Bea Arthur starred in Maude from 1972 to 1978. In February of 1983, she returned to series television in Amanda’s (also known as Amanda’s by the Sea), a show which continued the tradition of adapting hit British programs for American TV. Apart from the hotel setting though, it was difficult to tell that Ms. Arthur’s comeback show was an Americanization of Fawlty Towers, which starred its co-creator, John Cleese, as the less-than-stable hotel proprietor Basil Fawlty.
Cleese accepted no responsibility for the U.S. version and refused to allow his name to be used in the credits. He was satisfied to just cash the checks and puzzle as to just what the American producers thought they’d purchased. In one interview, he described a phone call from one of them explaining, “We’ve made a tiny change…we’ve written Basil out of the show.” In actuality, what they’d done was to take Mr. Fawlty and give him a sex change. Bea Arthur’s character, Amanda Cartwright, was also nicer than Fawlty and less given to the kind of rudeness and hysterics that had made the original show so funny. Still, it was nice to see Ms. Arthur again. Two years later, she would be back with more success as one of The Golden Girls.
It was the second of three unsuccessful attempts to turn Fawlty Towers into a U.S. sitcom. The first, Snavely, starred Harvey Korman as hotel entrepreneur Henry Snavely, who was not unlike a nicer Basil, with Betty White as his spouse. It was an unsold 1978 pilot. Five years later, we had Amanda’s, which lasted six episodes. And then in 1999, there was yet another short-lived attempt with John Laroquette in the title role of Payne, a sitcom also known as Royal Payne. All vanished quickly but the reruns of Fawlty Towers continue, as popular as ever. What can we learn from this?