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NBC to adapt UK's Prime Suspect

by Allison Waldman, posted Sep 3rd 2009 2:08PM
Helen_Mirren_Prime_SuspectIs it cynical of me to question the wisdom of NBC trying to adapt the British detective series Prime Suspect for American TV? It probably is, but after the disappointment of Life on Mars (I know, some of you liked the ABC version, but I was not in that camp), I have worries about the way American writers and producers rework excellent British TV shows and suck the life out of them in the process.

What makes Prime Suspect particularly of concern is that the British show had a great actress starring in it. Helen Mirren has deserved every award -- Oscar, Tony, Golden Globe -- that she's received. As the tough-as-nails detective chief inspector Jane Tennison, she was simply amazing.

What American actress will they find to equal Mirren's interpretation of the character, I wonder? Not that we don't have great actresses on TV right now -- Holly Hunter, Kyra Sedgwick, Sally Field, Glenn Close, Mariska Hargitay, to name a few (Emmy nominees) -- but La Mirren set a high water mark with Tennison.

Here's what the U.S. version has in its favor. Hank Steinberg is creator/producer. His last series was Without A Trace, featuring a tough-as-nails FBI agent named Jack Malone (Anthony LaPaglia), and it was a damn good show. Steinberg is no slouch. Even his failures, like ABC's The Nine, have been interesting TV.

Casting could be the key to making Prime Suspect a success. Find the right star and this show could take off. The character as she was presented in the UK series was dynamic, demanding and complicated. Any actress would kill for that kind of role, so there should be no shortage of interest.

The question is whether NBC will want a big name U.S. star -- a name -- or go the other route, the one where an actress from Australia or England or New Zealand gets the starring role and tries to perfect an American accent. In the latter case, the hope is that NBC will create a new star. I'm hoping for the former. I think a star vehicle like Prime Suspect deserves a star above the title.

Hmm... is Meryl Streep interested in doing a TV show?

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David Holtzinger

My first thought when I began reading your article was Meryl Streep. When I reached the end I found that great minds think alike. Meryl would be excellent.

September 04 2009 at 1:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree NBC will eviscerate the American version of "Prime Suspect" making the character a puff piece. Helen Mirren IS Inspector Tennyson and the 4th place network should leave it alone. If it's so necessary to remake this show...place it on basic cable, FX or AMC where intelligent writing and character development is cornerstone.

September 04 2009 at 11:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

OK, I'll be a cynical bastard and just say it: doomed to fail. Why? Well, look at NBC's history with remaking, or reimagining, series. Fail, fail, fail. Why remake something like Prime Suspect when Helen Mirren did such a great job? Hell, they might get just as many viewers if they just reaired the original Helen Mirren versions.

September 03 2009 at 7:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Jimmy_MO's comment

I would welcome a re-airing of the original Prime Suspect on American TV. I've never seen the original, and I believe it would be very difficult to emulate a role portrayed by the great Helen Mirren.

BTW, if anyone knows where the original series can be seen, please reply with that info.

September 03 2009 at 8:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Agree! After NBC recasts this with skinny, 23 year-old starlet of the week, move it to NYCLA, who would want to watch it? Same old, same old.

September 03 2009 at 10:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

On the one hand, yay. I think there are tons of female actresses, who you listed, that are qualified for the position. Unfortunately, they already play their own 'tough as nails' detectives. On the other hand, I'm a bit uncertain. My concern is that American TV has a tendency to 'soften' its female characters to make them more palatable to the mainstream. However, Tennyson fought the steel glass ceiling at her inception with steel balls to match. I wonder if any writer/producer has the balls to keep her as tough and unrepentant. I greatly fear seeing the American Tennyson breaking into tears during the first 5 minutes to show that she's 'human.' Plus, although Mirren is gorgeous, sometimes the director(s) chose some unflattering lights. With the tendency of TV to over highlight and over gloss its female stars, I wonder if the non-cable adaptation would allow the de-prettification of its heroine. Also, what about age? Would they cast a woman in her late 30s-early 40s, or a woman in her late 20s-early 30s?

September 03 2009 at 5:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mubashar Iqbal

Didn't TNT already "unofficially" do this with The Closer?

Kyra Sedgwick does a bang up job!

September 03 2009 at 2:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Helen Mirren set the bar REALLY high on this show. Who can play Tennison? While I don't see an obvious choice, my initial pick is Tyne Daly.

September 03 2009 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Lorie's comment

I agree with Tyne Daly. That would be awesome. For me a somewhat more unorthodox choice would be Lindsay Wagner. I would love to see her back on regular series TV.

September 04 2009 at 12:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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