TV's Roots: Foreign Television Shows that Inspired U.S. Hits

Hollywood might be the capital of the television industry, but some of the most popular shows on American television — past and present — are actually remakes of shows that were already hits somewhere else. Have a look at the following list of TV programs that were shown first in foreign lands.

All in the Family

Based on Till Death Us Do Part (United Kingdom). Six years before Archie Bunker was simultaneously offending and cracking up Americans with his anti-liberal, anti-feminist, anti-Semitic, anti-affirmative action, anti-gay, anti-everything beliefs, audiences in England were watching Alf Garnett — an equally funny, conservative, white, working-class racist — on Till Death Us Do Part. Rounding out the cast were Alf's long-suffering wife Else; his daughter Rita; and Rita's couch potato, socialist husband Mike. Sounds like the Bunkers, doesn't it?

American Idol

Based on Pop Idol (United Kingdom). Before he was arguing with Paula Abdul and making innocent American singers cry, Simon Cowell was being disgusted by English pop-star wannabes on Pop Idol, which started airing eight months before the American Idol premier in June, 2002. To share the wealth of his vitriol, Cowell still travels between the two shows.

Big Brother

Based on Big Brother (Netherlands). The Dutch Big Brother is the original version of the reality show. It started airing in 1999 (the American version started a year later). Both shows feature contestants living in a house with cameras all around, trying to avoid being evicted by the public and trying to win a prize by being the last roommate standing. To be honest, the show was probably inspired by MTV's Real World, so this is a case of an American show inspiring a Dutch TV show that inspired an American TV show. (Who said TV producers don't have any new ideas, anymore?)

Life on Mars

Based on Life on Mars (United Kingdom). Part thriller, part science fiction, and part police drama, Life on Mars follows homicide detective Sam Tyler, who's mysteriously transported from 2008 back to 1973. Life on Mars debuted in America in September of 2008. It was based on a show that debuted in the United Kingdom two years earlier.

The Office

Based on The Office (United Kingdom). A satire depicting the absurdity of the lives of a group of office employees started airing in the United Kingdom in July, 2001. The American show — with the same name, same premise, and shot in the same documentary-like style where characters sometimes speak directly to the camera — premiered in March, 2005.


Based on Expedition Robinson (Sweden). In 1997, Swedish TV broadcast a game show in which 16 contestants were "stranded" in a remote location to test their survival skills, all while having various physical challenges and competitions thrown in to make it more interesting. Survivor debuted on American television three years later.

Trading Spaces

Based on Changing Rooms (United Kingdom). Four years before we heard of perky Paige Davis or fun carpenter Ty Pennington from America's Trading Spaces, the British were watching Changing Rooms. These two shows are like twins separated at birth: The British predecessor had its own cute host (Carole), lovable carpenter (Handy Andy), and — just like Hilde on American television — a designer whose ideas were so outlandish that they frequently reduced the homeowners to tears (Laurence).