the show revolves around the lives of two families living next-door to each other and has been compared with Happy Days.