You can't beat a bit of Bully!
Like many British television favourites, 'Bullseye' is being remade for an American audience. Paul Bignell wonders if it will hit its target
Paul Bignell is an Assistant News Editor at The Independent. He has previously been the acting News Editor of the i Paper, a home news reporter for The Independent for one year and a reporter for the Independent on Sunday for six years.
Sunday 23 October 2011
With its parade of caravans, catchphrases and coiffured contestants, Bullseye was every bit a Sunday afternoon staple as a roast dinner.
Now 16 years after its host, Jim Bowen, last declared "you can't beat a bit of Bully", the quintessentially British darts-based quiz is to be reborn in the US. An adaptation of the hit show was last week bought for an undisclosed sum by an LA-based producer and will be remade by the team who successfully took The Weakest Link across the Atlantic.
It is hoped that the growing band of darts fans in the US will take to the show's unique format, which used darts to select categories for a general knowledge quiz and attracted more than 12 million UK viewers at its height. If the finalists failed to win the mystery star prize, Bowen would rub salt in the wound by declaring, "Let's tale a look at what you could have won", as he revealed a luxury speedboat or mobile home.
Bullseye's creator, Andrew Wood, confirmed that Bully, the show's cartoon mascot, would be packing his bags to appear Stateside. This weekend, he predicted big things for the new show. "There are over 18 million Americans playing darts at least twice a week, either in leagues or socially across the US – it's an untapped goldmine. Then if you add US game show addicts, you've got a monster hit on your hands."
The US signing of Bullseye is the latest in a long line of British shows of varying quality which have been bought and adapted for US audiences over the years. Everything from Steptoe and Son to Antiques Roadshow have been repackaged and resold, often remade into slicker versions of their British counterparts. Some have proved less successful than others: Dad's Army, known in the US as The Rear Guard and Absolutely Fabulous, remade simply into AbFab, never made it passed the pilot episodes.
But despite the challenges, Mr Wood is confident that Bullseye, which originally ran on ITV from 1981 to 1995, has timeless appeal. "It will definitely travel," he said. "I did a lot of research into game shows in the late Seventies. I wanted to find out what made the good ones successful." He had looked at every sport possible, but decided darts was the only one that everyone could play. "The format has to be the heart of it. The stars of the show are the contestants and the host of the show is more like a ringmaster, so the viewers felt as if they were part of it too. Also combining sport and gambling – they are two very important parts."
A 15-times world champion darts player, Phil Taylor said that despite Bullseye being a British institution he thought the format could be adapted in any country where there is an interest in darts. "Though they play with soft-tip darts and electronic boards, darts in America is very big and growing all the time. However, they haven't yet got any stand-out players, which they could do with."
The format was revived in 2006 by the Challenge TV channel, and repeats of the original series still draw in some 150,000 viewers per episode. There is currently even a Bullseye live UK tour and a Facebook page with several thousand users. Jim Bowen suffered two strokes earlier this year, but is said to be making a good recovery at home.
Crossing the pond: How successful are US remakes of British TV hits?
Porridge Crossed the pond as On the Rocks, with Ronnie Barker's character, Norman Stanley Fletcher, replaced by Puerto Rican felon, Hector Fuentes.
Steptoe & Son The Sixties sitcom saw Albert and Harold Steptoe forever bickering. The US version, Sanford and Son, saw the Sanfords vowing undying loyalty.
Fawlty Towers America tried three times to replicate the recipe: Chateau Snavely (1978), Amanda's (1983) and Payne (1999). None had the original's appeal.
Changing Rooms The US remake, Trading Spaces, has been a hit since it launched in 2000.
Antiques Roadshow PBS had a surprise hit with a version of the show that continues to earn a prime-time Monday-night airing, 14 years after it began.
The Vicar of Dibley With Kirstie Alley in the Dawn French role, there were high hopes for The Minister of Divine. Only a pilot episode was broadcast.
Upstairs, Downstairs Beacon Hill, named after an area of Boston where the Lassiter family lived, was an initial success in 1975, but lasted only 13 episodes. Shameless Loose morals, alcoholism and petty criminality made the Gallagher family a favourite in Britain. The same formula made the US remake, relocated to Chicago, a hit this year.
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