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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 08:47 GMT
US Office opens for business
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

The US version of hit British sitcom The Office goes on air on Thursday - but can it match the success of the original or will it go the same way as other recent remakes?

The Office: An American Workplace
Steve Carell (right) plays the boss in the US version of The Office
Actor Steve Carell, who plays the US answer to Ricky Gervais' David Brent, had not seen the UK version when he was asked to audition for The Office: An American Workplace.

After watching one episode, he decided it may not be such a good idea to keep watching.

"At that point, I think I got a little bit hesitant and nervous because Ricky Gervais is so wonderful and definitive in his portrayal," Carell says.

"So I figured the best thing for me to do was to not watch too much more of him. There was no way I was going to equal what he did, and I certainly didn't want to try to recreate what he did."

Rather than copy the original characters and scripts, the US cast and crew have taken the same scenario and tailored it for an American audience.

Ricky Gervais as David Brent
Ricky Gervais (right) co-created and starred in the British version
Carell, who has appeared in films Bruce Almighty and Anchorman, used Brent's mould to create an all-American idiot.

So Brent, the bumbling boss who became a British icon, has become Michael Scott from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

"I figured a blank slate was the best opportunity for me to create any sort of character that might have a life of its own," he says.

While the style and tone are familiar, the US version looks and feels more like an American show.

After the original was the surprise winner of two Golden Globes in 2004, the early signs are that the remake may have found a way to maintain the magic.

"It was no-one's intention to be better than or to equal the BBC version," Carell says. "Just to make a very funny, rich show based on that template."

Carell (right) also starred in movie comedy Anchorman
With input from Gervais and writing partner Stephen Merchant, the US series has been overseen by Greg Daniels, who co-created King of the Hill and worked on Seinfeld and The Simpsons.

He says there are important "cultural differences" between the two countries and wants American viewers to say "oh my God, that's exactly how it is in my office".

They cannot relate so closely to the original, which was shown on cable channel BBC America, he says.

Despite the changes, Mr Daniels says the tone of the new version is still "very different from a lot of stuff on American TV".

He was afraid the NBC network might turn it into just another American TV sitcom, with laughter tracks, beautiful actors and pristine surroundings, he says.

I'm not expecting it to start off with a huge bang
Greg Daniels
Executive producer
But they were "incredibly supportive of the British original", shot as a mock documentary, "and wanted to do something different".

NBC's mainstream audience may not take to it straight away, he says - and network executives and producers are prepared for that.

"But we're kind of hoping it's going to have more of a Seinfeld-like story in the ratings - people who really love comedy are going to find it and they're going to tell their friends.

"But I'm not expecting it to start off with a huge bang."

Remake risks

The Office is the latest chapter in a long history of US television executives plundering the best British sitcoms and claiming them as their own, in the search for ratings.

In the 1970s, US remakes of well-loved British series Till Death Do Us Part, Steptoe and Son and Man About the House all became huge hits with American audiences.

But in recent years, UK comedies have not travelled well. New versions of Coupling, Cold Feet and two attempts at Fawlty Towers in the 1980s and 1990s all flopped spectacularly.

David Brent would undoubtedly be delighted with his global influence - but it is now up to his American cousin Michael Scott to keep up the good work.

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23 Mar 05 |  Entertainment
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Actor Carell set for US Office
30 Jan 04 |  Entertainment
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26 Jan 04 |  Entertainment
How The Office invaded Hollywood
26 Jan 04 |  Entertainment
Coupling fails to hook US viewers
15 Oct 03 |  Entertainment


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