It looked like a great romance at first: Columbia TriStar Intl. Television sells RTL “Married … With Children” and “Who’s the Boss?” and the formats for both. RTL airs both U.S. shows in dubbed versions back to back five nights a week, then turns around and creates local versions with German scripts and actors.

But things have soured.

“The numbers were disappointing,” said an RTL spokesman. “They slipped to under 3 million viewers after the first week. It shows that the Germans still haven’t caught up with the Americans.”

The German versions of “Who’s the Boss,” under the title “Ein Job furs Leben” (A Job for Life), and “Married … With Children,” under the title “Hilfe, Meine Familie Spinnt” (Help, My Family Is Nuts), premiered March 4 in a Thursday 8:15 primetime slot, back to back.

That first week the German “Boss” clocked in at 3.49 million viewers (14.9%) and “Married” pulled in 4.57 million (22.1%).

But after that the numbers dropped. “Boss” plummeted to 2.57 million in the second week and 1.7 million (8.0%) in the third; “Married” slipped to 2.88 in the second week and 1.96 million (9.4%) in the third.

Third-week scores were adversely affected by a key soccer match on a rival channel, but the fourth week’s numbers were in line with the second week’s drops. “Job” attracted 2.54 million viewers; “Hilfe” held on to 2.52 million.

Though programming director Marc Conrad insists that “it’s too early to make any judgments,” primetime shows on RTL usually must attract an audience of 3 million to hold on to their slots.

Painful comparison

Especially painful for the broadcaster is the comparison with the dubbed U.S. versions, which have long since established themselves.

Some 2 million viewers regularly tune in, impressive for an early fringe timeslot. Unless the shows pull out of the dive in the next few weeks, this experiment will go down as one more ill-fated attempt at creating German sitcoms.

“We still don’t have well-trained writing teams who can develop their own dynamism working together,” says an RTL spokesman.”But it’s a development phase we have to go through or there will never be German sitcoms.”

Some RTL exex agree that they must proceed, both on the creative side and with viewers. “We can’t establish a tradition in a couple of weeks that the Americans took years to do,” says Conrad.

In ‘Comfort’ zone

As if to stress that they are in it for the long run, RTL is already working on other German-language sitcoms, including an adaptation of the U.S. series “Too Close for Comfort.”

“It’s all about introducing a format to the German audience,” says Richard Huber, creative producer for Synergy, the Berlin company that produced the adaptations with help from Columbia. “In Germany, we don’t have the tradition yet. And we have to learn how to do it. Sitcoms are a technique that has to be learned. But I think in this case that we have learned it.”

Reviews of the adaptations were mainly bad, though they mostly focused on comparing the German versions with the originals, almost universally unfavorably.

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