There have been several attempts to adapt the well-regarded British comedy Fawlty Towers to American tastes. One, entitled Chateau Snavley with Harvey Korman and Betty White, didn’t make it past the pilot stage. The first (of two) to hit the airwaves tried to put a twist on the format by making the lead character a woman. And it would be hard to argue Bea Arthur–in her first comedy series since the demise of Maude–wasn’t perfect casting as Amanda Cartwright, a female version of John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty. Unfortunately, Amanda’s was a no go.
Arthur’s character ran a
struggling seaside resort known as Amanda’s by the Sea, and was not unlike
Maude Findlay with her sarcastic delivery and withering quips. And for good reason: Her staff always seemed
to conspire against her–including her hotel management-schooled son Marty (Fred
McCarren), who longed to return to the big city. Marty’s spoiled wife Arlene (Simone Griffeth)
was no help, as was the hotel’s excitable chef Earl Nash (Rick Hurst) and
bellhop Aldo (former Saturday Night Live player Tony Rosato), a confused man
whose foreign origins remained a mystery.
Like Fawlty Towers, Amanda’s dealt with irate guests and
the fractious staff. Also making life
harder was banker Clifford Mundy (Keene Curtis), who stopped by–often–to
threaten foreclosure on the hotel.
Americans who weren’t
familiar with Fawlty Towers failed
to tune in, and not even Bea Arthur’s presence could keep the series running
for long. ABC produced 13 episodes, but
only ten episodes aired during a four-month period in early 1983. Fortunately, Arthur would rebound in a big
way two years later with The Golden
Girls, a format that better suited her unique talents (and earned her
another Emmy in the process). It would
take more than a decade before another US Fawlty
Towers attempt would air (see Payne
for more details).
A Touch Of Grace
Shirley Booth won acclaim
for her work as shotgun bride Lola Delaney in the Broadway and film versions of
Come Back Little Sheba. But it was her title role as maid Hazel that
made her a household name. Seven years
after Hazel left the air, Booth
tried situation comedy again in this American version of the hit UK series For the Love of Ada. Booth played Grace Simpson, a widow in her
60's who began dating fellow senior and gravedigger Herbert Morrison (J.
Patrick O’Malley). This didn’t set well
with Grace’s conservative daughter Myra Bradley (Marian Mercer) and her husband
Walter (Warren Berlinger). Grace also
lived with the pair, creating what was then known as the generation gap.
Touch Of Grace
had strong credentials; it was produced by the team behind Sanford And Son; and the pilot was directed by Carl Reiner. But it was a hard sell to launch a comedy
about two 60-something leads. Going up
against CBS’ formidable Saturday night sitcom block (led by All In The Family) didn’t help
either. As a result, “Grace” ended after
just 12 airings. In the final episode,
Grace accepted Herbert’s marriage proposal.
Shirley Booth essentially
retired soon after “Grace’s” cancellation.
Her last role was the voice of Mrs. Santa in the 1974 animated
television special The Year Without A
Santa Claus. Booth was 94 years old
when she died in 1992.
The much-praised UK version
of this series was considered a knock-off of the American Friends. But the US version
didn’t return the favour. It signalled
the demise of NBC’s comedy and ratings dominance on its once-mighty Must See TV
Thursday lineup. Creator Steven Moffat
blamed the network for meddling with the format, but he had to take some blame
for weak casting and mediocre scripts.
It was then-NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker who got the American Coupling on the air, with the hopes of
creating another Friends. After he cancelled the show, Zucker remarked
the US Coupling, in his words,
Like the much superior
British version, the US version centred on a group of six singles in their
30's–three men and three women–who were either hooked up with each other, or
other people. The main characters
included Steve Taylor (Jay Harrington); Patrick Maitland (Colin Ferguson); Jeff
Clancy (Christopher Moynihan); Jane Honda (Lindsay Price); Susan Freeman (Rena
Sofer) and Sally Harper (Sonya Walger).
But its relatively racy (for American prime time) sexual content led two
NBC affiliates not to air the series.
And despite a massive ad campaign, Coupling
was a no-go against CBS’ formidable CSI,
leading NBC to pull the plug after just four episodes (it had produced a total
of 11). The situation was so bad, cable
network BBC America showed the British version immediately after the NBC episodes
aired, to remind viewers–correctly–why the original Coupling was a far superior beast.
NBC would have much better luck–both critically and commercially–when it
adapted the UK version of The Office
to American tastes less than two years later.
As far as UK to US
transplants go, the American version of Dear
John was a pretty good sitcom, thanks to its ensemble cast and decent
scripts. But the series bounced around
on the NBC schedule over its four-season run, all but sealing its fate.
Judd Hirsch (Taxi, et al) starred as John Lacey, a suburban New York
City high school teacher whose learned in–appropriately–a Dear John letter that
his wife left him and took custody of their son. John had no choice but to move into an
apartment. To deal with his divorce,
John joined the neighborhood One-2-One Club for singles. British woman Louise Mercer (Jane Carr) led
the group with her bouncy but oversexed personality. Other members of One-2-One included divorcee
Kate McCarron (Isabella Hofmann); lady’s man Kirk Morris (Jere Burns); shy
tollbooth collector Ralph Drang (Harry Groener); feisty senior Bonnie Philbert
(Billie Bird) and her silent boyfriend Tom (Tom Willett). John (and Hirsch) was the able and lone voice
of sanity in a group of off-centre individuals.
A solid hit on NBC’s
popular Thursday night schedule for its first two seasons, Dear John was shuffled to no less than four different nights
between early 1990 and the summer of 1992, alienating once-faithful
In the UK, the American
version was known as Dear John USA.
Life On Mars
This time-travel cop drama
with British origins didn’t capture the interest of US viewers and left the
airwaves after one season.
In the American version,
New York City Police Detective Sam Taylor (Jason O’Mara) became involved in a
2008 car accident, but woke up in the year 1973. Sam found himself in limbo (was he dreaming?)
but dealt with his new situation as best as he could, bringing his 21st
century attitudes and crime-solving techniques to the Big Apple’s 125th
police district, a station where racism, sexism, homophobia and brutality
reigned supreme. Michael
Imperioli (The Sopranos) played
fellow Detective Ray Carling; Harvey Keitel was Lieutenant Gene Hunt; and
Grechin Mol was co-worker Annie Norris.
Lisa Bonet was cast as Maya Daniels, Sam’s love interest. Sam also worked cases from 1973 that were
still unsolved in 2008; his reality intruded in visions of the future–such as
the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, the death of rock group Nirvana’s
lead singer Kurt Cobain in 1994, the 9/11 tragedy and the presidency of George
The US Life On Mars had
a bumpy road to production. Prolific
producer David E. Kelley owned the American rights, but sold them to ABC to get
a final season of his critically-acclaimed drama Boston Legal. The pilot
episode was rejected by the network, who ordered all the acting roles recast
(except for O’Mara). Life On Mars was
given a plum time slot, after Grey’s
Anatomy on Thursday nights. The
pilot did draw just over 15-million viewers, ranking among the top 20 shows of
its week. But viewers didn’t seem to
like the premise, despite good scripts and a strong cast. The network pulled Life On Mars from the schedule during the winter, and relaunched
the show on Wednesday nights. It didn’t
help. The decision not to renew the
series for a second season did allow producers time to wrap up the plots. In the final episode, viewers learned Sam’s
past and present realities were creations of an onboard computer on a
spacecraft that carried Sam’s father and other astronauts on a manned mission
to Mars. (Sam also learned from another
time-traveller that Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008!)
Matthew Graham, who created the UK Life On Mars, may have had the final word on the American version:
"Have you seen it? It beggars belief, doesn’t it?
Another attempt at turning the UK’s Fawlty Towers into an American hit, this version was closer to the
British original than Amanda’s (see
more on that series for details). This
time, character actor John Larroquette–who won multiple Emmy awards for his
role as venal prosecutor Dan Fielding on the comedy Night Court–would step into John Cleese’s shoes as both star and
Larroquette portrayed Royal Payne, the keeper of the Whispering
Pines hotel on the California coast. And
if ever there was a name that fit, Royal Payne was it. He was indeed a pain to both his guests and
his staff. Wife Connie (JoBeth Williams)
tried but failed to smooth Royal’s rough edges.
The hotel’s small staff included Breeze O’Rourke (Julie Benz), an
intelligent chambermaid derided by Royal as being the only virgin to step into
his inn. Also on the payroll was Mohammed,
or Mo (Rick Batalla), essentially Fawlty’s Manuel by way of India instead of
Spain. Flo and Ethel (Ellen Albertini
Dow and Dona Hardy, respectively) were two elderly Whispering Pines residents
who smoked marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The pilot episode of Payne
was a mixture of two Fawlty Towers
episodes, but it made no difference.
Airing on a weak Wednesday night timeslot, Payne was–like Amanda’s–unsuccessful. CBS aired just eight of nine produced
episodes in the spring of 1999. Like Bea
Arthur, Larroquette bounced back and earned accolades for his work on The Practice and its spin-off Boston Legal. Payne
proved to be the final attempt to produce an American Fawlty Towers.
The Fall and Rise of
Reginald Perrin was the basis for this UK
to US transplant, which starred former Soap
star Richard Mulligan as Reggie Potter, an executive at the Funtime Ice Cream
Company coping with a mid-life crisis.
(The American version avoided the premise of the British version, where
the main character faked his own death and came back in various disguises.) On the job, Reggie dealt with an overbearing
and younger boss, C.J. Wilcox (Chip Zien) and his attractive secretary Joan
Reynolds (Jean Smart), whom he had the hots for–and vice-versa. On the home front, Reggie worried about his
love life with wife Elizabeth (Barbara Barrie), his relationship with daughter
Linda (Dianne Kay) and her annoying husband Tom Lockett (Timothy Stack). Plus, befitting his mid-life woes, Reggie
lusted for the girlfriend of son Mark (Timothy Busfield). And he confided all this to Monty, a stuffed
toy fox wearing an English hunting outfit!
Mulligan was at his slapstick best, but the whole premise turned
off viewers–and it was no surprise ABC aired this comedy in the waning days of
summer, where it could do the least damage to the network’s schedule. Fortunately for Mulligan, he would enjoy
sitcom success in 1988 with the Golden
Girls spinoff, Empty Nest.
Stand by Your Man
Based on the British hit Birds
of a Feather, it was notable for giving Melissa Gilbert her first series
since the demise of Little House on the
Prairie and the first-ever sitcom lead for then-rising comic Rosie
O’Donnell. The premise was similar to the UK version: Sisters Rochelle Dumphy
(Gilbert) and Lorraine Popowski (O’Donnell) lived together in Rochelle’s New
Jersey home while their husbands were doing time behind bars for robbery. (Sam McMurray played Rochelle’s husband Roger
and Rick Hall was Lorraine’s hubby Artie; both were seen when their wives
visited them in prison.) Even though
they were sisters, the two women were different as night and day: Rochelle was
sensible, sober and realistic. Lorraine was loud, pushy and rather crass. It was yet another of the Fox network’s
self-proclaimed edgy comedies in the style of Married...With Children and others.
But Stand By Your Man was not
a hit, and was quickly yanked off the air.
The show’s title was based on the famous 1968 Tammy Wynette song,
but the tune was never used, even during the opening or closing credits.
Too Close For Comfort/The Ted Knight Show
Based on the UK’s Keep It In The Family, this domestic comedy was a success for star Ted Knight, who won accolades and TV immortality as buffoonish news announcer Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Knight played Henry Rush, a cartoonist who drew the popular comic
strip Cosmic Cow. He and wife Muriel
(Nancy Dussault), a freelance photographer, lived in a two-family San Francisco
home. The couple had a pair of grown
daughters. Older and more responsible
Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) was a bank employee; younger daughter Sara
(Lydia Cornell) an attractive college student.
Jackie and Sara moved into the home’s downstairs apartment after the
previous tenant (a transvestite) died.
Conservative Henry was always worried about what his daughters were
doing; an ABC news release on the series described his character as protective
to a hilarious fault, keeps a fitful ear to the floor, jumping at every sound
and agonizing over every silence. During
the show’s first season, Henry found a foil in Sara’s off-centre friend Monroe
Ficus (Jim J. Bullock), whose interactions with Henry provided comic
Thanks to a plum timeslot (behind another UK to US transplant, Three’s Company), Too Close For Comfort landed among the top series on
television. In the show’s second season,
Muriel became pregnant and gave birth to a son, Andrew. But for the show’s third year, ABC moved the
series to Thursday nights, where it withered against CBS’ detective drama Simon & Simon. and was
But it wasn’t the end.
Starting in 1984, new episodes were produced for sale to local stations,
and Too Close For Comfort became a hit in syndication. In late 1985, the show
received a title change and a modified format.
In The Ted Knight Show,
Henry, Muriel and Andrew moved to a new home in California’s Marin County
(outside San Francisco). Henry became
editor and part-owner of the Marin Bugler newspaper, where he sparred with
co-owner Hope Stinson (Pat Carroll).
Muriel worked as a photographer for the paper, and Monroe was a rookie
reporter. (Daughters Jackie and Sara
never appeared). Monroe also found a
love interest in the Rushes’ maid Lisa Flores (Lisa Antille).
Behind the scenes, all was not well for Ted Knight. He was
diagnosed with cancer soon after The
Mary Tyler Moore Show ended, and had successfully undergone treatment. But in 1985, Knight learned he had colon
cancer, which spread to his bladder and lower tract. On August 26th, 1986, the
62-year-old Emmy-winning actor died from surgical complications. Knight’s death
ended production of the series for good.
Adapted from the BBC serial Blackpool,
this musical-dramedy was overseen by the UK series’ producers. But it was an embarrassment on all
Hugh Jackman (also an executive producer) portrayed Nicky Fontana,
the owner of a hotel and casino in Laughlin, Nevada (a gaming town along the
Colorado River about 90 minutes south of Las Vegas). He sparred with rival Ripley Holden (Lloyd
Owen) and found himself in the middle of a murder investigation in the show’s
Like Blackpool, Viva Laughlin mixed comedy and drama
with musical numbers–a trick that was child’s play for Jackman, a Broadway and
Tony Award veteran. But critics likened
the end result to Steven Bochco’s much-maligned Cop Rock. One difference:
While Cop Rock’s story and plots were better than its musical interludes,
Laughlin couldn’t even get the drama basics right–and the bursts into song made
things worse, especially when performed by actors who had little aptitude for
CBS bet big on Viva
Laughlin; it ordered 13 episodes, gave it heavy promotion during its Tony
Awards telecast, and premiered the first episode after high-rated crime drama CSI.
But the pilot failed to lure viewers, and the second episode (airing on
Sunday nights after 60 Minutes) was
a ratings disaster. CBS quickly yanked Viva Laughlin and replaced it with CSI repeats until it could air the
season premiere of the reality series The
Amazing Race. Even in Jackman’s home
country of Australia, the Nine Network pulled Viva Laughlin after just one airing. It would take two years before Glee showed everyone how to pull off
comedy, drama and music in a satisfying way.
In Vegas slang, Viva Laughlin
simply crapped out.
Jack Klugman and John Stamos starred in this American version of Home to Roost. Klugman played Henry Willows, a supermarket
manager still angry over his decade-old divorce but settling into a quiet and
peaceful life, while making no effort to keep in touch with his son Matt
(Stamos). That is, until the day
17-year-old Matt landed on Henry’s doorstep, asking for a place to live. The differences between father and son were
striking: Henry was conservative and set in his ways; Matt was a girl-loving
teen on the edge of juvenile delinquency.
Commenting on the goings-on between dad and son was Henry’s sardonic
British maid Enid Tompkins. (Actress
Elizabeth Bennett, who played Enid, was also portraying the same character on
the UK Home to Roost–requiring her to
fly between London and Hollywood to fulfill both commitments! It had to be a TV first.)
You Again? did well enough as a mid-season replacement to earn renewal, but NBC moved the series to several time slots, and viewers didn’t follow. It never made it to a second full season. Ironically, UK viewers would not get to see the American version of Home to Roost until ten years after You Again? was cancelled.
Published on May 19th, 2019. Written by Mike Spadoni (2012) for Television Heaven.