Shameless bid to translate success to US screens

The dysfunctional family at the heart of the television drama, Shameless, live on a murky sink estate in Manchester and are the antithesis of the American dream.

But the down-at-heel Gallaghers are poised to appear in an all-American version of the show with the programme's writer, Paul Abbott, leading discussions with the US production team behind the medical hit ER, which is keen to adapt the series.

Critics have cast doubt on whether such a quintessentially British drama, with its ironic humour and backdrop of a Manchester council estate, can be appreciated by an American audience.

Shameless follows the colourful, if rathertragic, lives of an alcoholic father and his six children - including a teenage arsonist suffering from Tourette's syndrome - whose mother has deserted them. Their daily lives encompass stories ranging from small-time insurance fraud to teenage pregnancy and gardening competitions.

The show, which is loosely based on Abbott's early family life, was a surprise hit for Channel 4 when it began in January, drawing an average of 2.6 million viewers.

Abbott, whose work includes the BBC series Clocking Off and the critically acclaimed political thriller State of Play, told The Independent he was in the latter stages of talking to John Wells, the producer of ER. "We are approaching the tying up of the deal. I definitely want him to make it because I think he wants it for all the reasons we love it," said Mr Abbott.

A number of others including the independent US producer, Reveille, have also expressed interest. A deal is expected to be completed within the next few weeks, and Abbott would script the US pilot and retain some executive control over the adapted version's casting and script-writing.

"There has to be a parallel universe in the States - in the trailer parks - it is really all about archetypes. I'm sure we can make it work as long as we can sustain the extremities - the savagery - of the language and storylines," he said.

But some fear the export of the quirky drama is doomed to fail and the poor reception of past British adaptations in the US has led many within the industry to make gloomy predictions. A host of British comedy shows adapted in America have been poorly received, including Men Behaving Badly and Coupling, which was pulled after four episodes, as well as the recently adapted The Office, which has drawn tepid reviews.

Emma Perry, television editor at Time Out, said the original alchemy of a successful show was almost impossible to recreate with a different cast, setting and style.

"What's special about Shameless is that it is partly based on Paul Abbott's family life, which is very much dependent on a particular setting in a very British scenario," she said. "And what's great about the drama is the lucky casting of relatively unknown actors. Putting them together and finding that they have a real energy is a hard thing to achieve and it can't always be done in a remake. It's like remakes of our favourite films - they inevitably lose the magic."

Despite America's voracious appetite for remaking British drama and comedy,Britain had made similar mistakes in adapting US shows.

"We have done the same thing in re-making dire versions of programmes like Mad About You, which starred Paul Riser and was a great success in America. History has shown us that none of these translations ever work," she said. Perry added that there was greater integrity in selling shows in their original format.

"The original Office did fantastically on a cult level but in the translated US version, it has had rather poor reviews."

But Abbott said not every Americanised version was doomed. "We are making this for an American audience who have not necessarily seen the original. I have talked to Americans who have seen Queer as Folk as the original and the adapted version and they prefer the latter," he said.

George Faber, the joint executive producer of Shameless, said the show could be successfully remade, with its American counterparts living in "a working-class suburb of quite a buzzy, vibrant city". The key, he said, was "identifying what was specific in the UK show and finding a parallel that equates to that in the USA".

He said that comparisons with the adapted version of The Office were unhelpful.

"The key to its (The Office's) success was Ricky Gervais. When a show is built so much around the talent and personality of one particular actor, translating that is going to be a much tougher task. It is a different proposition to an ensemble show like Shameless," he said.

The show has already won international recognition and it was named the best drama series at last week's Prix Italia awards. It has also won European producer of the year at the Monte Carlo Television Festival. Meanwhile, Channel 4 said that the first two series of the original Shameless had been sold this week to BBC America, and would appear on the channel next spring.

TRANSATLANTIC DRIFT

The Office

The award-winning mockumentary received disappointing reviews after being adapted by NBC, which had high hopes for the cult hit.

Cold Feet

The 1997 ITV "yuppies in love" comedy drama only lasted four episodes when it was remade for NBC in 1999.

Coupling

Sitcom about the mating rituals of six Londoners, remade as NBC's "Must See TV" in 2003, was cancelled after four episodes.

Men Behaving Badly

NBC's 1996-97 remake failed because Americans "didn't like watching losers".

Porridge

BBC prison comedy became a short-lived ABC series in 1975 called On the Rocks.

Till Death Us Do Part

CBS's 1971 adaptationAll in the Family was the top series in America for most of its nine seasons.

Cracker

Ran for only one season in its adapted American format. Robbie Coltrane guest-starred.

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