Americans tend to think of the US as the center of the global entertainment industry. And for the most part, they’re absolutely right. It’s not really a secret that Hollywood and New York pretty much make the television and film industry go, but what people probably don’t realize is that, despite American shows inspiring foreign incarnations left and right, the US has imported its fair share of foreign ideas as well. Some, like The Office and Wilfred, are obvious. But there are shows in the United States, including wildly popular reality shows and classic sitcoms alike, that you probably had no idea originated overseas. Such as …
10. American Idol
Wait, how can this be based on a foreign show if the word “American” is right there in the title? Well, it’s not exactly written anywhere that an adaptation cannot change the title of the original. Example: American Idol is the US version of the United Kingdom’s Pop Idol, which was created by the same folks and featured Simon Cowell being an ass, but only ran for two seasons.
And it doesn’t stop with America importing this pop music-meets-reality show sensation, either, with versions having been spawned in places like Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Indonesia, and South Africa. First, we just have to hope that at some point, Bret and Jemaine showed up to audition for New Zealand Idol, and second, while Pop Idol launched the franchise, it was really American Idol that shot it into the stratosphere and turned it into the cash cow it’s become today.
9. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire debuted in the United States in 1999 and was an instant smash sensation, and while it’s no longer on in primetime and not many people probably realize it’s still on at all, there is a syndicated version of the show currently hosted by Cedric the Entertainer that your grandmother probably watches in the afternoon.
Most people probably know that the show is a global franchise, thanks largely to its prominence in the movie Slumdog Millionaire, but contrary to what a lot of you probably think, the US version wasn’t actually the original. This show, like so many others, originated in the United Kingdom in 1998, and with the property quickly being snatched up for American television less than a year later. The British version actually just aired its final episode back in February, but it’s also aired in pretty much every other country around the world: Canada, Cambodia, Iceland, Thailand, and even Afghanistan have all aired or are currently airing iterations of the game show.
8. Dancing with the Stars
It’s hard to believe Dancing with the Stars is almost 10 years old, and harder still to believe that there’s a show that forces us to endure Tom Bergeron week after week. The show debuted in 2005 and played on the idea that, apparently, Americans love watching C-list stars learning to mambo and showing off their jazz hands.
Of course it’s not just Americans who love this stuff, since it was inspired by the British show Strictly Come Dancing. The title of the original is a play on the film Strictly Ballroom and, like our American version, it involves celebrities dancing with professionals, with the show having debuted in 2004. Not only has it been brought to the United States, but there are now more than 40 countries worldwide that have their own version, and that’s just sad on so many levels.
Homeland is an intense thriller focusing on an American soldier who was a prisoner of Al-Qaeda for several years only to finally be returned home, where it’s revealed he was brainwashed into a sleeper terrorist whose mission is to kill the Vice President. The first season was terrific, though the second and third have been, well, less than stellar for the most part. But what really matters here is that the original concept didn’t involve an American soldier at all, because it was set in Israel.
The show Hatufim was created by the same guy who brought Homeland to the United States, Gideon Raff. Like Homeland, it revolves around prisoners of war. In this case, it’s three Israeli soldiers who were captured in Lebanon, and the show is less reliant on huge plot twists and conspiracy theories, and more focused on examining the psychology of what the three prisoners of war endured. Sure, they have a secret they’re hiding, but it doesn’t go as wildly off-the-rails as Homeland.
6. Ugly Betty
Ugly Betty was a popular show on ABC that was so American, it actually starred someone named America. It revolved around the titular “ugly” Betty, a girl with no fashion sense who still somehow manages to land a job at a fashion magazine, because irony. Dealing with high fashion, you’d imagine this show originally aired in France or Italy, right? Nope, it was actually imported from Colombia — specifically, from a telenovela soap opera called Yo soy Betty, la Fea. It ran from 1999 to 2001, and has inspired more adaptations than just the most famous American one, leading to it becoming what some believe to be the most successful telenovela in history.
5. Three’s Company
Beginning in 1977, the American public was introduced to Jack Tripper, a guy who passes out in the bathtub of two young women and, rather than calling the cops, they invite him to live with them while he pretends to be gay so as not to arouse the suspicions of their landlord. Yeah, it’s a pretty dumb concept, but it was a tremendously successful show and introduced the world to the great John Ritter, so we’re okay with that.
The show was actually not an original concept, instead having been based on a British sitcom called Man About the House, which aired from 1973 to 1976 and also led to a film version in 1974. The names are even extremely similar, with one of the female roommates being named Chrissy and the landlord being named Mr. Roper, which are obviously names that Three’s Company borrowed for its own characters.
If you’ve never seen Veep, it’s a hilarious, obscene, biting satire of the political landscape in Washington DC as seen through the eyes of the Vice President and her staff. It’s gotten universal acclaim and has steadily grown into arguably the funniest show on TV, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that it was actually based on a popular British sitcom called The Thick of It. Both shows were created by the same guy, Armando Iannucci, so it’s kind of like how Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant brought The Office to America and made it similar enough to draw comparisons, but unique enough to stand on its own. It’s not a direct copy of The Thick of It, obviously, considering it’s tailored to American politics, but the same social and political satire and viciously funny dialogue is present in both shows.
3. Sanford and Son
Sanford and Son is one of the all-time classic 1970’s sitcoms, and like another show that’s going to pop up in a minute, it was developed for American television by Norman Lear. And when we say “developed for American television” we mean that, believe it or not, the show about Redd Foxx selling junk – literally, that was his job – was actually based on a British show called Steptoe and Son.
Steptoe and Son ran from 1962-1974 on BBC1, and actually inspired a movie adaptation in 1972 and a sequel in 1973. Just like Sanford, it deals with the relationship between an old man and his son. While in Sanford, the father is a cantankerous old coot, Steptoe’s father character falls more into the category of “dirty old man.” Apparently American audiences were willing to watch Redd Foxx say wildly inappropriate, borderline racist things every week, but they couldn’t stand to watch him act like a lech.
It’s been nearly 14 years since Survivor debuted in the United States, and we’ve been stuck with Jeff Probst and his smug, tanned face ever since. Survivor was the show that really opened the door for reality competition in America, which can be viewed as either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether you’re making a ton of money producing them, or if you’re just plain sick of fabricated “real” drama.
Amazingly, this show that changed the face of television in America, for better or worse, is actually an import. The show Expedition Robinson debuted in Sweden in 1997, and the concept had actually been in the works since 1994. The Robinson in the title could mean either Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe, as there was never really any distinction made. To put into perspective how wildly successful the show was in Sweden, consider that at the time of its finale, the country had about 8.8 million residents, and more than four million of them tuned in to watch. For those who are not particularly quick with math, that’s just under half of the entire population watching the final “island council”.
1. All in the Family
All in the Family is arguably the most influential sitcom in the history of television, period. It was brash, it was bold, and believe it or not, it was also imported. The show was based on a British sitcom called Till Death Do Us Part, which aired from 1965-1975 on BBC1. Originally, CBS was trying to acquire the rights to Till Death … and turn it into a showcase for Jackie Gleason, but ABC won the bidding war and thus, All in the Family was born.
Now you’re probably wondering where you can actually see the show that inspired America’s most influential comedy, and the answer is basically nowhere. At least, not if you want to see any of the early episodes, which were wiped out thanks to a peculiar BBC policy that dictated old shows regularly get deleted so the company could reuse the tapes. And this was before reruns became a thing. By all accounts, the show was even more offensive than All in the Family, so maybe it’s for the best.