'Wife Swap' leads UK invasion of American prime-time television

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The Independent Online

America's love affair with British television has hit a new high with five shows from the UK to feature on prime-time schedules this autumn. Major US television networks unveiled their latest schedules to advertisers this week, revealing deals with British production companies worth an estimated £20m.

America's love affair with British television has hit a new high with five shows from the UK to feature on prime-time schedules this autumn. Major US television networks unveiled their latest schedules to advertisers this week, revealing deals with British production companies worth an estimated £20m.

Four British shows have already been commissioned in as many days, with a fifth announcement predicted today. American television executives have shown they are increasingly enamoured with British-devised formats, ranging from shows which have been hits in the UK, such as Channel 4's Wife Swap, to new concepts.

On Tuesday, ABC announced it had commissioned 20 hour-long episodes of Wife Swap, the critically acclaimed reality television show that follows two women as they exchange partners for a fortnight. In a huge vote of confidence, ABC has decided to schedule the show in a prime-time slot at 10pm on Wednesday nights. The deal is worth £7.5m to RDF Media, the British production company which makes the show. Channel 4 has already bought the rights to show the American version this year.

Stephen Lambert, RDF's creator of programmes, said: "In many ways, it's worked even better than in Britain because there's such a variety of people here and Americans are good at being larger than life. We've had a multimillionairess from Manhattan swapping with a woodsman's wife from New Jersey. There's a hunger for new ideas in America. The diversity of the British market means we've got an enormous variety of different kinds of programmes. There's a pressure in the States towards homogeneity; it's such a competitive market. It's easier for British producers to go to the States and say, 'We've already made this; it's been a success'."

ABC has also commissioned The Benefactor, a new concept from the British production company 12 Yard, which will be broadcast in a prime-time slot between 8pm and 9pm on Monday nights. The Benefactor is the latest in a series of reality TV shows inspired by billionaires. It follows in the footsteps of NBC's hit series The Apprentice, in which contestants vied for a six-figure salary job with the business magnate Donald Trump.

The show will centre on Mark Cuban, a dotcom billionaire, and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. Sixteen contestants will compete in a bid to convince Mr Cuban they are the most worthy recipient of the $1m prize. BBC2 has bought the rights to make a British version of The Apprentice, casting the entrepreneur Alan Sugar in the role of Mr Trump.

British shows have not always been so well received in America. The BBC2 sitcom Coupling, the gritty detective drama Cracker, the wacky sitcom Men Behaving Badly, and the cult series Cold Feet all failed to take off in the United States.

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