News + Notes

Lost in Translation

Blimey! With hit Britcom Coupling drowning this side of the pond, what awaits other TV immigrants?

TV's British invasion has hit a glitch: the sitcom. After U.K. reality fare like ''American Idol'' and ''Trading Spaces'' became U.S. blockbusters, the next logical step seemed to be importing British comedies. (I mean, we're talkin' the homeland of Monty Python here.) But, like soccer -- excuse us, football -- and Robbie Williams, some things from England just don't make sense when they cross the Atlantic. Take ''Coupling:'' The dirty-talking Britcom, which itself was Britain's answer to ''Friends,'' washed up on our shores with the biggest splash possible (NBC's Must See heir to ''Friends!''), only to sink into hiatus until December.

''Some say laughter's a universal language, but I don't think it is,'' says TV critic Gareth McLean of U.K.'s 'The Guardian.' ''A lot of British comedy is peculiarly British, emphasis on the peculiar.'' Which is why more new scripts are in the works for Coupling, instead of those line-for-line -- or should we say one-liner-for-one-liner? -- remakes. Exec producer Ben Silverman says the key to his show's U.S. success will be finding a distinctly American voice -- but that could take time: ''To put a show on Thursday night, you have to have 20 million people to watch, and there's no way to do that slowly.'' (''Coupling'' is averaging 12.3 million.)

Still, Silverman's company is moving forward with an adaptation of quirky BBC cult fave ''The Office'' for NBC, with shooting to begin on the pilot this winter. (Touchstone and Granada, meanwhile, are translating working-class comedy ''The Royle Family'' and hair-salon-set ''Cutting It'' for ABC, and ensemble-driven ''Dinnerladies'' for CBS.) So will those imports stick close to their English brethren or declare their independence? ''We are definitely inspired by the British version,'' Silverman says of ''The Office.'' ''What we've been saying is it's the same, but different.'' And way different from ''Coupling''...we can only hope.

Originally posted Nov 07, 2003 Published in issue #736 Nov 07, 2003 Order article reprints