Americans finally tune in to British drama

Click to follow
The Independent Online

American drama, from Desperate Housewives to The West Wing, has long been appreciated by British television audiences. But the flow of traffic is no longer one way - US networks are starting to take notice of a renaissance in British drama and buying the rights to adapt shows for American viewers.

American drama, from Desperate Housewives to The West Wing, has long been appreciated by British television audiences. But the flow of traffic is no longer one way - US networks are starting to take notice of a renaissance in British drama and buying the rights to adapt shows for American viewers.

US versions of the controversial Channel 4 series No Angels, about the lives of four young nurses in Leeds, and the BBC1 legal drama, Judge John Deed, are being developed. Successful UK dramas are also being shown in the original on American networks. The digital and satellite channel BBC America is about to show Paul Abbot's Channel 4 screenplay Shameless, as well as BBC2's adaptation of Jake Arnott's novel The Long Firm and the recent BBC1 drama Blackpool.

BBC America's chief executive, Bill Hilary, has just announced that the channel's programming budget is to double, and will mainly be spent on drama and comedy. Simon Heath, a consultant on the US version of No Angels, originally made by his company, World Productions, believes the growing American appetite for British shows is due to "a renaissance in returnable drama series" in the UK.

No Angels, which follows nurses from ward to bedroom, is being developed for the WB Network, which is primarily aimed at viewers aged between 16 and 34, and is best known for Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.

Mr Heath said: "What's great about the script is it absolutely keeps to the spirit of the UK show and the girls retain that feisty, sassy quality. But they have sexed it up a bit. The other thing is that because WB is more of a mainstream channel than Channel 4, they are looking for greater sympathy with the nurses, but our girls are shown being good nurses and bad nurses."

Some British dramas appeal to the US because they draw heavily on American formats. Murder Prevention, a series made by World Productions for Five and inspired by American shows such as CSI, has also been picked up for development in the US.

The BBC1 spy drama Spooks is about to start a third series on the A&E network in the US, where it is known as MI5. A spokesman for BBC America said the UK drama series now being shown on the channel had "changed the mindset" in the US. "When we arrived, the tradition of British drama here was period drama like Poirot. A lot of people thought of us as very stuffy. We're bringing the more contemporary drama over here and it has gone down very well. The television critics are breathing a sigh of relief."

The New York Times reviewer's verdict on Spooks was: " MI5 may be John Le Carré for the Cool Britannia generation, but it is engrossing for American audiences as well." The Los Angeles-based production company Reveille, owned by NBC Universal, is also adapting the surreal C 4 sitcom Black Books for the CBS Network.

But comedy can be difficult to export. Coupling, Men Behaving Badly and One Foot In The Grave failed when adapted for the US. The Office, renamed An American Workplace, goes on air on NBC in March.

Comments