Drama Appropriation without Dramatic Changes

Adaptation is a critical aspect of television and film crossing national and cultural borders. Cultural adaptation of media products, in particular TV shows, allows foreign audiences to enjoy these shows in their own cultural context. However, the success of an original drama heavily relies on how it’s been adapted to fit its new cultural context, and this has proven difficult, as shown by the remake British sci-fi drama Life on Mars in America, which wasn’t quite as successful as the original.

Life on Mars U.K features the main character, Sam Tyler, a Manchester cop who was hit by a car in 2006, and awakens in 1973. Throughout two series, it is unclear to both the audience and the character whether he has died, gone mad or into a coma, or has actually travelled back in time. It showed great success in the U.K, with the first episode gaining 7.5 Million viewers (Wikipedia, 2014).

The first adaptation was done by the U.S. Producers, who had adapted a very similar script to the U.K version, with small differences such as Sam being a New York cop, instead of one from Manchester. However, the Life on Mars U.S failed to accumulate the same success as U.K. Although there was a massive 11 million people viewing the first episode, this dramatically dropped throughout the series, resulting in the first series being cancelled after only 17 episodes. (Wikipedia, 2014)

The U.K version was successful in leaving audiences feeling weirdly nostalgic for 1970s Britain. In the words of Concepcion Virino (2013 p.54) “It is undeniable that much of its appeal lies in its effective use of nostalgia in the representation of the decade, from the David Bowies song that inspired the title to the trademark leather jackets and sideburns worn by the characters.” It’s this desire to live in this world that the bigger, brassier American Life on Mars never quite pulls off. Opinion writer Seth Stevenson (2010 p.1), argues “it’s so focused on name actors and eye-popping sets that it forgets to craft a distinctive ambience.” The recreation of characters is a major consideration for producers. Stevenson (2010 p.1) futher emphasizes a poor choice of actors chosen to play the major characters in Americas version. “Sam’s U.S. upgrade has him inhabiting an actor twice as handsome and five inches taller. Gretechen Mol, who plays as Annie, who is Sam’s U.S. love interest, is markedly blonder, thinner, and hotter than her BBC counterpart, yet has half the warmth and sex appeal.” A comparison is shown with U.K actors on the left compared to U.S actors on the right.

Source: Google Images

American Harvey Keitel, who plays Gene Hunt, Sam’s 1973 boss and commander of the detective squad, lacks the beefy virility that British actor Philip Glenister brought to the role of Gene. Although these actors may have been chosen to suit the American culture, the ability to portray the charisma of each character that made them so unique in the U.K version is lost in translation.

Interestingly, Life on Mars saw two more adaptations. These were produced in Spanish and Russian culture and thus, their major differences were cultural. The Spanish version produced 1 series of 8 episodes. Some of the main differences between this version and the U.K version include the renaming of the series. The Spanish version, called “La Chica de Ayer” translates to “The girl from Yesterday.” The chosen replacement ‘La Chica de Ayer’ originates from a Spanish group called Nacha Pop as they were unfamiliar with David Bowie. Secondly, Character names were also adapted to ones of Spanish culture. Samuel Santos instead of Sam Tyler, Ana instead of Annie and Quin instead of Gene (Wikia). Finally and most significantly, was the choice of 1977 as the year in which Samuel Santos wakes up after his car accident. Executive producer Ignacio Mercero explains: “We thought the original year of 1973 was a very dark year in Spain as Franco was still alive and we were still in dictatorship. We thought that the year 1977 was a year in which people in Spain were very excited because democracy arrived and we were about to vote the constitution (Virinio 2013 p.56)

The last adaptation and most culturally transformed version of Life On Mars was done in Russia and called “The Dark Side of the Moon.” No one in Russia had heard of David Bowie back then, so the title had changed to Dark Side of the Moon after Pink Floyd. This remake proved to be successful because The Life on Mars format is well suited to Russia, as producer Alexander Tsekalo points out: “If you go back thirty years in the UK, social attitudes have changed.. when we go back thirty years, we’re in a completely different country – the communist Soviet Union, during the Cold War (BBC Worldwide, 2012). In particular, characters were suited to this context, for example “while in both the UK and US versions of Life on Mars the Gene Hunt is one of a gritty, rule breaking cop, Kotov, his Russian counterpart, is a by the book police officer who never breaks the rules” (Cult Britannia 2013).

Thus, the success of a drama television show depends on how it’s adapted to fit its new cultural context, something the U.S Life on Mars failed to do through reimaging characters and settings. However, La Chica De Ayer and The Dark Side of the Moon both managed to embrace the local culture and history and became relevant to their audiences.


Dark Side of the Mars: Russian Lom Adaption Praised, 2013, Cult Britannia, viewed 14 October 2014, <http://www.cultbritannia.co.uk/tag/channel-one/&gt;

La Chica de Ayer, Wikia, viewed 14 October 2014, < http://life-on-mars.wikia.com/wiki/La_chica_de_ayer&gt;

Palacio, M & Türschman, J 2013, Transnational Cinema in Europe, LIT Verlag, Münster

Russia’s version of Life on Mars is a huge hit, 2012, BBC Worldwide, viewed 14 October 2014 < http://blogs.bbcworldwide.com/2012/12/28/russias-version-of-life-on-mars-is-a-huge-hit/&gt;

Stevenson, S 2010, Life on Mars, Slate, viewed 14 October 2014,


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