TV without borders

A guide to classic American shows born overseas.

Published September 4, 2008 10:13AM (EDT)

Archie Bunker may have been born in the USA, but he wasn't conceived here. You'd never know from his accent that, like many of his quintessentially American television counterparts, he's got British blood. It's no secret that "American Idol" isn't a natural-born citizen, especially with that egomaniacal British relic basically running the show. And the Dutch "Big Brother" would be an only child were it not for its global franchise of siblings.

Of course, some parents should've zipped up after they got lucky with their first. Two American "Fawlty Towers" weren't better than the British one ("Amanda's" and "Payne," we're looking at you), and the British "Friends"-style comedy "Coupling" fared better when it was single. When it comes to TV imports arriving in the States, there's been good, bad and ugly. We're just giving you the good and "Ugly Betty." {clear: both} th, td {vertical-align: top} thead th {font-weight:bold;} td, tbody th {border-top: 1px solid #ddd; padding: 12px 0 24px 6px} th img, td img {margin-top: 6px} div.series_date {font: 0.85em verdana, sans-serif; color: #666; } h3 {font-weight: bold; text-indent: -.5em; margin: 6px 0 3px} th.foreign_title, th.series_title {width: 184px;} thead th {padding-left: 6px;} span.flag {color: #000; padding-left: 28px; background-position: 0 0.2em; background-repeat: no-repeat;} {background-image: url(uk_flag.gif)} span.netherlands {background-image: url(netherlands_flag.gif)} span.sweden {background-image: url(sweden_flag.gif)} span.japan {background-image: url(japan_flag.gif)} span.colombia {background-image: url(colombia_flag.gif)}

Foreign Title American Title How It Translated

"Till Death Do Us Part"

U.K. 1965–1975

"All in the Family"

The American version moved the story from the East End of London to Queens, N.Y., but centered on an equally bigoted working-class antihero, though Archie Bunker was more riled over race mingling than the socialism that upset his British predecessor, Alf Garnett.

"Steptoe and Son"

U.K. 1962–1965, 1970–1974

"Sanford and Son"

The African-American Sanfords of Los Angeles were dealing with pretty much the same junk as their white counterparts in London, and they hated to love each other just as rowdily.

"Man About the House"

U.K. 1973–1976

"Three's Company"

The sexual subtext of this two-girls-and-a-guy comedy translated so beautifully across the pond they didn't even have to change Chrissy's name.

"One Foot in the Grave"

U.K. 1990–2000


The late-'90s show "Cosby" was a return to form for the man behind one of the most important black sitcoms ever, "The Cosby Show." The only thing black about its British relative was the comedy.

"Big Brother"

Netherlands 1999–2006

"Big Brother"

Americans took the democracy out of the reality show watched live by millions by introducing the head of household position and making it all about the money.

"Expedition Robinson"

Sweden 1997–2005


What the show lost in dignity it gained in currency. Money was only an afterthought in Sweden, where 48 players tried to foster communal cooperation -- not fame -- while competing in tasks too intense for American castaways.

"Queer as Folk"

U.K. 1999–2000

"Queer as Folk"

Jettisoning the quirky comedy of the original gave the American version more time to strip down to the bare essential: hot sex.

"Iron Chef/Ironmen of Cooking [Ryori no Tetsujin]"

Japan 1993–2002

"Iron Chef America"

The secret ingredient in the American import? Old masters like Masaharu Morimoto meet new masters like Bobby Flay and Mario Batali in the American Kitchen Stadium, an industrialized take on the traditional Japanese culinary theater.

"The Office"

U.K. 2001–2003

"The Office"

The humor in Scranton, Pa., is wetter than it is in Slough, England, but awkward intercubical glances abound on either side of the Atlantic, and it's always hard to ignore that omnipresent camera.

"Yo soy Betty, la fea"

Colombia 1999–2001

"Ugly Betty"

When South America's twisty telenovela lands in high-budget New York, Betty is still ugly, but the result is pure glamour.

By Logan Scherer

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