TV Shows That Flopped In America But Were Hits Internationally

It's no secret that America has a pretty spotty record when it comes to adapting foreign TV shows for the domestic audience, and that's putting it politely. Americanized versions of The Office and Shameless have shown that it isn't impossible to repackage a hit international show for viewers in the States, but even they had their own ups and downs. The Office creator Ricky Gervais once flat-out admitted that he "didn't do the U.S. remake for the art" and claimed that the show had "jumped the shark" in a big way by the end. 

The show still won a total of 46 awards, including a Golden Globe for star Steve Carell, and ran for nine seasons — which makes it something of a rarity, as American remakes of international shows are traditionally axed either during, or immediately after their first season.

From Australia to Israel, from Belgium to Britain and beyond, American networks are constantly on the hunt for properties they think will work Stateside. Picking a winner is one thing, and remaking it well is another, however. Let's take a look at some TV shows that flopped in America but were hits internationally.

Eleventh Hour (2008-2009)

The original: The American remake of Eleventh Hour was inspired by the British series of the same name, which starred Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Ian Hood, a special scientific adviser to Her Majesty's government. Stewart brought a "considerable authority" to the role, according to Variety, and they weren't the only ones impressed by the slow-burning approach taken by the ITV drama. "This program does not have a lot of fluff," TVEquals wrote when they revisited the show on its tenth anniversary. "All the dialogue is carefully crafted to move the story forward and entertain us, without boring us or treating us like imbeciles."

The remake: In 2008, producer Jerry Bruckheimer helped fund a U.S. remake of Eleventh Hour, which aired on CBS — with a British star, oddly enough. "British thespian Rufus Sewell seems to struggle here to maintain an American accent in portraying Dr. Jacob Hood, your basic brilliant biophysicist and special science adviser to the FBI," Reuters reported. "[It] feels like warmed-over bangers-and-mash turned into meatloaf for U.S. consumption." Despite reportedly being one of the most expensive TV shows ever produced at the time, the new Eleventh Hour was pulled after just a single season.

Containment (2016)

The original: Dubbed "a bonkers slice of Belgian apocalypse" by The Guardian, Flemish-language drama Cordon follows a group of survivors quarantined in Belgium's capital city of Antwerp after the outbreak of a deadly virus. To stop the killer strain spreading across Europe, the Belgian government barricade the streets, trapping residents in their homes. A second season was commissioned in 2015 after season 1 did well in the international market, finding a home in the UK on the BBC.

The Telegraph gave the show a glowing review. "It was well-executed, with winning charm, and convincingly rooted in reality," TV critic Michael Hogan said. "Deft characterization made us care about these strangers and pace was ratcheted up to reflect the mounting sense of panic."

The remake: The CW enlisted Julie Plec (showrunner on The Vampire Diaries) for their 2016 remake Containment, which didn't go down well with critics. "For a show about a hardy, communicable disease, Containment isn't the least bit infectious," Joshua Alston lamented in his AV Club review. Variety agreed, calling it "an uninspired drama."

Matt Roush from TV Insider went after the show hard in his review, calling it an "unpleasant misfire" that was "plagued by mediocrity in the writing and stubbornly dull acting." The CW didn't wait long to pull the plug, canceling Containment before the finale had even aired.

Coupling (2003)

The original: The original version of Coupling is often referred to as the British version of Friends. In fact, there are those who believe that Coupling is actually a better version of Friends, including Slate's Boer Deng. "There are six of them, and a variety of romantic pairings ensue, but a comparison to Friends doesn't get you far," Deng said. "Coupling gives us a funnier, raunchier, and more honest look at relationships."

The hit show (created by Steven Moffat, co-mastermind of BBC's Sherlock and a former showrunner on Doctor Who) was nominated in the Best TV Comedy category at the 2001 British Comedy Awards, and while it didn't win, the cast and crew tasted glory in 2003 when they were again nominated and this time triumphed.

The remake: In 2003, NBC moved Coupling to Chicago with Moffat's help, but with the ratings looking dire just four episodes into the American remake, the network decided not to air the final six and blamed the whole thing on the British sense of humor. NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker even went as far as saying "some of the programming just sucked," which got under Moffat's skin.

"I only found out it had been canceled when I read it on the internet," he told London's Evening Standard. "Jeff Zucker said it sucked and no one was happier than him to see it end. That's beyond the pale, that's infantile. It's not Coupling that sucks, it's NBC."

Hostages (2013-2014)

The original: Israeli series Bnei Aruba (Hostages) is a ten-episode thrill ride revolving around the terrible predicament that heart surgeon Yael Danon (Ayelet Zurer) finds herself in: After being asked to operate on the Israeli Prime Minister, gunmen take her family hostage and warn her that they'll be killed if the Prime Minister survives his surgery. BBC picked up the series and it was released internationally on DVD.

Reviewing the DVD release, Huffington Post called Bnei Aruba "edge-of-the-seat stuff" and compared the show to Homeland at its best. "As the woman who must try to save her family, and the Prime Minister, as well as dealing with her own sense of betrayal, Ayelet Zurer is terrific, surely an international star in the making."

The remake: The U.S. version of Hostages fell right out of the gate, with Media Life Magazine bemoaning the premiere missing its "one chance to sink the hook into viewers," and they weren't alone in their disappointment. Perhaps the biggest problem with the Toni Collette-led remake was its length, a byproduct of "American TV's massive appetite for content," according to The Guardian.

"Hostages always has to keep everything as slow as possible because it needed (in the original CBS transmission) to keep going from September until January," argued the paper. "In its dreams, it would possibly still remain unresolved by 2020 TV season." Those dreams were dashed in 2014 when CBS announced that Hostages had been released.

Scoundrels (2010)

The original: Unless you hail from New Zealand, you've probably never heard of Outrageous Fortune, but it's the longest-running series in the nation's history. The Auckland-set crime drama/comedy ran for 107 episodes across six seasons, following the exploits of the West family in the wake of patriarch Wolf's incarceration. When the show concluded in 2010, it was lauded for its contribution to New Zealand television.

"As for how we should view the series as a whole, that word 'legacy' is the key," Kiwi new outlet Stuff said of the show. "Outrageous Fortune will surely be remembered as the most successful locally made television series of all time... It proved that edgy local programming that was willing to take risks could work, by picking up viewers in droves and retaining its audience from year to year."

The remake: Retaining viewers from year to year was something that Scoundrels never got the chance to do. The American remake of Outrageous Fortune began the same year that the original show wrapped...and it ended the same year. ABC closed the curtain on Scoundrels after the numbers spelled trouble and reviews were less than enthusiastic.

The Boston Globe called the remake "hard to watch," pinpointing Virginia Madsen's performance as new breadwinner Cheryl West. "She's always yelling, except when she breaks down in an unearned crying scene. And the tone of the show is irritating as it strains to be whimsical, patting itself on the back for being so darn quirky."

The Inbetweeners (2012)

The original: 2018 marked the tenth anniversary of E4's critically acclaimed sitcom The Inbetweeners, which came to an end in 2010 after three memorable seasons. Following the exploits of four very ordinary teenage boys, the show came as a breath of fresh air to UK audiences. "When The Inbetweeners pitched up in 2008, there hadn't been a hit British sitcom about teenagers since The Young Ones," The Guardian observed. "In the U.S., teens existed in glossy California dramas or gross-out coming-of-age movies. In Britain, they featured in gritty films and series about crime."

The Inbetweeners Movie smashed the record for a British comedy when it opened in 2011; in 2014, The Inbetweeners 2 (directed by series creators Iain Morris and Damon Beesley) broke that record, pulling in £2.75 million ($3.75 million) in its first day.

The remake: The overabundance of teen content was only part of the problem when it came to MTV's take on the show; the fact that it was nigh-on unwatchable was a bigger sticking point. "Don't pre-judge it," Iain Morris pleaded after a two-minute pilot was roundly torn apart, but things only got worse from there. 

The Independent's Mark Hughes gave up hope after three episodes, finding that the brutal banter the boys became famous for in the original was sorely lacking. "The U.S. version feels more like an episode of The Wonder Years," he argued. "Genuine themes of friendship and bonding are referenced far more explicitly and frequently than was ever the case in the British show."

Kath & Kim (2008-2009)

The original: Australian sitcom Kath & Kim started airing down under in 2002; over the next ten years there were four seasons, a TV movie, and a feature film. 2012's Kath & Kimderella might have missed the mark, but the award-winning show remains an Australian classic. It follows mother-daughter combo Kath Day-Knight (Jane Turner) and Kim Craig (Gina Riley) as they negotiate the minefield that is suburban Australia, a theme that seemed to strike a chord with viewers at the time.

"Politicians take note: to watch Kath & Kim is to understand the evolving nature of Australia," The Age said in 2005. "The great Australian dream is no longer owning your own home. If Kath & Kim is any guide, the new status symbols are renovations, cable TV and mezzanine spas in the backyard."

The remake: Selma Blair and Molly Shannon were cast in the title roles for the American remake, which only aired for a single season on NBC (and E! In Canada) in 2008. Original stars Jane Turner and Gina Riley served as executive producers on the American version and also offered themselves up as consultants, though their input couldn't save this doomed undertaking.

"[The] Americanized version of Kath & Kim [...] goes into the record books on these shores as a contender for worst remake ever," SFGate said in a scathing review. "In the American version, there's no humor at all."

Viva Laughlin (2007)

The original: Blackpool is a murder mystery musical centered around arcade owner Ripley Holden (David Morrissey), an ambitious man who dreams of turning his humble gambling spot into a Vegas-style casino until a killing on his premises derails his plans. Peter Bowker's miniseries launched the careers of several young British actors and went on to be nominated for a Golden Globe in 2006, but it wasn't fully recognized as a classic until much later.

"There probably hasn't been such an unusual BBC drama commission since, with characters bursting into song and dance numbers at pivotal moments in the plot," Den of Geek said on Blackpool's tenth anniversary. "Aside from bursting into song, the show is memorable for the surreal dance numbers that accompany each big number."

The remake: "Viva Laughlin on CBS may well be the worst new show of the season, but is it the worst show in the history of television?" This was the question The New York Times asked when the American remake of Blackpool appeared in 2007, only to vanish two episodes into its planned seven-episode season. The show (exec-produced by Hugh Jackman, who appeared in the pilot) just didn't go down well with viewers.

"Blackpool was kitsch, over-the-top, wonderfully acted — Sarah Parish, David Tennant and John Thompson were also in the cast — and gloriously addictive," The Guardian declared in their detailed Viva Laughlin autopsy. "In short, it was everything that Viva Laughlin ... is not."

Amanda's (1983)

The original: Often hailed as the best thing that Monty Python legend John Cleese ever committed to film, Fawlty Towers was a short-lived '70s sitcom (there were only two six-episode seasons) that still lives long in the memory for fans of British comedy. Cleese's character Basil Fawlty (the irritable owner of the titular hotel) gradually became ingrained in U.K. pop culture as Fawlty Towers continued to reach new generations through the magic of reruns, becoming one of those feel-good shows everybody's seen.

"People use the show as a mood-changer, which is lovely," Cleese told The Independent. "It makes people feel better, and I'm delighted about that." In 2017, a panel of comedians named it the best British sitcom ever.

The remake: There were three different attempts at adapting the story for U.S. audiences, but the most ill-conceived was the 1983 series Amanda's, which cut the character of Basil out all together. Bea Arthur (Maude) starred as Amanda Cartwright, a recently widowed woman left in charge of the family hotel. "The characters that we know as Basil and Sybil are rolled into one so that Amanda is at the centre of everything," one Fawlty Towers fansite writes. "This could have worked [but] there was limited potential in a character with nobody of a similar age to play against."