Modern life as it is experienced by those of us beyond the first flush of youth is a many-sided jewel, involving as it does a combination of looking back upon one’s life and trying to recall incidents and anecdotes from one’s past; marvelling (or becoming baffled and frustrated by) supposed advances in technological wizardry and/or societal “diversity and wokeness”; and – lastly – trying to remain open to new experiences and “adventures” recommended to us by our fellow Rusters.
A few months ago a columnist on this organ who occasionally posts upon a wide range of subjects that take his fancy, knowledgeable about French culture and fluent in its language, mentioned to me in passing how much he has been enjoying a new Netflix television series entitled [in English translation] Call My Agent.
This was apparently a sassy, satirical and at times semi-surreal romp set in a chaotic media world talent agency in which “front” and chutzpa are king, nobody ever quite knows everything that is going on and agents in the same organisation compete with each other to advance the cause of their particular actor charges.
The above already heady mix is leavened by a featured theme in which well-known French actors/celebrities occasionally guest-star, sending themselves up outrageously, rather in the style that Ricky Gervais persuaded various British/American actors to do in his television series Extras.
Separately, it just so happened that recently – over the past month or so – I had seen references in the UK media to a new British series called Ten Percent that was to debut this month on Amazon Prime.
It is a spin-off from the aforementioned French Call My Agent – in other words, a British version of it, now set in London’s Soho.
It so happens that back in the days when I worked in ITV, what we used to call “the changed format” rights to entertainment shows were a lucrative adjunct to our original productions.
For example, in the 1970s Thames Television made a highly popular sit-com that Rusters may remember called Man About The House, written by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer, and starring Richard O’Sullivan, Paula Wilcox, Sally Thomsett (formerly a child star in movie The Railway Children), Yootha Joyce and Brian Murphy.
It ran for six series and even spawned similarly successful spin-off series called Robin’s Nest and George And Mildred.
But the biggest and most lucrative breakthrough for Thames was the masterstroke of crossing the Pond to the United States and somehow managing to convince ABC to purchase the “changed format” rights to Man About The House.
The deal involved ABC acquiring the rights to make their own version of Man About The House – for a sizeable “signing on” fee and also a further “copyright fee” for each episode of their version made.
It became the US series Three’s Company.
ABC was given access to the original scripts of Man About The House and could not only amend and/or alter them but also include additional (American specific) dialogue and scenes.
Later, when the original scripts ran out, ABC was then able to move on to develop Three’s Company further by writing whole new episodes which had little/nothing to do with its British “parent” series at all.
The resulting phenomenon – starring Janet Wood, Suzanne Somers and Jack Tripper – was also massively successful and ran for seven years (1977 to 1984) on American TV and then later went into syndication to satellite/cable stations. It became one of the most profitable contributors to Thames Television’s fortune ever made.
But that’s all by-the-by.
Last night my family sat down to watch the first episode of Ten Percent go out on Amazon Prime.
It’s written by John Morton – previously involved in exposing British corporate buffoonery in both Twenty Twelve (about the staging of the 2012 London Olympics) and W1A (about the inside working of the BBC) – and was as insightful, zany and “telling” as I suspect my “recommender” of its original French version had found Call My Agent.
Amongst others in the ensemble cast, it starred Jack Davenport as the son of the talent agency founder (played by Jim Broadbent) and had guest star appearances by Tim McInnerny (playing a washed-up actor Simon Gould) plus actresses Kelly Macdonald and Helena Bonham-Carter as themselves – the former arriving at the agency to learn that she has just been dropped as the lead actor in a new Superhero franchise movie for being “too old”.
Not having seen Call My Agent, I cannot compare it to this British “changed format” version but – taking Ten Percent at its simple face value – last night I was suitably impressed that I shall be binge-watching it this weekend.
[I note this morning that the British media TV reviews of Ten Percent are somewhat mixed, some hailing it as a worthy spin-off, others – e.g. Rebecca Nicholson’s in The Guardian – wondering what all the fuss is about and indeed what was the point?]