The entertainment industries of any given culture or country can hugely influence those in other places. Hollywood, for example, has inspired the nicknames of movie industries all over the globe, such as Bollywood (mainstream Hindi cinema), Nollywood (the movie industry in Nigeria), and Aussiewood (Australian cinema).
That notion applies to the world of television – and there's no better example than British TV's influence on the United States.
In this piece, we'll take you through thirteen examples of British TV shows that significantly impacted America in one way or another. It's not an exhaustive list by any means, but it undoubtedly conveys the influence the Brits have had across the pond.
Steptoe and Son
Steptoe and Son is a sitcom that ran from 1962 until 1965 in black and white, then had a second run in color from 1970 until 1974. The show follows a father-and-son rag-and-bone business in Shepherd's Bush, London. It focuses on the conflict between the two, with Harold (the son) having aspirations and ambitions and Albert (the father) being a dirty older man from whom Harold can't escape.
It never aired in America, but talk show host Jack Paar screened one episode of it during one of his one-hour Friday night shows on NBC in 1963.
Then, in 1965, Joseph E. Levine produced a pilot based on “The Offer” (the show's first episode) for the American market. It was never screened and didn't lead to a series, but the concept became Sanford and Son. Sanford and Son was based in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, and ran for five years on NBC between 1972 and 1977, becoming a top-rated series.
Shameless is a sitcom that aired from 2004 until 2013. It's set in Manchester on the fictional Chatsworth council estate and follows the highly dysfunctional working-class Gallagher family. It's a fantastic depiction and commentary on British working-class life and culture.
Dysfunctional Working Class Family
The show never aired in the United States. Still, it impressed U.S. T.V. executives, and HBO developed an American version after striking a deal with the writer, director, and producer John Wells.
Also called Shameless, the show aired from 2011 until 2021 on Showtime. Set on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, the show features an ensemble cast that includes the likes of William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum, Joan Cusack, and Justin Chatwin. It was a huge success and the longest-running original scripted series in Showtime's history.
Absolutely Fabulous is a sitcom that aired from 1992 until 1995, 2001 until 2004, and 2001 until 2012, with several specials airing at other times. It's about the crazy misadventures of P.R. agent Edina “Eddy” Monsoon and her best friend, fashion director Patsy Stone. The pair exist in a nearly perennial haze of drugged, drunken selfishness.
In America, it premiered on Comedy Central in 1994 with a 12-episode marathon. It has since aired on various networks in the country and has become a massive cult hit.
It influenced shows like Cybill and prepared U.S. audiences for the uncensored girl talk and raucous female behavior of future shows. It paved the way for neurotic female sitcom protagonists like 30 Rock's Liz Lemon. It even crossed over with an episode of Roseanne (after Roseanne Barr had failed to get her own American Ab Fab adaptation off the ground).
10. The Office
The Office is a mockumentary sitcom that aired from 2001 until 2003 when it concluded with a two-part Christmas special. A simple premise, it focuses on the day-to-day lives of office employees in the Slough branch of the fictional Wernham Hogg paper company.
The Day-To-Day Lives of Office Employees
It was first shown in the United States on BBC America in 2003 but aired on Adult Swim from 2009 until 2012, becoming very popular.
The show is one of the most successful British imports ever, having seen adaptations in around ten other countries, but the U.S. adaptation is undoubtedly the best. Adapted by seasoned writer Greg Daniels, the American version takes place at the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. It has an ensemble cast that includes Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, and John Krasinski, and it ran from 2005 until 2013.
9. The It Crowd
The IT Crowd is a sitcom that aired from 2006 until 2013. It's set in the fictional Reynholm Industries in London and focuses mainly on the three staff members of its Information Technology department and the company's management.
The Information Technology Department
The show aired on the IFC cable channel in the United States, but every episode is available on Netflix, Hulu, Tubi T.V., and Pluto TV and for purchase in the iTunes Store. It's popular in America, and fans have called for a U.S. adaptation for years.
In 2007, a U.S. pilot was filmed with Richard Ayoade reprising his role as Moss from the original British version of the show. NBC ordered an entire series to air in 2007 and 2008. However, because it “didn't quite spark,” the series didn't make it to air. Another pilot was made that didn't make it to air in 2014. The third attempt was in 2018, but nothing has come of it yet.
8. Downton Abbey
The historical drama Downton Abbey aired from 2010 until 2015, ending with the annual Christmas special. Set on the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey between 1912 and 1926, each episode portrays the lives of the upper-class Crawley family and their domestic servants, conveying how the significant events of the time affected them all.
Upper-Class Family and Their Domestic Servants
The show is hugely popular in America and has legions of fans, and it also earned recognition at prominent awards ceremonies like the Golden Globes and Emmys. However, it arguably made its most significant impact differently.
It first hit U.S. screens in 2011 on PBS as part of the 40th season of the drama anthology series Masterpiece. It aired in four 90-minute episodes, which controversially required altering each episode's structure to fit it into the allotted running time. Actress Laura Linney was also added as a host to explain certain matters to U.S. viewers, which was widely considered condescending. Essentially, to ensure Downton Abbey aired, the network made unprecedented changes.
7. Fawlty Towers
Fawlty Towers is a sitcom that aired in 1975 and 1979. Arguably the best show of its kind ever made, it's set at the eponymous Fawlty Towers, a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay on the English Riviera, ran by the rude and hapless Basil Fawlty and his wife, Sybil.
Hotel in a Seaside Town
It didn't air in America – possibly because the humor wouldn't translate or because of the depiction of a loud and demanding American character in the “Waldorf Salad” episode – but it has had a considerable influence there.
Several attempts to translate the show into American adaptations saw the light of day, but they all failed. For example, it was unsuccessfully piloted for ABC as Chateau Snavely in 1978. Then ABC took it to series as Amanda's in 1983 (three of its 13 episodes didn't get aired, however). ABC then made Over the Top in 1997, but only three of its episodes (out of twelve, including the pilot) ever aired. The final attempt, Payne, was produced for CBS in 1999, but only eight of the nine filmed episodes ever aired.
Coupling is a “group genre” sitcom that aired from 2000 until 2004. It's about the dating, exploits, and misadventures of a group of six friends – three men and three women – in their early 30s. If you think that sounds familiar, you'd be right because it's very much in the Friends mold (which, of course, started six years before Coupling).
Misadventures of a Group of Friends
The unrestricted identity of Coupling led some to believe that Friends stole some of its more risque storylines in later series from the British show, but that's debatable. What isn't debatable is that Coupling still had a significant impact in the United States, and it first aired there on PBS and BBC America in 2002 and quickly gained a strong fanbase.
In 2001, NBC commissioned a U.S. adaptation of the show, which was said to be a possible replacement for Friends when it ended in 2004. However, though the network commissioned 12 episodes and filmed ten of them, only four aired due to poor ratings before the network pulled it. Still, the British series is said to have influenced shows like How I Met Your Mother in a big way.
5. Man About The House
Man About the House is a sitcom that aired from 1973 until 1976. It's about a man who shares an apartment with two women. It spawned two spin-off series: George and Mildred, which aired between 1976 and 1979, and Robin's Nest, which ran from 1977 until 1981.
Man Who Shares an Apartment With 2 Women
The show was a phenomenal success in the United Kingdom, but it never aired in the United States at the time. However, it still had a significant impact stateside.
The show's format was sold to America in 1976 and was remade as Three's Company a year later. It aired on ABC from 1977 until 1984 and was very popular, launching the career of John Ritter. It also spawned clones of Man About the House's spin-offs, The Ropers (1979 until 1980) and Three's a Crowd (1984 until 1985), based on George and Mildred and Robin's Nest, respectively.
4. Till Death Do US Part
First broadcast as a pilot on the Comedy Playhouse anthology show, Till Death Do Us Part is a sitcom that aired from 1965 until 1975 on the BBC, then as Till Death… on ITV in 1981. It also spawned a sequel series, In Sickness and in Health, which aired from 1985 until 1992. It followed the Garnett family in London's East End and focused mainly on the patriarch, Alf, a reactionary white working-class man with racist and anti-socialist views.
Till Death Do Us Part didn't air in the United States because it wouldn't have been palatable there, nor did it get an official American remake. But it did make enough of an impression to inspire a particular show.
It was the apparent inspiration for the hugely popular All in the Family, which revolved around a working-class family in Queens, New York. The show ran from 1971 until 1979 on CBS and spawned the spin-off series Archie Bunker's Place, which picked up where All in the Family had ended and ran from 1979 until 1983.
3. The Inbetweeners
The Inbetweeners is a coming-of-age sitcom that aired from 2008 until 2010. It's about the misadventures of four suburban teenagers who attend the fictional Rudge Park Comprehensive School. The series follows the boys' school and personal lives, with themes of friendship, male bonding, and British lad culture.
Misadventures of Four Suburban Teenagers
The show began airing in early 2010 on BBC America and was reasonably popular across the pond. More pertinently, however, is the fact that MTV made an American version of the show, set at the fictional Grove High School.
ABC had unsuccessfully attempted to make a U.S. version in 2008, but MTV succeeded where they failed soon after. With noted comedy writer Brad Copeland writing the script and Taika Waititi directing the pilot (and three other episodes), it was expected to do well and aired in 2012. It was, however, axed after just one season as it received terrible ratings.
2. Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a science-fiction series that has been running since 1963. It's had a few breaks but is still going now, making it the longest-running sci-fi show in the world (it's also considered the most successful, based on broadcast ratings). It's about the universe-spanning and time-traveling adventures of a heroic Time Lord called the Doctor, an extraterrestrial being who looks like a human.
I Am… The Doctor
It started airing in the United States in 1972 when PBS broadcast the show. Since then, various networks have shown it, including CBC and the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). After initially proving unpopular, it's become one of North America's most beloved British shows. National awareness of the show increased dramatically in 1996 when the Doctor Who television movie aired on Fox.
It's a phenomenon in America these days, and the Doctor Who actors are cult heroes. There are even Doctor Who conventions in the country, such as Gallifrey One. Gallifrey One is the world's most prominent and longest-running annual Doctor Who fan event, which usually takes place every February over Presidents' Day Weekend at the Marriott Los Angeles Airport Hotel and has been going since 1990.
1. Monty Python's Flying Circus
Monty Python's Flying Circus is a surreal sketch comedy series that aired from 1969 until 1974. The series is known for its observational sketches without punchlines and sight gags, mixed with risqué and innuendo-laden humor, and generally occurred in absurd situations. It made Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam stars.
Sketches With Risqué and Innuendo-Laden Humor
It initially failed to draw an audience in America, and many Americans called it “too British.” Still, popularity increased after Public Broadcasting Service member stations began airing the show in 1974. ABC acquired rights to show select episodes in their Wide World of Entertainment showcase in mid-1975, and MTV aired it in 1988. It's now hugely popular in the United States.
The Pythons embarked on U.S. tours, and the stateside success encouraged them to make the three Monty Python movies. Their show is said to have influenced countless U.S. entertainers, such as Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Seth MacFarlane, Seth Meyers, Mike Myers, “Weird Al” Jankovic, Matt Groening, Jim Carrey, Rob Paulsen, and various sketches on Saturday Night Live.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Writer and editor with ten years of experience working full-time in this capacity. I've written over 2000 pieces of published work and managed teams of 50+ writers. I've produced content for some of the world's most prominent entertainment and sports platforms. My published work includes feature articles, news and opinion pieces, listicles, quizzes, voice-over scripts, viral content, and more. I'm a British 80s kid who loves movies (horror, superhero stuff, and all things 80s are my favorites), boxing, and football (soccer), a former business owner and executive headhunter, and a Tottenham Hotspur FC fan for my sins.