Taffner hawks BBC’s ‘Why Did’

DLT producer targets U.S. for unchanged Brit sitcom

NEW YORK — The summer’s two biggest primetime hits, CBS’ “Survivor” and ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” are American adaptations of British series, but Don Taffner Jr. says forget about reworkings: He wants to sell U.S. networks a British sitcom intact and unchanged.

Taffner, VP of the New York-based distribution company DLT Entertainment, is marketing the eight episodes of a dysfunctional-family sitcom he’s producing in England with the BBC called “Why Did We Have Them.”

“We’ve produced this sitcom with the rhythm of an American comedy,” said Fred Barron, an American writer-producer and one of the three executive producers on “Why Did” with Taffner and John Bartlett.

In an almost unprecedented arrangement for a BBC sitcom, three of the five writers — Barron, Jim Armogida and Steve Armogida — are Americans. The two British writers are James Hendry and Ian Brown.

Yankee consultants

Barron said he also brought in two transplants from America: director Jay Sandrich (“The Cosby Show,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) and veteran producer Faye Oshima (“Titus,” “Caroline in the City”) to consult with the British crew, which was not used to working with the typical American setup of four cameras taping simultaneously in real time.

The BBC will announce later this week that “Why Did” will join the network’s primetime schedule in the fall.

The cast is British, with Robert Lindsay (the “Horatio Hornblower” series) playing a grumpy, cantankerous dentist and Zoe Wanamaker (1999’s “David Copperfield” TV movie) as his cheerful, Pollyannaish wife. They have three kids ages 19 (Chris Marshall), 15 (Daniella Denby-Ashe) and 12 (Gabriel Thompson).

Taffner said he’s aware that it’s extremely unusual for a British series, even one with heavy American participation, to move intact across the Atlantic and land a primetime deal with an American network. The examples are few: There were two from the late ’60s, “The Avengers” (ABC) and “The Prisoner” (CBS), and the 1982 limited-run series “Q.E.D.,” with Sam Waterston on CBS.

But since the broadcast networks have begun harvesting Nielsen hay with original summer fare like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “Survivor,” Taffner said he’s hoping to get a “Why Did” deal for summer 2001.

Sources said each half-hour episode of the sitcom costs about $390,000, and the BBC license fee leaves a deficit for DLT of between $15,000 and $45,000 a half-hour. DLT has the right to sell the franchise if a U.S. network is interested in doing an American version.

Brit hits

DLT came to prominence in the early ’80s when it grossed more than $200 million from U.S. syndication of “Three’s Company,” an American version of the British series “Man About the House.” Some of the biggest sitcom hits are based on British series, including “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son.”

Other possible outlets in the U.S. for “Why Did” include Comedy Central and Bravo, Taffner said.

If “Why Did” pulls in a sizable audience of British TV viewers, Barron said the BBC will probably commission more episodes, although the date when production resumes will depend on the schedules of Lindsay and Wanamaker.

Barron said it was refreshing to write and produce a comedy in England because “the network wasn’t constantly asking us to punch up the sentimentality — and there were very few restrictions in language and content.”

More TV


    Netflix Revises Controversial '13 Reasons Why' Suicide Scene

    Netflix has edited the controversial suicide scene from “Thirteen Reasons Why” two years after the show originally premiered. “We’ve heard from many young people that ’13 Reasons Why’ encouraged them to start conversations about difficult issues like depression and suicide and get help—often for the first time,” Netflix said in a statement Monday. “As we [...]

  • Russell Tovey on His 'Arrogant and

    Russell Tovey on His 'Arrogant and Heroic' 'Years and Years' Character

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the fourth episode of “Years and Years.” Russell T. Davies’ limited series “Years and Years” began with a birth, but it did not wait until the finale to book-end the story with a death. In the fourth episode of the multi-year spanning family drama, [...]

  • Hugh GRant photographed by Shayan Asgharnia

    Listen: Hugh Grant on Why He Would Kill Social Media if He Could

    Hugh Grant has been very active in U.K. press reform initiatives, but he knows the problem is even bigger than the media moguls who control the world’s major news outlets. That’s why Hacked Off, the campaign he’s involved with, is also expanding its scope to include the impact of online propaganda. “It’s particularly terrifying, the [...]

  • Veronica Mars -- "Heads You Lose"

    TV Review: 'Veronica Mars' Season 4

    “Veronica Mars” was a slap to the face of high school dramas when it premiered on UPN in 2004. Creator Rob Thomas took the well-worn “who killed the pretty teenager?” whodunnit and hard-boiled it, following a traumatized girl desperately trying to harden herself to the world’s harsh realities as she tried to solve the case. [...]

  • Norah O'Donnell Invokes Edward R. Murrow

    Norah O'Donnell Invokes Edward R. Murrow to Launch New Era at 'CBS Evening News'

    Though Norah O’Donnell had her first turn as anchor of “CBS Evening News” Monday night, she didn’t rely on any attention-grabbing tricks to carry the day. There was no flashy drawing board, no rattling off of unsettling, urgent headlines and no wrap-up of the day with a mawkish end segment calling up some element of [...]

  • Alton Brown

    TV News Roundup: Food Network Announces Premiere Date of 'Good Eats: The Return'

    In today’s roundup, Showtime releases a full-length trailer for “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” and Food Network announces the return of Alton Brown’s “Good Eats.”  DATES After taking a break from the series, Alton Brown will bring “Good Eats” back to Food Network’s primetime lineup with “Good Eats: The Return.”  In its first [...]

  • 9-1-1: Angela Bassett in the series

    Fox Sees Primetime, Sports Ad Gains As TV Upfront Wraps

    Fox Corporation is the latest to benefit from stronger-than-expected trends in TV ad spending, as the company notched strong gains in advertising commitments for its next cycle of programming – its first since selling off a large chunk of its media assets to Walt Disney. Ad demand was stronger than many executives anticipated, according to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content