Translating television

Similar to comedy, drama television must also be adapted to culture and location in order for a remake to stand the test of translation from one culture to another (Frew 2014). One element of drama television that is particularly dominant within differing countries is crime; whilst crime itself is unchanging in popularity across television, the values and beliefs of differing cultures means that the processes and methods of dealing with the featured situations change from country to country. Different countries hold different expectations of what they watch on screen, and so, when a drama show is translated from one culture to another, this should be reflected within the choices of plot, structure and characters.

One example of drama television being translated is the two different versions of Sherlock Holmes: the British Sherlock, and the American Elementary. Upon the beginning of the American remake, the show faced much criticism both before and after airing, simply because the British version was already so greatly loved and appreciated. The question asked was simply, why? Nevertheless, Elementary beat the odd and earned millions of viewers as well as Emmy nominations. This is because the new version is not an exact replication of the successful British drama, but instead it has been adapted and changed in order to fit the desired audience’s wants and circumstances. In saying that, the creators of the American version have attempted to keep some of the original traits of Sherlock, injecting ‘Englishness’ into the series by using well-know UK actors who add a degree of class and sophistication; Sherlock Holmes has always been English and he will always be characterised as having his distinctive British accent. But, apart from these small features, the two versions feature some very distinct differences that allow the shows to be successful in their respective cultures. For example, Sherlock is set in contemporary Britain whilst Elementary on the other hand is set in modern day Manhattan. As well as this, Watson, Sherlock’s closest friend, is played by a woman (Lucy Liu) rather than a man in the American version, adding an Americanised element of political correctness. The British sleuth Sherlock Holmes follows the method of clues and murder in English country houses, whilst the American detective follows the hard-boiled, loner hero with a moral code – a muscular, ‘bad ass’ (Frew 2014). Elementary contains much more sexual tension and drug-use, something that American audiences desire from these drama-crime shows.

Whilst it may be a challenge, drama television is very much capable of having many successful translations across several different cultural audiences. America and Britain have definitely cracked the case of drama translation.



Frew, C 2014, ‘Representing Englishness in Television Drama’, lecture, BCM111, University of Wollongong, delivered 17 September 2014.


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