American Remakes of British TV

Maria Bello was announced this week as the star who will fill Helen Mirren’s shoes in the U.S. remake of Prime Suspect. Given that American TV drama seems to be full of fresh ideas and talent right now, it seems odd that NBC would even consider rebooting a UK show that is almost twenty years old. However, Prime Suspect has long been seen as the gold standard for both female leads and gritty police procedurals, and will garner eager viewers on the name alone. The Closer has often claimed to be the US version of Prime Suspect, but the only similarity really is the female lead. examines the structural and commercial reasons why a remake of Prime Suspect is unlikely to capture even the faintest of flavours of the original: The British have a completely different approach to making TV Drama to the Americans.

American television, in contrast, has more of a factory mentality. They’re making product to sell into syndication, where the magic number is 100 episodes — enough to fill a daily Monday-to-Friday schedule for 20-plus weeks. Speed and efficiency are of the essence because the networks want to squeeze out 100 episodes and hit that syndication jackpot as soon as possible. All the products have to be made in-house using existing tools and processes, stamped out and rolled onto the showroom floor at the same time each year — otherwise sponsors get restless, and Americans bred to expect instant gratifaction grow surly and betrayed. (It’s September. Where’s my show? I want it NOW!)

This approach does suit the production of law-and-order procedurals, and that means boom time for that special group of background artists (or extras) who play corpses. The Wall St Journal (behind a paywall) reports that seven out of ten of the top TV shows require a steady supply of ‘corpse actors’. It’s cheaper to make up a real human being than produce a corpse mannequin, and there’s always plenty of work. However, a certain skill set is required. “According to New York casting director Jonathan Strauss, however, not everyone can carry off the short breaths required on camera.”

The Problem with American remakes of British shows –
Corpse Duty: Keeping A Career on Life Support by Playing Dead – WSJ via Hollywood Wiretap