Latest British TV fare may not satisfy U.S. tastes

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

— Can a British accent make or break a punch line?

When the U.S. version of the BBC sitcom "Coupling" debuts on NBC, the American cast will be working off essentially the same scripts that made the original a hit.

The adaptation raises another question: Will America share Britain's taste for a fast-paced comedy of sexual manners that delights in double entendres?

The first "Coupling," a witty romp, found a loyal but limited U.S. following with showings on BBC America. The new version will seek a much bigger audience when it begins at 8:30 p.m. CDT Thursday.

With "Friends" in its last season, NBC is grooming "Couples" as its singles-in-the-city replacement (although at a later hour, reflecting its racier approach).

The network has long dominated Thursday, a key night for advertising, and is trying to keep the magic alive with increased competition from series such as CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

The new "Coupling" is no orphan. Sue Vertue, producer of the British show, is an executive producer of NBC's series. Her husband, Steven Moffat, writer of the original series, also has an executive producer credit.

A third family member who knows a bit about exporting TV to America is involved as well: Vertue's mother, Beryl, who as an agent sold Norman Lear on the idea of turning the British show "Till Death Us Do Part" into "All in the Family," also serves as an executive producer.

"Coupling" is tenanted by six attractive, thirtyish men and women who are involved as friends, lovers or exes in various combinations. Colin Ferguson, Jay Harrington, Christopher Moynihan, Lindsay Price, Rena Sofer and Sonya Walger are featured in the ensemble cast.

There have been inescapable comparisons between "Coupling" and "Friends," which Vertue finds baffling. "We've always been compared to 'Friends,' and I don't know why, apart from the fact we've got six people."


AP Photo

Jay Harrington as Steve, left, Rena Sofer as Susan, center, and Lindsay Price as Jane appear in this scene from NBC's "Coupling." The U.S. version of the BBC sitcom will have its debut Thursday.