BOOTLEG FILES 437: “Amanda’s” (1983 sitcom starring Bea Arthur).
LAST SEEN: Unauthorized postings of the individual episodes can be seen on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A celebrated stinker that has been kept out of release for decades.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Unlikely.
One of the most distinctive aspects of the U.S. entertainment industry is its obsession in remaking productions that originated in other countries. On occasion, these remakes are superior to their original sources – the TV classics “All in the Family” and “Sanford and Son” are prime examples – but mostly, the uprooting and retooling of one nation’s hit usually results in a uniquely American flop.
In a 2009 interview with Digital Spy, John Cleese recalled the failed attempts to Americanize his classic BBC comedy series “Fawlty Towers.”
“The first time was [with] Harvey Korman and Betty White, but they played it too slow and were embarrassed by the edgy dialog,” said Cleese, referring to a 1978 endeavor called “Snavely” that never progressed beyond the pilot episode stage. “The most extraordinary remake was with Bea Arthur. I remember at a party I met these chaps from Viacom, who said they were working on a new ‘Fawlty Towers.’ My ears pricked up at the sound of cash registers and said, ‘That’s wonderful, are you going to change anything?’ They said, ‘Well, we have changed one thing – we’ve written Basil out.’ And that’s absolutely true, they took Basil and Sybil’s lines and gave them all to Bea Arthur.”
The resulting effort was a 1983 ABC series called “Amanda’s,” which could charitably be described as a fiasco. What went wrong? Well, pull up a chair and let me tell you!
“Amanda’s” was faithful to the “Fawlty Towers” in its set design and inclusion of a comic relief immigrant bellboy. And some of the episodes touched on similar themes from the British original, albeit with slight changes (e.g., the health inspectors arriving at “Fawlty Towers” became the fire marshal at “Amanda’s”). But beyond that, “Amanda’s” was so thoroughly reconfigured that it became wholly alien to its source material – and, for that matter, to the basic tenets of sitcoms.
Bea Arthur had become a cultural icon during the 1970s as the star of “Maude,” but her career ran into problems after the series ended in 1978. She appeared in two television specials that would gain cult status for their undiluted weirdness – “The Star Wars Holiday Special” in 1978 and her own 1980 special featuring Rock Hudson and Wayland Flowers and Madame – and she made a few guest appearances on variety programs. But for the most part, she was absent from small screen viewing until 1983, when the “Amanda’s” offer came in.
Although the script writers for “Amanda’s” relied heavily on the sarcastic brand of dialogue that defined “Maude,” Arthur made it clear that she wanted to avoid the sociopolitical issues that framed her most famous role. In an interview published prior to the “Amanda’s” premiere, she stressed that her new show was not going to push any topical hot buttons.
“With the country in the state that it is now, people seem to want escapist entertainment,” she said. “I was looking for non-issues this time. It’s a chance to do something zany and fun. I love the outrageous, and this is an opportunity to do that.”
Alas, there was neither zaniness nor fun to be found at “Amanda’s.” In lieu of the harried, neurotic, unhappily married Basil Fawlty, the U.S. version offered the recently widowed hotel proprietor Amanda. She was sardonic, scheming and truculent, and her acidic comments were aimed at her wimpy adult son, his self-centered wife, a cheerful but inefficient cook and the accident-prone Italian bellboy Aldo (played by Tony Rosato, formerly part of the “SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live” ensembles). Amanda frequently relied on physical violence to punish Aldo’s seemingly endless mistakes, but Arthur’s inability to handle slapstick and Rosato’s unusually realistic reactions to her blows made the assaults look vicious and pathetic rather than funny.
Adding to the tension was the presence of Mr. Mundy, the bank president that held the mortgage on Amanda’s hotel. He lived at the hotel – he just moved into town and didn’t find an appropriate home – and constantly criticized Amanda’s mishandling of hotel business. There was also the looming presence of Zack, the brother of Amanda’s late husband – he was interested in taking over the hotel and winning Amanda’s heart.
Even if one could forget that “Fawlty Towers” ever existed, “Amanda’s” could never stand on its own. The scripts inevitably collapsed under a skein of name-calling and painfully contrived scenarios, and the direction of the episodes was badly paced. Arthur appeared to be on autopilot most of the time, and she only sparkled when old-timers like Vivian Blaine and Robert Alda turned up in guest spots. Kevin McCarthy attempted to inject some energetic line-readings into his role as Zack, but his character was so poorly defined – intrusive at one moment, charismatic the next – that his presence only added to the confusion.
“Amanda’s” premiered on ABC on February 10, 1983, and quickly bombed. Critics pointed out the show’s inferiority to its BBC predecessor and audiences didn’t bother to watch the wreckage. Thirteen episodes were taped, but ABC pulled the plug after the tenth episode was broadcast.
Arthur, of course, would find her career footing again with “Golden Girls,” but the “Amanda’s” experience haunted her. When the producers of “Golden Girls” toyed with the idea of changing the series’ format to have the women as hotel managers, Arthur violently objected, saying, “The idea was a stinker when I did ‘Amanda’s by the Sea,’ and I won’t ever be talked into a set-up like that again!” Nonetheless, the “Golden Girls” producers took the hotel route when Arthur left the series, but the resulting spin-off “The Golden Palace” was a major dud.
“Amanda’s” has never been released in any home entertainment format, which is not surprising in view of his sorry history. The individual episodes can be found in unauthorized YouTube postings under the title “Amanda’s by the Sea.” Unless you are a Bea Arthur addict, there is absolutely no reason to hunt it down.
Actually, “Amanda’s” was not the last time that a U.S. production company tried to remake “Fawlty Towers.” In 1999, CBS broadcast a new version starring John Larroquette called “Payne,” but the network cancelled the show after eight episodes aired. Lesson learned: sometimes, it is best to leave well enough alone!
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!
Posted on July 20, 2012 in Bootleg Files, Features by Phil Hall
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