Remake vs. Adaptation
[This is the fourth post in a five-part series about the pending U.S. adaptation of Norwegian teen drama Skam. You can find the other parts of the series here, as well as my other posts about Skam here.]
Format sales are the heart of the international television market: although the export of shows from the United States or Britain remain significant sources of revenue for the television industries in those countries, other countries which might not be able to export as much of their TV content can still generate significant income by developing formats that can be licensed for use in other markets.
And so rather than suggesting that Skam is getting an American “remake,” it is important to acknowledge the ways this simplifies the exchange happening here. Simon Fuller purchased the rights to create a U.S. version of Skam, but he was really purchasing the format: this includes the show’s narrative, true, but it’s also the transmedia storytelling approach, the production bible on how the show constructs its real time stories, and likely even the promotional blackout that I discussed in part three. What Fuller does with this remains an open question, but he has bought more than the rights to create American versions of Eva, Noora, Isak, and Sana and playing out the same stories but with English language dialogue and fewer references to Russe buses.
And yet that’s often what happens. The challenge with adapting formats is that there are two competing instincts. The first is to make significant changes to reflect a different market, particularly in cases like this one where Norway and the U.S. are—I know this is shocking—very different countries. However, the second is an industrial belief that the reason you use formats is to take advantage of their proven success, a belief that pushes producers to change as little as possible to ensure they’re not wasting the opportunity to have a successful show with minimal additional effort.
The only way to successfully adapt Skam for the American market is to throw out everything but the show’s core values and start from scratch. This is also something that is extremely unlikely to happen, given the context in which it is being developed.
Television or “Television?”
[This is the second post in a five-part series about the pending U.S. adaptation of Norwegian teen drama Skam. You can find the other parts of the series here, as well as my other posts about Skam here.]
In the era of “Peak TV,” there is no shortage of homes for television programming: while not all shows fit in all networks, channels, or streaming services, there are more options for more types of scripted series than ever before.
Skam is not a normal television show, however. Although it is ostensibly a once-weekly drama series as broadcast on NRK, it is primarily a transmedia webseries, distributed and consumed online through the NRK website. This is a crucial part of the format, allowing the show to build anticipation and suspense among its users, as well as reach a generation who is historically watching less and less linear television as their viewing moves to mobile devices.
Skam is built for an era where television content is inextricably linked to the internet, and for an audience that increasingly watches content online: accordingly, there are a wide range of options for its future as television channels become more deeply invested in online streaming, and as internet companies move increasingly into content production. However, all options present challenges compared to the free, open access model established by NRK, which—as noted in part one—is likely impossible in a commercial environment. Even before we consider the cultural challenges of adapting Skam, the industrial challenges are themselves something any adaptation would be forced to navigate.
April 24, 2017
When it was announced late last year that Norwegian teen drama Skam—which I wrote about catching up on last week—would be adapted for American audiences, I doubt anyone was particularly surprised: it is common practice for producers (in this case Idol producer Simon Fuller) to see international television hits and think of ways to adapt them for the larger and more lucrative American market.
However, while I wasn’t following the show closely at the time, I also doubt many members of the show’s international fanbase were particularly excited. The group of people who care about Skam are not the group who would require an American version to become invested in it: while there are no doubt people out there who would balk at the idea of watching a Norwegian teen drama with subtitles, it seems unlikely that those people know Skam exists, given it remains a niche text outside of the specific circles in which it carries. Perhaps there’s people who have seen the show comes across their Tumblr dashboards and wish there was a way to invest without subtitles, but for the most part an American version of Skam—tentatively titled Shame, the English meaning of the title—exists for people who have never thought for a single second about Norwegian television.
It wasn’t surprising to find some pushback against this news, then—take, for example, this Change.org petition. The people who’ve signed it are effectively offended on behalf of the show, defending it against the suggestion that it is some way lacking such that it requires a “Hollywood” approach. These people have been burned before, with many citing MTV’s failed attempt to remake U.K. series Skins, and I don’t blame them for having a lack of trust in Fuller or the process in general. There are lots of reasons to be skeptical about the idea of turning Skam into Shame, and I have to share their sentiment that it’s unfortunate the show can’t just be enjoyed by a larger audience in its current iteration.
However, the fact is that it can’t. The idea of distributing Skam to the U.S. with English subtitles sounds great in theory, but it faces two fundamental barriers. The first is legal: the show’s substantial use of music is economically feasible because that music is only licensed for broadcast in Norway, and so the vast majority of it would need to be stripped out should it arrive in the U.S. (as compared to smaller markets where the show has been exported in Europe, notably through other non-profit broadcasters). The second, though, is the fact that the show’s target demo has not been trained to watch shows featuring subtitles: while Netflix’s push into local language production might eventually get us there, the fact is that the subtitles are a fundamental barrier to the show reaching a wider audience in the United States, and thus being seen as valuable to potential distributors. Fan subs are going to be the only way the Norwegian version of Skam will make its way to America, and that creates a logical opening for an adaptation.
My biggest issues with the Hunger Games trilogy were both things that have gone unchanged in the film adaptations. The structural sameness of the three books may have had a purpose, but it particularly affected my enjoyment of the second book, Catching Fire, where it felt lazy and formulaic rather than meaningful. The same can be said for the books’ close first-person perspective, which I found particularly limiting in the glimpses of a bigger conflict in Catching Fire that the perspective gave the books no chance to explore.
What I found most interesting about my response to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of what I identified as the least successful of the novels back in 2011, is that I liked it much more than its predecessor despite the fact it doubles down on these elements. Some of this has to do with how “first-person perspectives” function differently in literature vs. film, certainly, but I think it’s also a case in which one of the film’s most potentially frustrating choices successfully neutralizes one of the book’s biggest problems.
[Spoilers for the film, and then separately marked spoilers for the series, follow]
Review: Game of Thrones Season Two
March 29th, 2012
What do people really want to know about HBO’s Game of Thrones as it enters its second season?
When the first season premiered, writing a pre-air review was an easy process. Fans wanted to know how well George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire had been adapted for the screen by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and non-fans wanted to know if the result still qualified as a television show worth their time. These questions were conveniently interlinked, in that the show’s success as an adaptation (faithful but not slavish, episodic without losing broader narrative complexity) was very much part of its appeal to non-readers.
However, I found myself somewhat stumped as I sat down to write about the first four episodes of the second season. The challenge is that we’ve already answered those broader questions, and to my mind the answer hasn’t changed – the show is still a compelling and worthy adaptation of Martin’s series, and that still results in some tremendous television. I have some specific comments about nuances in the adaptation, and some opinions about how certain stories are being depicted, but I don’t feel as though I have anything new to add to the growing chorus of people praising the show upon its return as a preface to my post-air reviews which will go up over the next four weeks (and which will delve into those nuances and opinions in more detail).
Looking to solve my writer’s block, I opened up the conversation to my followers on Twitter and the users at NeoGAF (where a lively community has been built around the show), asking them whether they had any lingering questions they had which they didn’t feel had been covered by the mass of reviews to date. While I want to address a few directly, the larger takeaway was that readers and non-readers might have more in common as the show goes forward than I had presumed, a notion I’d like to explore further.
It is now widely accepted that the way we watch television is a variable – if you’re reading this, chances are that I don’t have to regale you with the myriad ways we can now watch the programming we’ve historically viewed live in primetime, and so I can keep my big “DVRs, Streaming, and Bears, Oh My!” song and dance in my pocket for the time being.
However, I would argue that Game of Thrones represents a specifically complicated television text in this regard. Like all shows, there are questions of how it played on a week-to-week basis compared to how it would play as a marathon, questions that partly inspired the tremendous discourse around television narrative spurred on by Ryan McGee’s essay at The A.V. Club. However, in addition, the variables of consumption around the show are equally divided by the nature of its source material, with perhaps the clearest binary between “reader” and “non-reader” in television history. The result, I would argue, is a complex, diverse audience base who watches the show from different perspectives which make it difficult to generalize regarding what attracts them to a DVD or Blu-ray box set.
However, with Game of Thrones‘ Complete First Season (which I reviewed on Blu-ray), I really think HBO has succeeded in creating a set that has more than a little something for everyone, worth the price of admission for both readers and non-readers alike (along with those who are watching for the first time, for whom this set is a tremendous introduction). The production values are exceptional, the features are fairly plentiful, and the set fits comfortably into the quality aesthetics that both the show itself and the earlier paratexts achieved last year.
And yet, while I can easily recommend this set based on its own merits, there’s still some part of me who was left wanting, if not something more, than perhaps something different.
I think Twitter was the main reason I chose to read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.
No, it wasn’t because my followers on Twitter suggested I read the books, or that a person I follow recommended them at large. Instead, I was becoming completely unglued at every sight of the never-ending casting announcements for the upcoming film adaptation of the first book in the series, The Hunger Games, coming in the Spring. More than any other film in recent memory, it seemed as though every single role was a piece of news, and I became too curious to resist diving into the series.
A few weeks later, I emerged with an understanding for the books’ appeal and a large pile of critical thoughts that I’m itching to discuss with other folks who have read the books. Although I rarely dive into literature around these parts (although this will likely not be the first time this summer that I do so), I figured that this is as good a place as any to consider what makes the series distinct, what makes the series an ultimate disappointment, and why I’m extremely curious to see how they plan to adapt this story given some of its particular qualities.
Spoilers for the entire Hunger Games Trilogy follow.