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Thursday, 3 October 2013

David Tennant cast in US Broadchurch: My Thoughts

News broke yesterday that David Tennant has been cast in the US remake of hit ITV series Broadchurch. The first series of the UK version has technically already aired in the US on BBCAMERICA but soon after the huge ratings success of the ITV series US network Fox jumped at the chance to remake it for an American audience. Writer Chris Chibnall, who announced a second UK series recently, is working as an exec producer and has re-written his original scripts for the US audience.

I'm not surprised at all that Fox wants to remake Broadchurch. It was such a huge success, the buzz it created was impossible to miss and it's an interesting story expertly told. What I am surprised about is the casting of David Tennant. Don't get me wrong, I think Tennant is a great actor and he bought a great deal of gravitas to his role in the original, but part of me wonders why they've bothered remaking something and then use an original cast member. For a long time I've been frustrated by American remakes. I'm flummoxed as to why a network would plough so much money in a remake than show the original series they believed in so much.

We don't remake their hits. Homeland, Breaking Bad, The Soprano's have all been shown here without a single alteration. It baffles me why networks in the US don't think their audiences would watch an original foreign series. The success of Downton Abbey on PBS proves there is an audience for British made television but for some reason the four major networks have never allotted any of their schedules to a UK import. It's a mistake, a real mistake. If it follows the same rules as our original I'm certain the US remake of Broadchurch will do well for them, but for me the story is so universal it surely could've crossed the Atlantic without much confusion. At the end of the day the US television industry is worlds apart from ours, it's utterly driven by ratings and money. If something isn't an instant hit it is dropped like a stone and you never see it again. I just wish a network would have the guts to experiment a little and see whether a UK made show could garner the same audiences as their current heavy hitters.


Rob Buckley said...

Homeland, of course, was a remake of the Israeli show 'Prisoners of War', which aired on Sky Arts and about 10 people watched here, so we don't have a much of a higher ground to talk about. Even BBC4's and Channel 4's greatest foreign language imports struggle to get above 1m viewers. So there's one reason for the US to remake shows: they can get a much bigger audience and put more money into them and even make better shows.

US network TV, which includes Fox, is as you describe, although cable TV, particularly Showtime and HBO, works to a different model - The Wire never got good ratings at all, but HBO kept it on because it was the kind of show that it felt it should be making. However, NBC, CBS and ABC, for example, have shown plenty of Canadian TV in primetime recently, including Rookie Blue, Motive, Flashpoint and Saving Hope.

It's when different accents are involved, it becomes trickier to convince the American public: NBC aired Merlin and bugger all people watched it, although that was NBC and bugger all people watch NBC. And it was Merlin.

Cable is slightly different, with SyFy US, for example, willing to show Canada's Continuum and New Zealand's The Almighty Johnsons; PBS is good for UK shows as is the deceptively named BBC America, of course. Netflix and Hulu and other Internet broadcasters in the US have been happy to show Spiral, Borgen, Lillyhammer, The Killing, The Bridge, Prisoners of War, the original Israeli version of In Treatment (the US version was itself superb) and more, especially UK shows, including Misfits.

Equally, ITV and BBC aren't entirely ratings-immune: the BBC has cancelled The White Queen for low ratings, The Outsiders (? that dreadful sci-fi show with Jamie Bamber?) got banished from primetime as soon as its ratings plummeted, and ITV has dropped shows such as Making Waves after just three episodes (they never broadcast the remaining episodes).

US cable networks are getting better, though. Mob Doctor survived a whole season last year, despite terrible ratings; Hannibal got renewed for a second season despite very low ratings, indeed. They are getting more willing to keep something airing for a while - and let's not forget how many new shows come up in the fall in the US (roughly 30) compared to how many new shows British TV produces at the same time (fewer than 10). Most of those shows aren't intended to return as ongoing series or are only 3-6 episodes long, so we can be more precious about how we stick with those shows that are series and how ratings-immune we are. American networks simply have to be more ruthless (cable networks less so since, apart from having a different business mode, they can pad their schedules with repeats galore).

On the whole though, I think the David Tennant move is bad, simply because as Rex Is Not Your Lawyer proved, he's not good at American accents. I'm not even convinced that a Broadchurch remake will play well in the US, particularly not on Fox, given how poorly The Killing did on AMC (although AMC stuck with it for three seasons, even bringing it back from the dead after cancelling it at the end of the second season, something CBS also did with the low-rated Unforgettable, which is now getting a third season).

Similarly, Low Winter Sun on AMC, which is an adaptation of Channel 4's Low Winter Sun, brought over Mark Strong to recreate the lead role but with a US accent and that's doing pretty poorly, although AMC is sticking with it for now. It's not a great show and I think that's the real problem - the choice of shows being remade and how they're being remade, not the fact that they're being remade.

cfkane said...

The biggest reason, above all, that US Networks do not import foreign shows and chose to remake them is language, but for UK shows it is length. PBS has long broadcast BBC and ITV shows, but it is a non-profit viewer and government supported network. But the big 4, (ABC,NBC, CBS, Fox), want shows to be 22-24 episodes. Not the standard 6-10 episodes on UK TV. I think this is why Fox won't just import Broadchurch. Tennant can be very good in the remake if they allow him to play an ex-pat. But if he tries to play an American it won't work.

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