by Steven Steinbock
My son Sam and I were watching something on the Syfy Channel when, a commercial came on:
She’s a ghost.
“Not all vampires are bad.”
You’re a werewolf.
“We’ll have full-moon parties and invite the neighbors over to eat.”
Being Human. A new original series. Premieres Monday, January 17 at Nine, only on Syfy.
The groan on the couch beside me might have come from a lycanthrope. But it was only my son.
“Oh my God. No. They’re not. That’s insane. How can they do that? Is it legal?”
Sam was right. It is insane. Or at the very least, unoriginal. But it was perfectly legal. We had enjoyed the original albeit trendy series about three twenty-something housemates trying to live a normal existence despite the fact that one of them was one was a vampire, one was a werewolf, and one of them was dead. Sure, the bad-boy good-looks of Aidan Turner – as an unshaven leather-clad vampire – was poured on a little thick. Who wears fingerless gloves, anyway? But I could live with it. The show, in its own way, was original.
So why had an American (actually Canadian) production company lifted the title, premise, and characters directly from Bristol – and moved them to Boston?
I don’t know. I don’t intend to watch it and find out.
North American airwaves (or cable-lines, as it were) are loaded with similar stories. Here are a few examples of American programs that were ripped, wholesale, from British programmes, often leaving the title unchanged:
“Whose Line is it Anyway?”
“America’s Got Talent”
“Queer as Folk”
“What Not to Wear”
There are even a few classic American shows that many American viewers would be surprised to learn are adaptations of UK shows:
“Three’s Company” (based on “Man about the House”)
“Sanford and Son” (based on “Steptoe and Son”)
“All in the Family” (based on “Till Death Do Us Part”)
I was surprised to learn that there have been three attempts to adapt “Fawlty Towers” for American viewers, but I’ve never heard of any of them.
In defense of American producers, I watched both the UK and the US versions of the time-slipped cop show “Life on Mars” and enjoyed them both. I found the actors and the general production of the BBC version superior (even though the ABC series featured Harvey Keitel and Michael Imperioli). But where the American version shined was with the clever wrapup. Where the BBC series left me feeling cheated with an unsatisfying and unresolved conclusion, the US rewrite transformed it into something that I found altogether new and surprising.
THE CASE OF THE RUNAWAY COLUMN
This is true:
I set out to write today’s column about the origin of corned beef hash. I planned to reveal what it is that makes corned beef “corned,” and how hash has two very different meanings in English, derived from two different words: one French and the other Arabic.
For a fun and fascinating book about American food, have a look at The Food of a Younger Land compiled by Mark Kurlansky (author of Cod, Salt, and his new Edible Tales). The book is a collection of essays about regional foods commissioned by FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression. Among the authors are Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurston. (Slate Magazine did a review of it two summers ago).
A FEW MORE COMMENTS ABOUT FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT
Anyone remember Kellogg’s Sugar Pops, those sugar-coated puffy pellets of corn flour and more sugar? They’re still around, but in their wisdom and thoughtfulness for the breakfast-eating public, they changed their name back in the 1980s to Corn Pops. It was decided that the word “Sugar” might be taken the wrong way and could offend certain segments of their consumers.
And speaking of “pop,” you are all probably aware of Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts, those tasty toaster pastries of questionable nutritional value. I’m not proud, but I like them. My favorite flavor was always Brown-Sugar Cinnamon. I like cinnamon, and will find any excuse to eat something made with it. They were introduced to the American supermarket shopper in 1964 with four non-frosted flavors. Today, in addition to all the non-nutritive stuff they put inside it, nearly all Pop-Tarts are covered with a thick glaze of candy. (They use the word “frosted” but we all know what it’s made of. How’s that for sugar-coating?). According to their website, they still produce a number of un-frosted flavors, but I can’t find any unfrosted Brown-Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts in any of my local supermarkets.
I wonder if this says more about the American consumer (I can’t speak for the grocery habits of our overseas readers) or about the perception (or presumption) by those who govern the marketplace about what they think is best for us, the consumers.
Example: Last spring I read Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James. This book by an Australian author was getting a lot of press at the time. (Here’s the Wall Street Journal coverage). It was a well-written thriller about a teenager whose new best friend turns out to be dangerous. Bantam Books bought the rights to public this book and a second title by James to the tune of $600,000. That can buy a lot of Pop-Tarts.
What dismayed me was how the editors at Bantam, for whatever absurd reason, decided to rip all cultural and regional references out of the book, sugar-coating the language and otherwise dumbing it down, before releasing it to American readers. I felt like I was reading the book through a filter that had flattened every character and every piece of dialogue.
I immediately knew something was wrong with the book. I got hold of an Australian copy and began comparing sections. Sure enough, the slang, the locations, the references to alcohol were all changed or removed. They even replaced the word flat with apartment.
I felt sorry for Rebecca James that her artistic work had suffered such malice. But at $600,000 I didn’t feel too sorry.