11 International TV Adaptations

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These television shows were so popular that they got adapted for new countries and cultures.

1. Metastasis, an adaptation of Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad, the Emmy-winning AMC drama and widespread cultural obsession, was just a few months short of premiering its final eight episodes when, in March of 2013, Sony Pictures Television confirmed that a Spanish-language remake was in the works per a partnership with the Colombian producer Teleset. Titled Metastasis—after metastasizing cancer—the show’s plot and characters are nearly identical to the original.

Set in Colombia, Metastasis will tell the story of Walter Blanco (played by Diego Trujillo), a chemistry teacher-turned cancer patient-turned meth kingpin. Blanco is joined by his wife, Cielo, junkie sidekick Jose Rosas, and menacing brother-in-law Henry Navarro. Though some of these details may seem straight out of Google Translate, Metastasis will stray from the original in a few ways—for example, the meth-cooking duo will operate from inside an old school bus rather than an RV. “Motor homes are not popular in Colombia, so audiences will see Walter and Jose cooking up their first several batches of methamphetamine in an old, barely drivable school bus," explained Angelica Guerra, SPT senior VP and managing director of production for Latin America and the U.S. Hispanic market.

Metastasis will be the first completely remade version of the series, though Breaking Bad has previously sold in over 140 countries worldwide and largely failed to stick; in the United Kingdom, the series lasted just two seasons before being moved to Netflix. However, Guerra remains optimistic about the fate of Metastasis: “Breaking Bad is a fantastic series that wasn’t seen widely in Latin America, partly because cable doesn’t yet have full penetration in the region. [But] there is a universality to the story and its characters that we recognized could work very well.”

2. Homeland, an adaptation of Hatufim

Showtime’s Homeland has repeatedly shared the awards ballots with Breaking Bad, but the CIA drama starring Claire Danes—who alone has won two Golden Globes and two Emmys for her work as CIA agent Carrie Mathison—actually began as an Israeli show without the female protagonist Danes portrays. That show, titled Prisoners of War (or Hatufim, in Hebrew) aired its first season in 2010 before being sold to 20th Century Fox Television.

Homeland and Prisoners’ second seasons premiered mere days apart (September 30, 2012 and October 1, 2012, respectively). Where Homeland focuses squarely on Mathison and her suspicions that a returned soldier (Damian Lewis) who had been MIA for eight years may have been “turned” in allegiance to a terrorist organization, Prisoners deals more directly with the soldiers themselves. In Homeland, Lewis’s character plays a condensed version of two men at the forefront of Prisoners: Nimrod (Yoram Toledano), father of two children who hardly remember him, and Uri (Ishai Golan), who returns home to find his fiancée involved with another man—his brother. In both series, the returned soldiers must deal with the aftereffects of their trauma and undergo questioning, debriefings, and evaluations. Certain discrepancies in their stories cause suspicions to arise among officials—while Prisoners lacks a Carrie Mathison, it does have its own skeptic in Haim (Gal Zaid), an army psychologist who finds the soldiers’ behavior suspicious.  

Homeland, with its big name actors and even bigger budget, is undoubtedly glossier, but the writers of Prisoners reportedly see this as an advantage. As creators Gideon Raff and Ran Telem told The New Yorker, the lower budget places greater emphasis the quality of the writing—since Israeli networks read the entire season before green-lighting a series, writers are more or less immune to ratings-related changes.  While Homeland is well into its fourth season on Showtime, both seasons of Prisoners of War, its lesser-known relative, can be viewed for free on Hulu.

3. Stromberg, an adaptation of The Office

If you’ve owned a television for any part of this millennium, odds are you’ve been subjected to a heated "The Office (U.K.) versus The Office (U.S.)” debate. However, there’s a little-known, slightly questionable third option for this argument: Stromberg —the German Office clone that follows Bernd Stromberg, the incompetent head of an insurance office—broadcast on the German network ProSieben. Following its debut in 2004, the series became one of Germany’s most popular comedy shows, and went on to win several German Comedy Awards.

Stomberg wasn’t technically a true Office remake, though; neither of the original Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant had been involved in its conception. While the Stromberg producers claimed that the show was based on a previous ProSieben comedy, the similarities were too obvious to ignore; from the chipper opening music to the mockumentary-style filming and right down to Bernd Stromberg’s David Brent-ish goatee, Stromberg seemed a straight copy of The Office. Following threats of legal action from BBC, ProSieben eventually added an “Inspired By” acknowledgement for Gervais and Merchant to Stromberg’s credits, assuaging BBC without depriving Germany of its beloved cringe comedy.

4. The Indian Adaptation of 24

Launching a fast-paced action series starring a Bollywood star in a television landscape dominated by soap operas definitely seems like a risky move—but for a show where someone essentially saves the world in an hour, maybe a certain level of risk is appropriate. Earlier this fall, the Indian channel Colors premiered the Hindi version of 24, the action-packed U.S. drama  for which Kiefer Sutherland is best known. Taking up Jack Bauer-style role of anti-terrorism agent Jai Singh Rathod is Indian actor Anil Kapoor, whose previous work includes several Bollywood films and Slumdog Millionaire—and interestingly, the American version of 24, where he played the (spoiler alert!) doomed president of a fictional Middle Eastern country. Though only about a month into its run, the series has been relatively well-received so far; critics at the Indian entertainment website Rediff.com gave it a positive review, calling it, “a step in a desperately needed direction” for Indian television. You can see a preview here.

5. Planet Homebuddies, an adaptation of Friends

According to NPR, Chinese 20-somethings really love Friends. Some credit it with teaching them “how to treat friends, girlfriends, my wife, how to be generous, how to be gentle,” while others create complete mini-replicas of the gang’s coffee shop hangout Central Perk and demand to be called “Gunther.” So it only makes sense that someone would try to profit off this obsession by creating a new, Chinese version of the show. Colorfully titled Planet Homebuddies, the Friends clone follows six 20-somethings—Chinese, this time—and their foibles as they live together in a loft. It even features a theme song by Danny Wilde of the Rembrants, writer of the original theme song “I’ll Be There for You.” If you’re wondering, “homebuddies” is a term coined by series creator Mei Tian that refers to young people who work from home. The series launched online in February 2013.

6. The Theorists, an adaptation of The Big Bang Theory

Considering the success of Chuck Lorre’s nerd comedy The Big Bang Theory, it’s no surprise that other countries would want to get in on the action. The series has had fairly successful runs in Canada and the U.K., but trouble arose when an unlicensed Belarusian copy called The Theorists (Теоретики) surfaced.

The Theorists opened with a similar montage chronicling the history of life, almost identically named main characters, and the exact same overall premise. Many episodes even seemed to be direct translations of existing Big Bang Theory episodes. When Lorre debated how to approach this very obvious rip-off, he found that legal action for copyright infringement would be nearly impossible, as the production company was owned and operated by the Belarusian government. So, in true comedic style, Lorre opted instead to playfully chide the copiers through the vanity cards he often employs at the end of The Big Bang Theory: Lorre informed viewers about Belarus’s main exports—specifically, cattle byproducts—and their “bustling television production industry.” After describing the rip-off and explaining how difficult it would be to effectively sue the nation of Belarus, the card concludes with the hope that the Belarusians will at least feel guilty enough to send over some felt hats, jokingly adding that “[the] Kyrgyzstan version of Dharma & Greg already sent [him] some wallpaper paste.” 

As it turned out, Lorre didn’t even need to sue to get The Theorists off the air. When the Belarusian actors in The Theorists caught wind of the message, they were horrified; they’d been told the series was legit. Said one such actor, Dmitriy Tankovich, “…The actors were told all legal issues were resolved. We didn't know it wasn't the case, so when the creators of The Big Bang Theory started talking about the show, I was embarrassed. I can't understand why our people first do, and then think. I consider this to be the rock bottom of my career. And I don't want to take part in a stolen show.”  In a noble act of creative solidarity, the Belarusian cast quit the show and it was soon cancelled.

7. Geordie Shore, an adaptation of Jersey Shore

Those wishing to bust the stereotype that Brits are inherently classier than Americans can look no further than Geordie Shore, the British version of American national treasure Jersey Shore. Geordie Shore adopted the popular reality show format of “put several 20-somethings in a house together and watch what happens” for the new setting of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, although the cast hails from various places in North East England. The hair is still big, the deep V-necks are still deep, and the drama is more or less the same as its American counterpart.

Of course, apart from the partying, there’s also the requisite absurdity that makes for good TV. For example, following the death of her fish, cast member Charlotte decided to cremate it and scatter its ashes into the sea, saying, “It is sad but when I die I’ll be cremated, and then we can meet again and swim and hold hands in the ocean.” While Jersey Shore aired its sixth and final season in 2012, Geordie Shore is still going strong, currently well into its seventh season.

8. Wisteria Lane, Nigeria, an adaptation of Desperate Housewives

In recent years, the television “format” business is booming—networks have taken to buying “ideas,” rather than finished products, allowing them to further customize them to fit their main audiences. Such is the case with the latest reboot of the popular series Desperate Housewives. Having already been adapted into Brazilian, Colombian, and Turkish versions, Housewives’ next stop is Nigeria.

The African TV network EbonyLife, which reaches 44 different countries on the continent, recently announced their plans to film a version of the show set in Lagos, Nigeria. Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife, plans to give the reboot “an African flavor,” adding, “"What you see of Africa is what you get on National Geographic. It's what you get by watching elephants or giraffes. I have never seen a giraffe in my entire life.” The series, set to launch next year, will feature a heavy focus on African fashion and music. “The news tends to focus on certain stories. I am not saying those realities don't exist, but there is another reality,” said Abudu. “We want to focus on the younger designers who are doing amazing things, the musicians, the entrepreneurs." 

9. Everybody Loves Kostya, an adaptation of Everybody Loves Raymond

In 2009, Everybody Loves Raymond producer Phil Rosenthal journeyed to Russia to adapt his show for Russian audiences. Although the sitcom was wildly successful in the U.S., adapting it to fit Russian sensibilities was no small feat. Apart from some surface difficulties—for example, one of the Russian producers was resistant to buying chairs for the live audience—Rosenthal also had issues with properly adapting the comedic core of the show. When writing for Raymond, Rosenthal often liked to root his jokes in real-life experiences; when he explained this to the Russian producers, they weren’t quite sold: “They looked at me kind of stunned. ‘Real life is terrible. Why would you want to show real life?’”

At that time, most other U.S. television imports—notably, the Russian version of The Nanny—were over the top and full of caricature, the type of comedy that generally plays pretty well with international audiences. The small quirks of Raymond and co. were lost on Russian audiences; the Russian head writer deemed Raymond “too soft” for a male protagonist, while the network head of comedy television flat-out called Raymond “not funny.” Eventually, the show came together as the Russian writers found their footing writing in more Russian comedic style, making it more Everybody Loves Kostya and less Everybody Loves Raymond, in Russia. Even skeptical Rosenthal, who later released a documentary about the adaptation process, called Exporting Raymond, admitted that they did “an amazing job.”

10. Teach Seán, An Irish Adaptation of Cheers

For a classic pub sitcom set in a Boston, a city with one of the highest concentrations of Irish heritage in America, it’s strange to think of Cheers as an export rather than import—but that’s exactly what’s happening. In December 2012, the Dublin-based Sideline Productions signed a deal with CBS to remake the series for the Irish channel TG4. The remake will move the home bar from bustling Boston to the rural West of Ireland, and Sam Malone’s name is changed to Sean, but that’s not the only change—the series will also be broadcast entirely in the Irish language. With the working title Teach Seán (roughly, Sean’s House), the Cheers reboot will be thoroughly Irish—it’s rumored that, while Sam Malone was a baseball player, Sean’s glory days will be in the traditional Irish sport hurling. Creators aim to have the series on the air by January 2014.

11. Al-Shamshoon, the Arabic Adaptation of The Simpsons

Fans of The Simpsons might say that Homer Simpson without his beer, donuts, and pork products wouldn’t be Homer Simpson at all—and they’d be right. Instead, he’d be Omar Shamshoon, star of the short-lived Arabic adaptation of The Simpsons. In 2005, the Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) set out to adapt one of the most popular television shows of all time into something more appropriate for the Arab world. The MBC hired the region’s best writers and actors to make for a smooth transition, but they also had to “Arabize” some of The Simpsons’ more culturally sensitive content.

After renaming the main characters accordingly—Marge, Bart, and Lisa Simpson became Mona, Badr, and Beeza Shamshoon—and changing Springfield to Rabeea (Arabic for “spring”), they began retooling smaller details to make it more culturally sound for Arabic audiences. In Rabeea, Omar Shamshoon drank Duff soda, hung out at Moe’s Coffee Shop, and ate kahk cookies instead of donuts.

Unfortunately, even with all the work that went into “Arabizing” it, many Arabs still opted for the real thing. With the dawn of satellite TV, people were able to watch the original version with Arabic subtitles, which proved to be preferable to the heavily edited version. Al-Shamshoon only ended up airing for 34 of its scheduled 52 episodes before MBC pulled the plug entirely.