Shocking new details have emerged about solving the puzzle of creating a new hit U.S. network show. It’s so shocking that my fingers quiver as they type.
Kidding. There’s nothing shocking going on. It’s just a teensy bit fascinating to study how conventional TV is progressing this fall season with new shows. There are far fewer viewers these days and putting together a slate of new shows is more fraught than ever.
Ghosts (Thursday, CBS, Global 9 p.m.) is one of the very few new series to get a full-season order of episodes from a U.S. network. Apparently a few million people are watching it every week and CBS executives are so thrilled, they want more of it. In Canada, it is, apparently, among the top 20 most-watched shows. This is almost stunning news because Canadians are, in general, ignoring new U.S. series unless we’re talking about such spinoffs as NCIS: Hawai’i and FBI: International, which aren’t truly new.
What is Ghosts? The half-hour comedy series stars Rose McIver and Utkarsh Ambudkar as a young couple, Samantha and Jay, who inherit a big, beautiful country house, but discover it is both dilapidated and full of the ghosts of numerous deceased previous residents. Sam wants to turn the house into a bed-and-breakfast retreat while Jay is skeptical. Besides, they must deal with the motley assortment of ghosts that Sam can see, but others can’t. This drollery has charmed viewers into watching week after week.
Thing is, there’s no secret format being unleashed here. As even those who are mildly interested in British TV will know, it’s all based on the original BBC series called, amazingly, Ghosts. Same premise, some of the same characters. And in an interesting reflection of the way things are now, you can easily watch the original Ghosts on CBC Gem.
Much of the team behind the BBC’s Ghosts have moved over to work on the American version. At times, it’s uncanny – in the early episodes there are scenes that are almost word-for-word replicas of the original. But what is really intriguing is how the CBS version differs.
In the original, one of the ghosts is a Conservative MP who literally died with his trousers down. It was a sex-scandal thing. He will now spend eternity without his pants on. In the CBS version, he’s replaced by the ghost of a Wall Street wolf-type who did a lot of drugs and preyed on women. There are other changes too among the ghosts and the mockery of English class structure is, obviously, very diluted.
But what’s truly curious is how the feel of the show has shifted. In the original, the couple, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe), are a compatible pair. Mike is a bit hopeless but amiable. The relationship between Sam and Jay is more spiky, less cozy and comfortable, as if a sparring couple was absolutely necessary for the U.S. audience.
Also, the CBS version leans heavily into the home-renovation theme, probably because on U.S. TV the most recognizable couples these days are the people doing home renos or buying, upgrading and reselling houses on those home-improvement channels. It’s an odd but telling shift.
There is a ton of energy in the CBS version and there’s novelty in the often rude and weird ghost figures. At times it is more drollery than laugh-aloud funny, which is, again, a peculiarity. It’s enjoyable, and there is the added treat of being able to watch the original and compare and contrast, to your heart’s content. So, there are no shocking new details to reveal, and no puzzle is being solved. CBS has a hit show because it followed a long-standing tradition of importing and remaking an existing British success. In the network-TV racket, old ways are being used in the new wars against streaming services.
Also on Thursday – The Fifth Estate (CBC, 9 p.m.) is a bit like a thriller but a provocative and disturbing one. It’s about the work being done by Canadian military veterans to get former interpreters, and others who helped Canada, out of Afghanistan. It follows a group of people attempting to flee the country by road, meeting Taliban checkpoints along the route. The veterans in Canada are watching the vehicle in real time as the occupants try to get to safety. These military veterans have relied on private money to run the operations. The program also asks why the federal government has done so little to help, so far. Some of the interviews amount to buck-passing at a excruciating level.
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