The Eighth Doctor may still hold a special place in the heart of Whovians, but the joint American/Canadian/British effort to relaunch Doctor Who in 1996 failed to impress US audiences, despite good ratings in the UK. Almost 20 years later, Doctor Who may have a much wider audience, but showrunner Steven Moffat told the BBC he does not write shows with overseas sales in mind.
“I don’t think creatively it makes any sense at all to try to imagine selling your show to the rest of the world. You’d get it wrong anyway. Sherlock and Doctor Who are both doing rather well but they couldn’t be more definitively British. They’re obtusely British. They’re about as British as it gets. You shouldn’t be afraid of being British because that’s what you’re selling.”
Moffat has already declined CBS’ request to do a remake of the BBC’s hit show Sherlock. Moffat explains,”We declined, saying we weren’t ready to do that. Shortly after that, they announced they were making an updated version of Sherlock Holmes. Those are the bald facts. I can’t comment on how it turned out or the people that made it because I’ve never seen it.”
There was some concern from BBC executives when CBS decided to go ahead and make their own version, Elementary. However Moffat now says “We don’t own Sherlock Holmes. We don’t even own the idea of updating Sherlock Holmes. That’s been done before, several times actually. So there’s no action to be taken.”
One of Moffat’s earlier shows, Coupling, produced by his wife Sue Vertue was remade widely.
“Sue and I would always let the rights to Coupling go for a reasonable fee so long as we got foreign travel out of it, to be quite honest,” Moffat admits. But the US remake only lasted four episodes. Moffat puts part of the blame for its short lifespan on network interference.
“I didn’t like any part of that process. I was fairly against doing it at all because we were still making the British version and that just divides your thoughts. It wasn’t terrible. I saw a cut of their episode three, which I thought was pretty good. Then it went to the network execs and they asked for some changes and it became terrible. So that may have been typical of the process they went through.”
US remakes of a British TV shows have a rather high casualty rate, but oddly that doesn’t seem to affect the demand. While in Australia we seem perfectly content to watch the British original – and probably prefer the British versions – Moffat says of UK audiences:
“We mostly watch shows made by our own country. There are no shows from America that are big hits in Britain. They’re all minor hits. Your mates may talk about them but no-one’s watching them. They’re getting squashed by the locally-made shows. Always.”
Game of Thrones didn’t even make the British top ten shows last year, despite the producers smart move on using a largely British cast. It lost out to both Doctor Who and Downton Abbey. Doubtless American audiences are happy with both shows. When asked about potential foreign remakes of Doctor Who, Moffat unsurprisingly answered
“If anyone were to ask me, I’d say it’s an absolutely insane idea. You couldn’t have more than one Doctor Who in the world. It would just be dreadful.”
We agree. Thankfully the Doctor in safe hands.