Can Brit wit fit?

Nets hope imports translate to U.S. laffs

While the jury’s still out on whether viewers have cozied up to “Coupling,” the NBC laffer based on the BBC hit of the same name, U.S. network and studio execs are still hungry for foreign fare.

Several more overseas series are about to be translated for U.S. auds, starting with cult BBC fave “The Office,” which NBC will develop for U.S. auds. Ben Silverman’s Universal-based Reveille, which is behind that skein’s U.S. migration, is also looking to break in an American version of the Spanish-lingo phenom “Betty la fea.”

Meanwhile, development is under way at ABC and Touchstone to translate U.K. laffer “The Royle Family” for the U.S., something Fox originally tried last year. Touchstone has also sold BBC/Granada’s “Dinnerladies” to CBS and is redeveloping “Cutting It” for ABC.

Foreign formats are, of course, nothing new to primetime — some of TV’s most revered skeins (“All in the Family,” “Three’s Company”) were based on U.K. programs. But the new wave is an offshoot of the ongoing reality craze, in which most of TV’s top alternative skeins (“Survivor,” “Big Brother,” “American Idol”) were imported from overseas.

Networks dig foreign formats because they’ve been proven elsewhere. Web execs can look at the show’s creative direction, the evolution of the characters and its track record over time — before even giving the greenlight.

“It’s significant when there’s tape that they’re able to see something, as opposed to a standard pitch,” said one insider. “You’re able to come in with supporting visuals, scripts and demographic breakdowns. You’ve learned so much in development already because you’ve done it over there.”

Despite the frenzy, no international import has caught on with broadcast network auds in recent years. Yank attempts at U.K. faves such as “Men Behaving Badly,” “Cold Feet” and “Fawlty Towers” have all drawn yawns.

As for the latest crop, all of which the William Morris Agency has a hand in, Silverman’s U-based Reveille has pacted with Colombia’s RCN Television for the rights to adapt “Betty,” the phenomenally popular telenovela about an ugly duckling secretary who falls in love with her boss. NBC unsuccessfully attempted to bring the project to the U.S. two years ago, teaming with Sony and scribe Alexa Junge.

WMA packaged the last stab at “Betty” back when Silverman was at the agency. This effort will once again reunite him with WMA’s Raul Mateu, who also worked on the original deal and now heads the tenpercentery’s new Miami office.

Silverman, who confirmed his deal to Mexican newspaper Lo de Reforma last month, told the paper he’s been “analyzing this opportunity for many years” and that his goal is to snag an unknown actress to play Betty.

Meanwhile, Touchstone Television has set up a new take on “The Royle Family” at ABC, with Zweibel (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) on board as writer-exec producer.

Granada will once again be a producer on the project, which was ordered to series at Fox under title “The Grubbs.” Fox never aired the series.

New project is tentatively titled “The First Family”; ABC has ordered a script.

Over at ABC, the net is taking another look at “Cutting It,” which Touchstone and Granada first developed last year. Emmy-winning scribe Mark Perry (“Party of Five”) penned the pilot last year; he’ll now take a stab at writing a second episode. The U.S. version will revolve around a husband and wife who own a salon in Atlanta.

Touchstone has also sold the BBC/Granada format “Dinnerladies” to CBS. Skein will be based on the popular Victoria Wood-penned BBC1 comedy about a group of women who work in the cafeteria of a major corporation.

Granada is managing the format under an old deal to export BBC formats to the U.S.

As for “The Office,” Peacock had been in negotiations for some time with Reveille and Universal TV to produce a version of the comedy, which has become a cult hit in the U.S. thanks to its airings on BBC America.

“King of the Hill” co-creator Greg Daniels has been tapped to remake the show for U.S. auds (Daily Variety, Aug. 5).

Ricky Gervais created the original U.K. skein, which takes a mockumentary-style look at a group of employees at a paper-supply company who discuss their absurd lives and navigate through the bizarre world of office politics.

Gervais, Daniels and Silverman will exec produce, along with 3 Arts Entertainment’s Howard Klein and Stephen Merchant.

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