Transnational Format Adaptation

Comparing the Ways of Representation of 'The Office' and 'Stromberg'

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2012

29 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1 Introduction

2 Definitions: (Transnational) Television Formats and the Circuit of Media Culture

3 Transnational Format Adaptations in the „Circuit of Media Culture“
3.1 Production: Globalization and Format Trade
3.2 Representation: Cultural Imperialism vs. Diversity
3.3 Appropriation: Identification with Local Aspects

4 Case Studies: Comparison of the Representation in The Office and Stromberg
4.1 Genre and Format
4.2 Narrative Structures and Background Information
4.3 Methodology
4.4 Comparison of the Pilot Episodes in Seven Categories
4.4.1 Storyline
4.4.2 Setting and Workplace Culture
4.4.3 Characters and Constellations
4.4.4 Linguistic Aspects
4.4.5 Cultural References and Intertextuality
4.4.6 Political Correctness and Discrimination
4.4.7 Humor

5 Conclusion

6 Sources

7 Appendix

1 Introduction

Everyone who is familiar with the current television landscape can probably name at least one or two TV programs of which they know there are other versions of the same programs broadcasted in other regions of the world. To name only a few, there are quiz and game shows, such as Who Wants to Be a Millionare? or Wheel of Fortune, reality shows, such as Big Brother or The Bachelor, but also drama programs, such as Coronation Street or The Restless Years. Different versions of the same program often show striking similarities in their basic structure, they might have similar narratives and characters, or even convey the same values; yet they have a local coloring from the region where they are produced through local participants or actors, plotlines based on local problems or local cultural references. This is caused by the fact that the different versions of one program stem from the same format that originated in one cultural environment, was taken over into other regions and adapted to the local backgrounds. This process of deterritoralizing TV formats by using a foreign format and producing a local version of it is called transnational TV format adaptation.

The reason why there is an increase in transnational format adaptations and why consumers are aware of that is because of the continuing globalization of media communication, meaning the advanced exchange of products, practices and ideas through progressive technology (Hepp 2006: 9f.). While being a result of globalization, however, format adaptations are produced in local contexts “integrating ‘local’ content in various ways” (Machin/Leeuwen 2007: 1f.). By combining parts of different cultures they are neither completely global nor local products but rather examples a transnational media landscape (cf. Jensen 2007: 5, 13). Although “the practice is not new and can be traced back to the radio”, research focused more on transnational program sales or co-productions, and format adaptation has only come to the center of attention in research in the past 15 years (see Moran 1998, Moran/Malbon 2006, Jensen 2007).This is why this topic has aroused my interest and will be the topic of this paper.

The aim of this paper is to give an overview over the mechanisms of transnational format adaptation and, in the main part, compare two different products of the same format from different countries to demonstrate the transcultural character. The underlying research question is: What are the similarities and differences in the representations of two different versions of the same format? In this context I will try to answer what the adapted version took over from the original and how it hybridized aspects of the original version with local content. Since the mechanisms of format adaptations are very complex, I will use the “circuit of media culture” by Andreas Hepp (2006: 71ff.) to structure my explanations and to describe the level on which I will compare the media products. First, I will give definitions of what a format and the “circuit of media” is to establish a basis to understand the following elaborations. The “circuit of media culture” assumes that every media product passes through the three levels of production, representation and appropriation accompanied by regulation and identification. I will give an overview of the characteristics of format adaptations on all three levels, while focusing on the level of representation because this is the level on which I will analyze the two format versions. After providing the theoretical background, I will introduce my case studies: The Office (UK) and the adaptation Stromberg. First, I will explain the genre and the overall format of both versions, followed by a few facts about the production and the success of both programs. Then, after introducing my methodology in detail, this paper will result in a comparison of the representational level of both pilot episodes in seven categories: storyline, setting, characters, linguistic aspects, cultural references, political correctness and humor. In the end, I will be able to draw a conclusion how similar or different they are, i. e. how much the adaptation took from the original and how much local coloring can be found in both.

2 Definitions: (Transnational) Television Formats and the Circuit of Media Culture

Before going into detail about the processes of transnational format adaptations and comparing our case studies, I will briefly explain what a television format and format adaptation as well as the “circuit of media culture” are in order to provide a conceptual basis. There is no universal definition of TV formats, mostly because it is nothing really tangible and because it hasn’t been in the focus of media research for very long. Moran (1998) defines a TV format as “that set of invariable elements in a program out of which the variable elements of an individual episode are produced” (13). With regard to adaptation he and Malbon (2006) later framed it as “that total body of knowledge systematically and consciously assembled to facilitate the future adaptation under licence of the programme” (7). Jensen (2007) added that it is an “abstract phenomenon” that “has been sold for adaptation in at least one country outside its country of origin” (14), adding a transnational character to the definition. A format usually consists of a description of e. g. the outline of a program, the storyline, design, or characters and additionally the “format bible” with facts about target audiences, ratings etc. (Moran 1998: 14). An adaptation, in turn, is “the process of worldwide geographic dispersal and recycling of existing content” (Moran/Malbon 2006: 12), meaning the use of a format to make another media product out of it in a different culture. Therefore, it is part of transcultural communication by taking a format from one culture and adapting it for another.

Hepp (2006) claims, referring to Johnson (1986) and du Gay (1997), that all cultural media products – thus also transnational formats – pass through three main processes, which are all connected: the level of “production” of a media product includes all procedures to create it, the level of “representation” refers to what meanings are expressed in a product and how that is done, and the level of “appropriation” is the process of reception by the audience. This “Kreislauf der Medienkultur”[1] (“circuit of media culture”) is accompanied by “regulation” and “identification”, which influence the elaboration of the processes (Hepp 2006: 71ff.). In times of deterritorialization this circuit is not restricted to national boundaries anymore and is a good graphical model to explain the complex mechanisms of transnational format adaptations, which I will explain in the subsequent chapters.

3 Transnational Format Adaptations in the “Circuit of Media Culture”

Before going into the representational analysis of the two versions of the The Office, I will explain the processes of the “circuit of media culture” concerning format adaptations in a transnational context to have an explanatory background of how transnational format adaptations work. My main focus will be the “representation” level, seeing as this is the level I compare the two case studies on.

3.1 Production: Globalization and Format Trade

The production level of a transnational format adaptation, is closely linked to the processes of “globalization” and subsequently “glocalization”. Globalization, a term that comes from an economic direction, describes “a worldwide system of economic, cultural and political interdependence” (Moran 1998: 2) with an increase of transnational communication, social interactions and exchange of goods worldwide. This also counts for TV formats, which become global commodities, originated in one country, traded on the world market to other regions and adapted there (Kübler 2011: 30f.). However, what is special about TV format adaptations and what distinguishes them from whole programs traded to another country is that they are the “result of economical, technological and cultural globalization” but “produced locally in a local language with a local cast”, which means that a “global” concept is combined with local features and makes them a great example of a “trans-national media culture” (Jensen 2007: 27). In a global context, TV formats originate in one country and when they are successful they are usually licensed and traded to a foreign producer by an international distributor (cf. ibid. 19, Moran 1998: 25f.). It should be added that the import of a format depends essentially on regulative influences from the industry, media policies and media systems (cf. Dowd/Janssen 2011: 520). A transnational format must be suitable for different cultures but in its realization it is adjusted to local peculiarities, which requires that producers are fully aware of what fits the cultural context (Hepp 2006: 215; Bielby 2011: 537). However, the local adaptation also depends on how strict the requirements concerning any adaptations are by the licensor – sometimes the original has to be “imitated”, sometimes it is a “general framework” (Moran/Malbon 2006: 69).

In the format trading business, the UK is the greatest exporter, while Spain is the greatest importer[2]. The genre within which the most formats are traded internationally are quiz and game shows, such as Who wants to be a millionaire or Fortune Wheel, followed by reality and lifestyle, such as Big Brother or Pop Idol, because their original versions have the lowest appeal to foreign audiences. Obvious benefits of importing a foreign format are that a local adaptation is likely to have the same success as the original version. Even though it is more expensive than just broadcasting a complete foreign program, the ratings might be significantly higher and it also brings jobs. Additionally, costs are saved “for the research and the development of the program” (Jensen 22f., cf. Moran 1998: 20ff.). However, for the originators, TV format adaptations bring some disadvantages because it is difficult to get a copyright, and, while it counts as “intellectual property”, slight changes can create a completely new program. This has caused a lot of cases of plagiarism as well as lawsuits[3] but usually licenses are sold and bought officially, which is also supported by the organization Format Recognition and Protection Association (FRAPA) that protects TV formats and the rights of licensors[4]. As we have seen, the production of TV format adaptations is a complex field[5] but globalization has made a large distribution of program concepts possible that are adapted to local contexts.

3.2 Representation: Cultural Imperialism vs. Diversity

The focus of this paper is on the level of representation of TV format adaptations, i. e. how meaning is expressed in different versions of one format because representation is the basis for appropriation and the possibility of identification of the audience with a program. Stuart Hall (1997), also referring to the “circuit of culture” by du Gay (1997), described very elaborately what representation means for cultural goods. He explains that culture is “the exchange of meanings […] between members of a society or group” (2) and the role of representation in this process is “the production of the meaning of the concepts in our minds through language” (ibid. 17). Language, in the context of representation, is meant in a very broad sense referring to all methods of expression by “symbols and signs”, such as “sounds, written words, electronically produced images […], even objects [which] represent to other people our concepts, ideas and feelings” (ibid. 1). Hall does not specifically address media products but seeing as his remarks are universal for cultural products, they also count for transnational TV formats. In this context, media product creators give meanings to their products by representing images, stories, emotions or values in particular ways through language, and, thereby, communicate these meanings to the viewers. In TV programs (especially fiction), representation is realized through e. g. words dialogues (dialogues, thoughts), interactions, elaborated character traits, the looks of the characters and the setting as well as mimic and gestures (cf. ibid. 3ff.). TV program adaptations from different cultures may sometimes try to convey the same meaning using transnational signs and symbols but in many cases the meanings as well as the “language” differ, which is why various versions of the same format might diverge substantially. Hall explains that there are two “systems of representation” that members of the same culture share, namely one system of “conceptual maps”, by which people “roughly interpret the world in the same way”. Through this system we “give meaning to the world” and is the reason why we understand shared meanings by others. The other system is “language”, which we share with others of the same culture, and by which we express or represent meanings we have given to the world. Only by this “language system” can a creator produce meaning by using certain “codes” because meaning does not lie in objects themselves but “is constructed by the system of representation” (ibid. 17ff.). Therefore, two versions of the same format might show similarities in their representation of meaning due to similar systems of concepts and language, and differences due to the same reasons.


[1] See Appendix 1 for the graphic

[2] The numbers are from the FRAPA report 2009; for more details see Appendix 2.

[3] The case studies in this paper, The Office and Stromberg, are an example of an unlicensed copy of a format.

[4] FRAPA was founded in 2000 in Monaco, see FRAPA Report 2009 and Moran/Malbon 2006: 102ff.

[5] For detailed information about economic and legal forces on format trade see Moran/Malbon 2006.

Excerpt out of 29 pages


Transnational Format Adaptation
Comparing the Ways of Representation of 'The Office' and 'Stromberg'
University of Bremen  (Institut für historische Publizistik, Kommunikations- und Medienwissenschaft)
Transcultural Communication
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
918 KB
transnational, format, adaptation, comparing, ways, representation, office, stromberg
Quote paper
Bachelor of Arts Sophia Schulze (Author), 2012, Transnational Format Adaptation, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Transnational Format Adaptation

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free