Friday, February 06, 2015

Lotsa Luck On The Buses

Many UK TV sitcom formats have made a successful transition to US network television, most notably Til Death Us Do Part, which became All in The Family, Steptoe and Son, which became Sandford and Son and, of course, Man About the House, which became Three's Company.  Others, like The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, which became Reggie and One Foot in the Grave, which became a Bill Cosby vehicle, for instance, were less successful, barely lasting a season.  Then there were some, like Rising Damp. which, under the title Steam Heat, didn't get past the pilot stage.  I was vaguely aware that there had also been attempt to transfer On The Buses to the US, but had always thought that it hadn't got past a pilot either.  However, the other day I discovered that a US On The Buses derivative had actually run for an entire season in the mid seventies.  I stumbled across Lotsa Luck, as it was retitled, whilst watching a You Tube compilation of the title sequences of various one season US sitcoms.  The title sequence gives no indication that the series has any connection to On The Buses.  Indeed, no buses or bus depots are in evidence, the theme song instead bemoans how 'things aren't what they used to be' and that to get on in today's world you need 'Lotsa luck', a phrase repeated by each cast member as the appear in the titles.

Intrigued by the fact that the lead was played by Dom deLuise and that, despite his star power, hadn't lasted more than a season, I did some more research and was astounded to find the link to the UK series.  Incredibly, deLuise plays the Reg Varney role of Stan, but he's no longer a bus driver, but a clerk who works in the lost property office of a bus company.  Like the British Stan, he has an overly protective mother, a plain sister called Olive, who is married to the perpetually unemployed Arthur.  British Stan's best fried, his conductor Jack, has transmogrified into a character with the unfortunate name of 'Bummy'. Of Inspector Blake, there is no sign. By all accounts, unlike the UK series, Lotsa Luck doesn't focus on Stan and Jack/Bummy's womanising/sexual harassment of female staff, drinking and attempts to shirk work.  Without the Blake character, another key element - the duo's attempts to put one over on their supervisor and his attempts, in return, to get them sacked, is also missing.  Instead, the focus became the conflict between Stan and his freeloading Brother-in-Law.  Whilst this was one of the recurrent themes in the UK series, it wasn't the predominant one - UK Arthur wasn't always unemployed.  Moreover, unlike US Arthur who, judging by is appearance in the opening titles, is a real slob, UK Arthur was always well turned out and considered himself both intellectually and socially superior to Stan, which was, in fact, the main basis of their conflict.

Having changed so many elements of what had been a highly successful series in the UK, you can't help but wonder why the US producers had bought the format in the first place.  Stripped of its smut and crudity and shorn of its central character conflicts, there really wouldn't have been any point to On The Buses.  Indeed, its sheer political incorrectness (by today's standards) is one of the main reasons it remains popular and is regularly repeated on TV.  I'm not a fan, but I can still recognise its strengths  and all of those were removed for the US version, turning it into just another working class family sitcom.  No wonder it failed.



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