Tuesday, 24 February 2009


Law & Order: UK, every Monday on ITV1, is the latest television series format to be adapted outside its original territory. The phenomenon is nothing new: Hollywood tries regularly to transpose British formats on film or tv. ABC's unnecessary Life on Mars is one of the recent illustration of this "care" from the US industry, whose cloning advices must come right from Michael Drucker (1).


Sometimes, the move is reversed. Remember The Upper Hand (1990-1996), the British version of Who's the boss? And now the venerable Law & Order, monument of the franchise initiated by producer Dick Wolf on NBC in 1990. Since RCN's Yo soy Betty la fea (1999-2001), a sympathetic colombian telenovela has been succesfully sold worldwide for local remakes (like the overestimated Ugly Betty in the US, or the delicious Verliebt in Berlin, in Germany) producers seem to believe that you can sell a tv series format the same way you export Wheel of Fortune.

This is not the first time Dick Wolf manages to sell a Law & Order for local adaptation. TF1 (French television leader channel) remade through Alma, a subsidiary, Law & Order: Criminal Intent as Paris Enquêtes criminelles for a rather unimpressive result. TF1 and Alma also remade RIS Delitti Imperfetti, an Italian cop show, produced since 2004 by the Taodue company for Silvio Berlusconi’s Canale Cinque, and considered as Italy's answer to CSI.

Law & Order: UK is a joint venture between NBC Universal and Kudos, the company behind classics like Hustle or Life on Mars, or one of the most interesting British television series of 2008: The Fixer. The cast is all-star: Bradley Walsh (Coronation Street), Ben Daniels (The State within), Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica), Harriet Walter (Sense and Sensibility), Bill Paterson (Sea of Souls)... and Freema Agyeman, who must have a lot of look-alike cousins in every UK tv show. And Chris Chibnall (Torchwood), as lead writer, has been given the suicidal task to transpose Law & Order for Brit audiences.


The problem is that Law & Order is probably the least transposable show in the world. Part police procedural, part court drama, it is one of the most instrinsicly American production ever made. From the ambiance reminiscent of Kojak or Homicide: Life in the Street to the so specific US legal procedure that impregnates occidental culture to the point that, in France, judges are often wrongly called "Your Honor". Worse, when you buy a format, you buy its elements: here, the intro (« In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups... »), the famous "Dum Dum" sound, or these so nineties on-screen captions with the place and the hour. Take these gimmicks outside the shows devised so brilliantly by Dick Wolf, add actors who try to replicate the attitudes or mannerisms of their US counterparts, and the risk is to obtain a Dead Ringers parody.

More lethal, ITV (2) should have taken care of what happened in France, as the main complain about Paris Enquêtes criminelles was the mandatory carbon copy of the original stories, seen and re-ran before the premiere of the French version. This xerox syndrom was also one of the weaknesses of the French RIS, like your humble servant pointed out in the French version of this blog, and when TF1 decided to show the excellent Italian RIS on wednesday afternoons (four years after the French adaptation) it bombed in indifference.

In December I wrote « The nomination for the "Suicide Squad Award" goes to Law & Order: UK » (http://tattard2.blogspot.com/2008/12/itv-winter-spring-season-bbc-or-bust.html). At least there's a classy "West-wingesque" (huh? I thought the main idea was to make Law & Order British) theme intro, and I read Juliet Aubrey (Primeval) guest-stars in an episode. « Sure she did it, Guv».

(1) The villain from the movie The 6th Day.
(2) By the way, I really love the ITV press kits. People at their Press office are doing a very good job (http://www.itv.com/documents/doc/L&O%20PP.doc)

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