Classic American TV…based on classic British TV.


When I said recently that I’m basically not bothering to watch any American TV anymore, I wasn’t being entirely honest. At the ends of long days with two very active little boys, I’ve found that the younger one (who goes to bed later than his older brother–he’s the Energizer Bunny, I swear) will settle down with me to watch a little classic American TV in the form of Three’s Company on Antenna TV. I think he enjoys watching John Ritter’s (admittedly fantastic) physical humor. And I, frankly, enjoy anything that gets him to sit still. So we’ve become Three’s Company addicts.

But did you know that Three’s Company, starring John Ritter, Suzanne Somers (later Priscilla Barnes), and Joyce DeWitt, seemingly one of the most American of shows, was actually a remake of a British show, called Man About the House?

I picked up this and many other tidbits in Dave Thompson’s fabulous read Britcoms FAQ: All That’s Left to Know about Our Favorite Sophisticated Outrageous British Television Comedies. For anyone truly addicted to British TV, this book is a must-read. It only covers sitcoms, and it focuses primarily on the viewing years up through the 1990s, but it’s a very, very educational read. (And it can be very frustrating–I want to watch ALL of the sitcoms mentioned in this book, but many of them are not easily available to me. In fact, some of the programs referenced don’t exist ANYWHERE except in the memories of British viewers like this author; as the BBC didn’t bother to keep copies of some of the programs.)

Turns out the program All in the Family (which, oddly enough, my youngest son also enjoys–he calls Archie Bunker the “funny guy”) was also a remake, based on the British program Till Death Us Do Part. Who knew?

Please note: the woman playing the daughter in the above clip (playing the character played by Sally Struthers in the American version)? That’s Una Stubbs, better known now as the actress who plays the spectacular Mrs. Hudson on Sherlock.

I can think of a few modern programs, too, where American TV tried to capture British TV lightning in a bottle, but failed spectacularly–as with the American remakes of The Inbetweeners (here’s the link to a page about the American version) and Coupling. And, of course, there’s one of the most popular American sitcoms of recent years–The Office–which was based on Ricky Gervais’s and Stephen Merchant’s The Office. I preferred the British version of that, of course, not least because it only ran for twelve episodes (and two specials), while the American version eventually stretched to 201 episodes. That is just more time than I can comfortably spend being discomfited by Steve Carell as Michael Scott.

So how’s about it? What US remakes of British TV shows have you watched (or not)?


  1. One that I remember fondly (although I may have been the only person who ever watched it!) was a remake of Fawlty Towers. It was called “Amanda’s By the Sea” and starred Bea Arthur, between her shows Maude and The Golden Girls.

  2. Wow…a remake of Fawlty Towers starring Bea Arthur? Count me truly sorry that I missed that–I’ve always been a Bea Arthur fan. I suppose Fawlty Towers is just one of those shows that “won’t travel.” (That phrase is from Helene Hanff, author of 84 Charing Cross Road. She sometimes met with her British publisher, Andre Deutsch, and gave him books that she enjoyed and that sold well here, to consider publishing in the UK, and sometimes he would say, simply, “No, that won’t travel.”)

  3. Just saw a “Family Guy” episode that mocks this entire concept. In answer to a viewer’s question asking if Family Guy is based on anything, they told us that, “just like The Office, it is based on a British show.” Its title is “Chap of the Manor” and they then showed a supposed episode of that series. Quite a funny spoof of the entire idea of American shows being based on British ones. They even put on the title scene “brought to you in colour by the BBC” ! (And of course, the Stewie character who has a British accent in the American show is the only one on the British show to have an American accent.)

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