Growing up in Australia, a lot of the television shows consumed by myself, particularly dramas and comedies, originated from the United States, who arguably dominated the market.
However, there are some shows created in Australia and the UK which I really enjoyed, one of which being Skins. This show was both funny and dramatic, but above all, accurately showed what it was like to be a teenager. The cast felt real, it was gritty, the language use was that of young people at the time, and it didn’t shy away from showing the glamourous and the not-so-glamorous aspects of being a teenager in love, going to parties, navigating school and relationships and the world at an age when you felt like an adult, but was still very much a child.
It was a very successful show in the UK, and so the US decided to make their own version of it. The pilot was almost shot-for-shot a remake (they also did this with The Inbetweeners, another UK television show about teenagers).
Instead of taking the basic essence of Skins – the realities of navigating being a teenager – and adapting it for an American audience, using US culture and experiences, they just took what was a largely UK experience, watered it down for an MTV audience, and expected it to work.
But they took out the thing which made Skins, Skins. They removed a lot of the partying, sex, drugs, alcohol and swearing. They showed a cleaner version, effectively removing the reality, and therefore the relatability, of the show.
This is the fundamental flaw with a lot of US remakes of other countries television shows, because “transmedia strategy towards television fictions means involvement with the viewers, but also, and maybe most importantly, an engagement which generates a fan phenomenon, or at least the hyping of its possibility. This is especially relevant among teen television fiction and its teen viewers, since they are the kind of audience that uses new technologies and social networks on a regular basis,” (Grandio & Bonaut 2012, p 571). Because the US Skins took the material from the UK version, kept it the same but watered down, they didn’t add anything to the show – in fact, they actively took away one of the key things which made the show popular with fans. They then expected these same UK Skins fans to enjoy the new version.
In today’s digital world, where people all over the world are not restricted to watching shows from their direct locality, this eliminates the need to create a show without adding anything new to it.
While many different transnational television works, sometimes even better than the original – for example, the US The Office is considered superior to the original UK version – they still face the same hurdles in attempting to create something which is respectful of the source material, but that serves the new version as well in order to make something which is quality television.
Grandío, M & Bonaut, J 2012, ‘Transmedia audiences and television fiction: A comparative approach between Skins (UK) and El Barco (Spain)’, Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, vol 9, no 2, pp 558 – 574, (link).