Does America Really Want All These Foreign Crime Shows?

Today Fox announced that it is planning to remake the British series Broadchurch, continuing the current, not-always-successful trend of American television remaking foreign crime dramas. But are these adaptations working?

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Today Fox announced that it is planning to remake the British crime series Broadchurch, which will premiere in its original form on BBC America starting next week, as an event series, continuing the trend of American television remakes of foreign crime dramas.

But are these adaptations working?

The most prominent example of the genre, AMC's The Killing, doesn't do a very clear or succinct job of answering that question. The series, based on the Danish smash Forbrydelsen, floundered in its first season, receiving harsh criticism for ultimately not answering the show's big question, "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" Though, our Richard Lawson contended that the show did get better in its second season, and it was surprisingly renewed for a third after being canceled for a time. And it may now be finally hitting its creative stride. The Killing's most recent episode had BuzzFeed's Kate Aurthur declaring that the show had an "amazing and unexpected comeback." But while the series premiered to strong ratings, those numbers dipped following the frustrating first season finale.  The third season premiere held steady with season two, but a phenomenon this is not.

Meanwhile, FX is in the middle of its first season of The Bridge, another series that features cops hunting a killer, based on a popular Swedish/Danish drama. The Bridge divided critics when it premiered, and opened to "solid," if not fantastic, ratings. Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times called it "louder, bolder and more lurid than the original, and also more boring." Others, though, weren't so damning; The Bridge's Metacritic score is a solid 77. Despite the positive-enough critical reception, though, ratings dropped steeply in week two, and any sort of palpable buzz for the show has faded. So much so that we almost forgot it was on.

Remaking shows for American audiences, sometimes to great success, is nothing new—All in the Family was a remake. And the practice is certainly not limited to crime drama. Showtime's water-cooler thriller Homeland, for instance, is an adaptation of the Israeli series Hatufim, and of course there's the undeniable mega-success of The Office. But when it comes to the very of-the-moment crime genre in particular, there's little evidence to support continuing the borrowing trend. The Killing and The Bridge are certainly not failures, but they're not exactly successes either. NBC had a definitive flop when it tried to recreate the Helen Mirren-starring British series Prime Suspect with a high-profile American version (whose only real similarity to the original was the title) starring Maria Bello. It was a solid show, but the viewers never came, as they haven't really come for these recent cable imports. And yet networks keep carting the blueprints for these series across the ocean, despite there being only meager signs that audiences are hungry for them.

Remaking Broadchurch for an American audience seems, at first glance, not so logical.  Broadchurch,  — which, with its male/female detective pairing and single-case-over-a-season structure, is earning inevitable comparisons to The Killing — is a certified hit in the UK, but there's no guarantee it will translate, or be translated well. (Though, of course, the original series is already in English.) With the original now available in America, a remake feels a bit redundant. And it's probably on the wrong network; the British version has a polished sheen that would work much better on a cable network than on sloppy, occasionally sleazy Fox. At the very least, the British series creator is on board for the American version, and Fox is, for the moment, calling its adaptation an "event series," meaning it's a limited run and can thus tell its story more neatly and efficiently. (Though we all know that networks can change their minds about that.)

The Broadchurch reboot is still a ways away — Fox has it planned for 2014-2015. By the time it arrives we'll have some firmer data about the viability of these adaptations.  For now Fox is simply jumping on a precarious trend and hoping that they'll be the ones to, well, finally crack the case.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.