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'MI-5' Gets an American Adaptation

by Nick Zaino, posted Aug 12th 2010 7:00PM
ABC to adapt hit BBC spy thriller 'MI-5''MI-5' -- the series, not the British spy organization -- is coming to America. According to Deadline, ABC has acquired the American adaptation rights to the hit BBC drama 'Spooks,' which has been popular in the U.S. on PBS, BBC America and A&E under the name 'MI-5.' Michael Seitzmann ('Empire State,' 'North Country') will serve as writer and executive producer.

The series follows a group of British Security Service officers charged with protecting national security. It has been popular in the U.K., winning multiple BAFTAs, and has also been controversial for its gritty and sometimes all-too-real portrayal of torture and terrorism.

The question is, how do you make this show for an American audience? There is clearly an interest in spy stories, and a bit of a void in a post-'24' world. The original 'MI-5' has performed well enough in the U.S., but the adaptation will be broadcast on network television, where the stakes may be higher, and the numbers will have to be bigger for the show to survive.

Assuming the show isn't completely remade to focus on the C.I.A. (why buy the rights to the show if you're going to do that?), how will ABC present the inner workings of the British security structure to American audiences? No doubt there's an exciting show to be made here, but will it be too esoteric to gain more than a cult audience?

Tell us: How will an American version of 'Spooks' fare?

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MI-5 does not make arrests. Therefore they cannot be equated to the FBI. The United States does not have an organization (that we know of) quite like MI-5.

November 14 2011 at 4:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the best season that I have seen on MI-5..... Was the two parter, or seem like a two parter... rain from heaven and the death of connie.. between the Russians chasing MI-5 underground and all that was happening above ground, it was thee best!!!

September 20 2011 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Americanized MI-5
Dead MI-5.

Have watched every week for some time now.
Really hurt when Ruth was Let go.

August 30 2011 at 1:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Do not screw up this show by "americanizing" it. It is perfect just the way it is with the cast and script. I just started watching this in May and love it. The writing is brilliant with many twists and turns that you never see coming. The acting is first class. I love this show. It has something that American television has forgotten all about, maturity and class and they are not afraid to tackle the hard issues that the general public try and shy away from.

August 02 2011 at 11:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sonny Writer

We have been fans of MI-5 for quite a while. The PBS show sometimes slams U.S. intelligence services and sometimes our government but, overall, it is gripping to watch. There is plenty of skullduggery and plot twists to keep you guessing. They have no qualms about killing off or disappearing key characters from time to time which keeps the show fresh.
My wife and I have often wondered why a U.S. style MI-5 has not been made. They will need some Brit writers to stay true to the plot schemes of MI-5 to pull off a U.S. clone, however. The Brit's have the formula down pat.

June 02 2011 at 12:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wait, so MI5 = CIA? Um...no. NSA, yes, CIA, no.

Besides, look how badly they messed up Life On Mars, for the love of Bowie. Oh, I don't want to think about it.

August 13 2010 at 9:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Aberdeen's comment


MI-5 = FBI
MI-6 = CIA

August 14 2010 at 4:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mb's comment


MI-5 does not make arrests. Therefore they cannot be equated to the FBI.

November 14 2011 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

No, I think they'd just screw it up like so many other shows that have done well overseas before coming to America. I mean...look how badly Gordon Ramsay is potentially screwing up the U.S. version of Masterchef. It brings shame to the other versions especially the Australian but I digress.

Saying that Covert affairs is like anywhere near what Spooks is, that's like saying that Grey's Anatomy and Scrubs are accurate portrayals of the medical community.

August 13 2010 at 3:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I always thought MI-5 was in response to 24. Like the British 24. Does that mean that this is going to be an American 'version' of MI-5 which is the British 'version' of 24? Seems redundant...

August 12 2010 at 10:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh no... why bother?

Part of the appeal of the original MI-5/"Spooks" series is the British take on UK Law Enforcement (which in one episode, involves an assassination of a suspect by MI-5 hitmen). The MI-5 series is a classier show that most US crime dramas currently on TV. Period.

Now how will some US writer decide to present this show, especially if they want it to be better (e.g. "successful") than the original BBC version?

- It is unlikely that a US TV writer could consistently write a show about the British MI-5 organization. Especially when it'll be compared to the BBC version.

- Is he going to change it from MI-5 to the CIA for the benefit of an American audience? Why? Isn't "Covert Affairs" on USA doing just that? Also, the CIA isn't authorized (haha... right) to conduct operations on US soil. So... no CIA show without a lot of eye-rolling. And yes, I know that MI-6 is the equivalent to the CIA...

- Ok. What about the FBI, which is the US equivalent of MI-5? There are TV shows such as Criminal Minds, Bones, White Collar and repeats of 24 and The X-Files/Fringe. How could any Hollywood writer adapt a UK show without "Bruckheimer-ing"/screwing it up?

- What about the ATF? DEA? There is a US Marshals show coming in the Fall already (coincidently, produced by Bruckheimer) as well as Mary McCormick's Marshal show on cable. Aren't we overloaded with crime dramas already?

Ok. My point is... adapting the BBC version of MI-5 won't work well. This can only end badly. And with the large number of TV pilots that are premiered, later moved to Fridays/Saturdays and then cancelled... the networks will have a limited tolerance for another law enforcement show in an already-saturated schedule.

So don't do it.

August 12 2010 at 8:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to mb's comment

First of all MI 5 is NOT the equivalent of the CIA in Britain, that is MI 6.

MI 5 is the FBI in the US.
I doubt the US version will be as compelling as the British one because in order to understand many of the plots and dialogs the audience has to have a minimum knowledge of history and current international affairs, something lacking in the wide US population.
PBS attracts just the type of audience that fits with this BBC series, and I don't think NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS audiences can grasp anything deeper than CSI, 24, Cold Case, etc shallow programing.
It's like putting a first grade student on fifth grade and expecting them to understand what's happening.

August 17 2010 at 8:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

First, yes. MI-5 = FBI. That's what I specified in my orig. post as well as a follow-up reply further down.

Second, your following paragraphs are one the most perfectly written and well-thought-out replies I have ever seen on a response board. Well put, and it wasn't making fun of US audiences (including myself).

August 17 2010 at 2:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Isn't USA Networks Covert Affairs a bit like MI5?

August 12 2010 at 8:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mark's comment

all good comments...I liked the speed...things happen in rapid fire action...and the main thing I like is that there are NO COMMERCIALS...you have to pay attention or you'll miss something...and the Brit accent takes concentration...I hope it stays on PBS and unchanged.

March 07 2011 at 12:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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