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Gary Younge
America remakes The Office, but no one's laughing

Shortly after The Office won two Golden Globes, US TV's highest award, Ricky Gervais was asked what the main difference would be between the original and the forthcoming American adaptation.

"Better teeth," said Gervais, the co-creator of the hit BBC comedy who also played the main character, David Brent.

He might also have added: "Less laughs."

Yesterday it emerged that a screening of the US remake received a cool response from viewers, who apparently sat stony-faced. "It was painfully clear that nobody was liking it. The lady next to me said she found it depressing," wrote one reviewer on the showbiz website imdb.com.

In the words of one contributor to a talkboard about The Office this week: "I'm an American, so how am I supposed to understand British? It's practically another language."

Yet the BBC version of The Office has become a surprise cult hit in the US - when Gervais went to the Golden Globe ceremony last year he was seated so far from the cameras that they could not shoot his reaction, even after he won the second award. But from the moment the British comedy was broadcast most critics had only one fear - its American adaptation.

"The only element that dims the comedy in The Office is the painful realisation that once American writers and network heads get hold of it, they'll ruin it," said Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle.

One critic recently wrote: "The ad campaign for it ought to be, 'See The Office now, before NBC ruins it!'"

These fears now seem to have been realised. It is not clear whether the problem is that the show loses a great deal in translation, or whether the translation is faithful and Americans do not like that kind of humour - or both.

The American television industry has an unfortunate record of adapting British successes into US flops. A recent adaptation of Coupling lasted only a few weeks.

Either way Gervais has made it clear he is happy to let go. "This isn't our baby," he told the Los Angeles Times. "We sold the rights. It's like selling a house and then you keep turning up, saying 'Why are you changing the fireplace?' I've done my bit."

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