When I spoke to Jason Gann ahead of last week’s trippy first season finale of Wilfred, I wanted to know about how the folks back home regarded the prospect of remaking the cult hit for American audiences. I started with Gann’s co-creator and Aussie co-star, Adam Zwar, who gave up control of the show so Gann could make the adaptation.
Has your partner in the original version, Adam Zwar, seen the original version? What does he think about it?
He’s told me that he loved it. He’s proud of it; he’s proud that we got a second season.
What was the reason why he didn’t want to participate in the American version? I know you’ve mentioned it in another interview.
“He didn’t want to be 40 and talking to a man in a dog suit,” was what the quote was. I’m glad that he didn’t, because I wouldn’t be here otherwise. It’s only because there was going to be no more Wilfred in Australia that SBS released the show. And Adam, to his credit, gave me his blessing to take the character further.
Why do you think a lot of adaptations don’t work when they get adapted for U.S. audiences?
Well, I haven’t seen a lot that don’t work, because most of them haven’t made it to Australian shores. I’ve seen The Office, and that works for me. Kath and Kim is the only real example that I’ve seen, but I was always surprised that that was even going to be attempted, because I thought that the very heart of Kath and Kim, what that show was about, was a cross-section of Australian culture. It was about a certain type of Australian; we call them bogans. I don’t think you can just replace bogans with trailer trash and have the same thing work. I mean, Kath and Kim didn’t really have much of a story; one story was they go shopping. And in the [U.S.] pilot that I saw, they went shopping, but nothing really seemed to happen. I think it’s because they tried to translate it to an American equivalent.
Wilfred is I think a much more universal subject, about a dog. I still wasn’t entirely sure it was going to work [in America]; I wasn’t sure at all. I mean, [FX entertainment honcho] John Landgraf asked early on “Why does he always talk in an Australian accent?” And [one of the producers] responded, “Didn’t you know that all dogs talk in an Australian accent?” Then I wasn’t sure if people were going to respond to me being Australian or not. The feedback I’ve gotten is that [the character] resonates more because I’m Australian than if I had been an American. You never know.
How is the American version being received back home?
It’s predominately being loved. There was a lot of skepticism about it when I was about to do it, and I was called a sell-out and things like that. A lot of those people were fans of [the original] Wilfred, and that wasn’t much fun. But I knew we turned most of those people around; with me strongly involved, I wasn’t going to let it be crap. So I’m proud to say that the vast majority of those same people… the current comment I hear is that “I thought it was going to be crap, and it’s awesome.” And a lot of Aussies still prefer the old one but still love the new one, and there’s a section of Aussies that totally say they much prefer the new one. There’s still a very small percentage who aren’t giving it a chance, but you’re never going to win back those people.
Do they know about how American shows are made, with writing by committee and network interference, that sort of thing?
No, I was surprised at how few people back there know how a writers’ room is run. I was recently back there talking to a bunch of network people, and it’s really different in Australia.
Look, I think I’m going to take back what I’ve learned from here and put it back in the Australian industry, because our comedy system is all but dead. I mean, our biggest award system, the Logies doesn’t even have a comedy section anymore because there aren’t enough comedies being made there, they’re not being programmed. There’s almost like a whole generation of comedy makers that have skipped a generation. We get a lot of the big successful American shows there, but a successful show doesn’t mean that it’s a good show, and we get a lot of those as well that people don’t like. Australia’s a tough audience.
What’s one of the shows in that category?
Look, I wouldn’t speculate or like to name any shows (chuckles). I’m not going to trash anyone. But I mean, look, Kath and Kim, they really hated that, and that’s I think what they had to go by [as far as adaptations are concerned]. And there was a guy who had a show over there that was really successful, more successful than me, anyway, and he had an opportunity to make an American version of his show, and he rejected it because of that pressure, and the stigma that an Australian show changing into an American show had. He had that opportunity at the same time I had mine, and my view was you take the opportunity and then work out how to make it great. I’m not going to not do something because it hasn’t been done successfully before. Someone’s always got to be first at something, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Joel Keller is freelance writer who toils for Zap2It, The AV Club and Vulture, among other publications and websites. He’d get in a dog suit in a second if it meant he’d get the enduring attention of Australian women.