The program in question is “Broadchurch,” a gripping, highly emotional and ultimately devastating story about residents of a small southern England town plunged into turmoil during the increasingly difficult investigation into the murder of a young boy. The original British version stars “Doctor Who” alum David Tennant, Olivia Colman and David Bradley, who portrays the sinister Lord Walder Frey on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” the man responsible for the infamous Red Wedding massacre.
“Broadchurch” is one of those productions that will be (or should be) on multiple nomination lists in a number of categories when awards season rolls around next year. I’d like to suggest that it doesn’t seem to qualify as escapist entertainment for hot August nights, especially during this summer of “Under the Dome” and “Sharknado,” and that might lead to lesser ratings than it deserves. Time and Live+7 ratings will tell. But there will be no shortage of media coverage for this uncommonly profound production throughout the rest of the summer -- and once again at year’s end, when critics assemble their annual 10-best lists.
For what it’s worth, the first season of “Broadchurch,” which ran for eight episodes, was a sensation in England. BBC America proudly declared that it was tweeted about more than any drama in U.K. history, a noteworthy boast this summer given the sudden weight so many people in the television business are giving to tweet totals rather than total viewers. (Do all those tweets matter? Are they more valuable than rating points? That depends on whom you ask.) Regardless, across the pond “Broadchurch” was a giant ratings success, too.
So why would Fox (or any American network) even want to try to reimagine this property? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but the odds that it will turn out well aren’t great, given the very specific qualities of the original. It would be like trying to duplicate the uniquely British humor of “Coupling,” one of the funniest comedies in the history of television, and the one with perhaps the greatest insight into male-female relationships -- or trying to clone the singularly profound observations about adolescence that pulsed through the BBC’s “Skins,” the best drama about teenage life that television has produced. NBC and MTV, respectively, learned the hard way not to mess with perfection.
Let’s not even mention NBC’s recent attempt to make an Americanized version of “Prime Suspect.” The show that it ultimately evolved into might have worked here had it not been compromised at the start by existing in the formidable shadow of the original (seen here on PBS). I would locate “Broadchurch” on the list of extraordinary shows such as these that would seem to defy duplication.
I’m not wishing Fox the worst here, but this specific announcement coming at this particular time would seem to indicate that the broadcast networks’ sudden collective frenzy to begin producing short-run series, limited series, mini-series or ongoing series with greatly reduced annual episode orders has them tripping over each other to gobble up everything they can.
But the very shows that have inspired this new trend are not remakes of series from other lands. They are distinct and dynamic originals like CBS’ “Under the Dome” and Fox’s “The Following,” and countless acclaimed series on pay and basic cable. “The Following” is truly the boldest programming move of the year on broadcast: an unabashedly adult drama filled with moments of graphic horror that ran uninterrupted for only 15 episodes rather than the standard 22-24 during its first season. Fox noted last week that “The Following” was the No. 1 network drama and the No. 1 new series of the season among adults 18-49 when its Live+7 ratings were added to its premiere numbers.
Certainly, comparisons between “Broadchurch” and AMC’s “The Killing” come immediately to mind, but they don’t quite cut it, even though both horrifyingly revolve around the murders of children and young teenagers. “Forbrydelsen,” the series on which “The Killing” is based, was a hit in Holland but had not been seen here, at least not by an appreciable audience. The BBC’s “Broadchurch” will have been seen here (or should have been seen here) by a large number of people by the time the Fox version rolls around.
(On a side note, one of the more pleasing television stories of this summer was the creative resurgence of “The Killing,” a series that proved so frustrating in its first season and so uninteresting in its second that critics and fans alike seemed all too ready to give up on it. Then AMC shocked everyone with a third season renewal and improbably delivered the series’ best season yet.)
The Fox remake of “Broadchurch” could be a surprise success, but I have to think its chances will be stronger if everyone involved seeks to make it as different from the original as possible. But that might once again raise the question, “Why bother?”