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Whatever Happened To The British Remake Of That 70's Show?

For eight seasons between 1998 and 2006 on Fox, the gang from That 70's Show made us laugh our bell bottoms off. Set during the time of explosive societal and cultural change that was the late 1970's, the series primarily focused on teenager Eric Forman (Topher Grace) and his nextdoor neighbor, longtime crush, and sometimes girlfriend Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon) as they navigate the perils of teendom. Along for the ride were their friends: good-looking dumbbell Michael Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), rich popular girl Jackie Burkhart (Mila Kunis), cynical stoner Steven Hyde (Danny Masterson), and foreign exchange student "Fez" (Wilmer Valderrama). Also key to the series' huge ensemble: Donna's parents Bob (Don Stark) and Midge (Tanya Roberts), good-natured weirdos who never met a fad they didn't like, and Eric's parents Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith), the latter of whom never met a rear end he didn't want to insert his foot into.

The show's witty writing and likable cast made it a major hit, and one that today's streaming audiences find to be totally bingeworthy. Its humor, though, didn't always translate well for some overseas audiences — particularly our friends the British, who have provided us Yanks with all kinds of fodder for our television screens over the years. You probably know that a ton of American TV shows, from Sanford and Son and Three's Company to Shameless and The Office, have been adapted from British series over the years — but it doesn't seem to work the other way around nearly as often, and That 70's Show might help to illustrate why. In 1999, a year after the premiere of the series' first season, British network ITV debuted Days Like These — a virtual carbon copy of That 70's Show produced by Carsey-Werner, the same production house responsible for the original version. Only 13 episodes were produced, of which a scant ten actually made it to air before the show was canceled — the likely result of the show being a very strange cultural experiment, indeed.

Days Like These used the same scripts as That 70's Show

Rather than adapting the premise of That 70's Show for a British audience, Carsey-Werner chose to go a more direct route: Days Like These was shot using the original show's actual scripts, only changing location names and some cultural references for Brits. Rather than being set in fictional Point Place, Wisconsin, Days was set in the actual town of Luton — and while Eric Forman (portrayed by Max Wrottesley) and his mother Kitty (Ann Bryson) retained their names from the original, the rest of the cast had their names tweaked, some of them in baffling fashion.

Red Forman, for example, was renamed "Ron" (even though Red is short for Reginald, which we find to be a pretty British-sounding moniker). The Pinciottis' surname was changed to Palmer, Kelso's was changed to McGuire, and Jackie's to Burget — and those were the more subtle changes. For some reason, Steven Hyde became "Dylan Jones" in the British version, and Fez no longer hailed from some indeterminate country (a running gag throughout That 70's Show's run), but was pretty explicitly Norwegian — given that his name was changed to Torbjorn Rasmussen.

Brits didn't take to Days Like These, and the network didn't help

These superficial changes somehow failed to make That 70's Show's distinctly American humor magically land with British audiences, and in a post-mortem report on Days Like These, the BBC noted that ITV's strategy to try to find an audience — shuffling it around to various nights of the week, an ironically American approach — only served to alienate those viewers who did enjoy the series. Not that it would have necessarily made a difference: "Days Like These was launched by ITV with excessive hype and an equal amount of hope — and then completely failed to deliver," read the BBC's 1999 analysis. "The reaction of [ITV] to its dud was shoddy — after three episodes on a Friday evening, the series was switched to Sunday evening, Friday evening [again], and then disappeared for three months before turning up late on Wednesdays. Considering the great belief the executives had in Days Like These after seeing the episodes, albeit before transmission, they abdicated responsibility with alarming speed."

ITV subsequently pretended as if Days Like These never existed, which was actually a fairly prudent stance. Several of the series' episodes are available to watch in their entirety on YouTube, and it's a surreal experience — like taking in a missive from an alternate reality in which American writers who couldn't get their series off the ground stateside relocated to the U.K., just barely tweaking their premise and writing style to accommodate the change, with predictably off-putting results. It's worth noting, though, that the BBC was wrong about one thing: its piece on Days Like These posited that That 70's Show was "hardly a classic either," an assertion which constitutes fighting words here at Looper.