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Transatlantic Television

We may not know it, but we've been watching remakes of British shows for more than 30 years. In 1968 pioneering producer Norman Lear became aware of a BBC show titled "Till Death Us Do Part," featuring opinionated London loudmouth Alf Garnett. Lear bought the rights, Alf Garnett became Archie Bunker, and CBS' "All in the Family" was born in 1971, as was the custom of remaking British television. Lear's next move was more radical. He took "Steptoe & Son," a long-running British show about bickering father and son junkyard dealers, replaced its pasty British cast with African-American actors — most notably Redd Foxx — and gave us "Sanford and Son." Lear's popular adaptation ran on NBC from 1972 to 1977.

Following in Lear's footsteps, ABC remade "Man About the House" as "Three's Company," starring a young John Ritter. The show's premise of a man living with two young women proved controversial, but "Three's Company" was a ratings winner from 1977 to 1984.

More recently, British shows seem to have been lost in translation, with British producers blaming network interference. "Men Behaving Badly," a BBC show about two beer-drinking, sex-obsessed, farting, belching 30-something friends, regularly won huge British audiences. Its final episode was given the highest of British television scheduling honors: a three-part Christmas special in 1998. The NBC remake, starring Rob Schneider, limped through its first season before being canceled midway through the second. British producer Beryl Vertue noted that "you cannot behave very badly" at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Unsuccessful transatlantic television reached a low in 2003 with "Coupling." An unofficial British "Friends," "Coupling" was remade for NBC using identical scripts but a slightly more photogenic cast. It was added to NBC's "Must-See TV" Thursday night lineup in fall 2003 but was canceled after just four episodes. We'll have to see if the Americanized "Office" will turn this trend around. — Daryl Grove

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