‘Law & Order: UK’ Puts An Old Show in a New Place

by | September 30, 2010 at 9:41 AM | Law & Order, TV News

 Ben Daniels, Bill Paterson and Freema Agyeman in the BBC America series 'Law & Order: UK' (AP Photo/ Wolf Films and NBC Universal)

Ben Daniels, Bill Paterson and Freema Agyeman in the BBC America series 'Law & Order: UK' (AP Photo/ Wolf Films and NBC Universal)


BY: Frazier Moore

NEW YORK – Where scripted shows on U.S. networks are concerned, viewers know it’s all about them.

They know certain shows have been imported for them and specially tailored for U.S. tastes. British comedies spawned ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Sanford and Son’ in the early 1970s. More recently, ‘Ugly Betty’ was adapted from a Colombian telenovela. And NBC’s ‘The Office’ was a domestic reimagining of the British original.

Meanwhile, it’s no surprise that American series are sold around the world, dubbed or subtitled for each local audience.

Even so, who knew ‘Married … With Children’ had been shot from scratch in a Spanish production — or that ‘The Nanny’ inspired homespun productions in countries including Poland and Turkey?

U.S. viewers can get a dandy look at such a foreign transplant thanks to cable’s BBC America, which is bringing 26 episodes of ‘Law & Order: UK‘ back to the land where the ‘Law & Order‘ TV empire was born.

Premiering Sunday at 10:30 p.m. EDT, with subsequent episodes airing Fridays at 9 p.m. EDT, ‘Law & Order: UK’ is unmistakably kin to the ‘L&O’ family.

While the classic Mike Post licks have been swapped out for a different theme, each episode begins with the sonorously voiced “In the criminal justice system …” rap. (Though here, it’s “the crown prosecutors” who prosecute offenders.) And — never fear — location cards remain part of the format, along with the accompanying “cha-CHUNG” sound effect.

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New York City plays an integral role in ‘Law & Order,’ but its British offshoot is set in London, where people say “mate” and threaten to “put him in the dock”; where they wear funny wigs in court and drive on the other side of the road.

Each episode has been adapted from the original series, seen on NBC from 1990 through last season. The first ‘L&O: UK’ hour is based on the script for “Cradle to Grave,” where a baby is found dead, possibly the victim of tenant harassment. It first aired on ‘Law & Order’ in 1992.

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The regulars of ‘L&O: UK’ are solid but likely to be unknowns to most American viewers: Jamie Bamber (‘Outcasts,’ ‘Battlestar Galactica’) as Detective Sergeant Matt Devlin, Bradley Walsh (‘The Old Curiosity Shop’) as Detective Sergeant Ronnie Brooks, Ben Daniels (‘The Passion,’ ‘The State Within’) as Senior Crown Prosecutor James Steel and Freema Agyeman (‘Doctor Who,’ ‘Little Dorritt’) as Junior Crown Prosecutor Alesha Phillips.

Not exactly household names. But the cast’s makeup and relationships will feel instantly familiar to any ‘L&O’ fan.

This would include fans in Britain, where (along with dozens of other countries) the imported ‘Law & Order’ already had been airing when ‘Law & Order: UK’ premiered last year on the ITV network. That show has since proved a big success, averaging about a one-quarter share of the viewing audience.

“After ‘Law & Order’ was broadcast there, we made an English version and it turned into a hit, and, lo and behold, it’s coming back to the U.S.,” said ‘Law & Order’ creator Dick Wolf. “This is getting pretty close to a perpetual motion machine.”

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Other global ventures for the ‘L&O’ franchise include French and Russian productions of ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent’ and a Russian version of ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.’ Maybe in the future: ‘Law & Order’ customized for the Middle East, Asia and Sweden.

“There’s an endless fascination with crime,” Wolf said, “and I’m delighted that there is.”

But Yanks captioned or dubbed aren’t enough anymore, said Michael Edelstein, NBC Universal International’s London-based president for international TV production, who hopes to seed the world with homegrown versions of ‘Law & Order’ and other NBCU properties.

“U.S. television is remarkable for how it’s consumed ravenously around the world,” Edelstein said. “But it’s not the only game in town. Most television is created locally, and viewers are more comfortable seeing people speak their own language, with their own cities represented.

“I think studios have woken up and realized there is money to be made by serving markets around the world on a local level.”

Phil Rosenthal went local far from his home when he helped transform his U.S. family comedy, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ for Russian television.

“I have to believe that what we did in the original ‘Raymond’ was universal,” he said. The Barones, of course, were a squabbling family on New York’s Long Island, “but I learned that the more specific you get, the more universal you become. If you’re very specific, this seems to reach across cultures.”

Rosenthal spent weeks in Moscow as a culture-bridging adviser for the comedy christened “Vse Lubyat Kostya.”

“But there were many times when the Russians didn’t seem to care about my advice,” he declared.

His creative adventure is captured in a feature-length documentary, ‘Exporting Raymond,’ which is winning applause on the festival circuit and will likely be distributed nationally next year.

Rosenthal’s film recalls an unforgettably funny scene in the CBS sitcom pilot 16 years ago. It sprang from Raymond giving his parents a Fruit of the Month Club subscription. But the Russian producers clipped that scene from their own script.

“They said, ‘We don’t have Fruit of the Month.’ So they changed it to Water of the Week,” Rosenthal reported with bemusement. “To my mind, fruit is funnier than water.”

But who can argue with the locals?

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