Confession, Law and Order SVU was one of my favourite shows growing up… A little strange considering the content, but I still watch it sometimes just out of habit. It is so familiar and has classic elements that never get old such as the DUN-DUNS between scenes and the whole trying to figure out the guilty person before it is revealed aspect. (I can also recite the whole opening). As it is such a good show in my eyes it’s hard to think there are other versions in different countries. But there are! Dick Wolf, the creator of the original show and franchise takes great care in overseeing his show but other depictions of it have made it’s way to Russia, with the translated title of Law and Order: Division of Field Investigation and Paris Enquêtes Criminelles which debuted in 2007 and was specifically made to fit the French legal system and French cultural sensibilities. (Hilmes, 2012).
When the topic of transcultural localisation of TV shows came up, I immediately thought of an experience I had. I remember watching TV and seeing Law and Order UK. I thought ‘what? Why? What is this version?’ I switched it on and watched it for 5 minutes before changing it. They were in a courtroom, the judge and prosecutors were wearing robes and wigs and it was all so different. Maybe I hadn’t watched the start and didn’t know the story? Or I was so used to my own familiarity of SVU and I didn’t want to accept it. Writing this I decided to try the Law and Order UK version again and watched the pilot episode. It actually wasn’t terrible. It had a strong pilot with a good introduction to characters and the way the show would fold out in the future. The shows were not that different. Law and Order UK stuck to quite the same format to the original including sound effects between scenes and breaks showing the times and places. It had the crime, the investigation, the court case, the twist and then the resolution/ending. Even Dick Wolf is quite specific of his creation ‘the cha-ching sound should never be used more than two times per act and should be used to signal a shift in the storytelling not just change in location’.
The only cultural differences I spotted were the police uniforms and ambulances and also the courtroom style. In the American version the style is a bit more dramatic and ‘soap opera’ even, whereas the courtroom etiquette in UK they refer to the judge as My Lord or My Lady and it is more formal. The show brought a lot of professionalism and slickness. I think it translated well for its audience. The cultural proximity to the British audience was evident with a little British banter along with the location in London. The format was almost completely the same with just a few tweaks to suit the audience. It doesn’t attract as many major awards like the other versions but received 6 million views and kept pretty high ratings throughout the series.
Dowell, Ben. “TV Ratings – 23 March: Law and Order: UK Watched by 6.1m Viewers.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Mar. 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/mar/24/tv-ratings-law-order.
Busfield, Steve. “First Night: Law & Order: UK.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Feb. 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/media/organgrinder/2009/feb/24/television-television
Hilmes, Michele. Network Nations: a Transnational History of British and American Broadcasting. Routledge, 2012. Pt 3 Conclusion, pg. 305