Red Dwarf USA, also referred to as Dwarfing USA, was a project undertaken in 1992.
The project was a collaboration between Rob Grant and Doug Naylor of Grant Naylor Productions, the original co-creators and writers of the British franchise Red Dwarf, with various American producers and studios.
The ultimate goal of the project was to create a new version of the television series, for airing on U.S. television. Although two pilot episodes were made, they were not picked up, and the project ultimately never came to fruition. Grant and Naylor, themselves not satisfied with the two pilots, declared the project a failure.
By Series V, Red Dwarf had reached a significant level of air-time and popularity on "both sides of the pond", with the merchandise (comics, novels, games, and action figurines) selling well. Both Universal Studios and the NBC channel were keen on making their own version of the franchise (the former also showed interest in the Red Dwarf movie, although this too would not come to fruition).
Sets and prosthetics were made, the crew were cast and it was decided that two pilot episodes would be made to pitch the US version of the television series. The project hit difficulties almost immediately, due to creative differences between the British and American producers. Rob Grant left, citing too much interference from Universal Studios and NBC, and "unfunny" scripts being pushed onto them; leaving Doug Naylor to attempt to hold things together alone. Naylor was also not impressed with the casting, and was one of the reasons why the casting was slightly altered for the second pilot.
First pilot episode
The first American pilot essentially follows the same story as the first episode of the original series, using American actors for most of the main roles: Craig Bierko as Dave Lister, Chris Eigeman as Arnold Rimmer, and Hinton Battle as Cat. Exceptions to this were Robert Llewellyn, who reprised his role as Kryten, and the British actress Jane Leeves who played Holly. (According to the documentary "Dwarfing USA", Danny John-Jules was impressed by the casting of Battle who, like himself, had an extensive dance background.)
It was written by Linwood Boomer and directed by Jeffrey Melman, with Rob Grant and Doug Naylor on board as creators and executive producers, although Naylor states in "Dwarfing USA" that most of his and Grant's suggestions for script improvements, which at one point involved them completely rewriting the script overnight, were rejected. During filming of the pilot, the audience reaction was good and it was felt that the story had been well received. However later test audiences were not so impressed, and contributors to the Dimension Jump conventions would almost always state to the original British cast how much they hated it.
Among the substantial differences is that some of the later retconning of the Red Dwarf having a crew of thousands rather than a couple of hundred prior to the accident (from Series IV onwards in the British version) is maintained, Holly has a female form from the beginning (rather than changing later), and Kryten joins Red Dwarf prior to the accident instead of being picked up later. The episode also begins near the start of Red Dwarf's original voyage from the Solar System, rather than some time later.
Second pilot episode
The studio executives were not entirely happy with the pilot, especially the casting, but decided to give the project another chance with Grant and Naylor in charge. The intention was to shoot a 'promo video' for the show in a small studio described by the writers as 'a garage'. New cast members were hired for the roles of Cat and Rimmer; Terry Farrell and Anthony Fusco respectively; the character of the Cat was changed with the casting of a female in the role.
With a small budget and deadline, new scenes were quickly shot and mixed in with existing footage of the pilot and UK Series V episodes. Rather than being a complete storyline, the new pilot was more a highlights reel of potential story ideas. Among the most notable was a recreation of scenes from the Series III episode "Marooned".
The American version retained some of the jokes from the original series: such as the "novelty condom head" joke, and the joke about Pot Noodle being worse than dog food, although the reference was changed to Cup-a-Noodle. The "Wilma Flintstone" joke was copied verbatim, although in the original it was with Cat who agreed with Lister on Wilma being the sexiest woman alive, but in this version the discussion is with Rimmer, who disagrees with Lister on Wilma.
Despite the re-shoots and re-casting, the option on the second pilot was still not picked up.
Neither version of the pilot has ever been broadcast, though both pilots have been heavily bootlegged. The Series V DVD release includes a documentary on the making of the pilots, "Dwarfing USA", which includes footage from the first version of the pilot, but not the second as BBC Video was unable to obtain licensing rights to it. The documentary includes Craig Charles criticizing the second pilot as being "White Dwarf" due to the lack of any black actors in it.
In a later interview, Craig Bierko admitted that the fact that they cast him as Lister was the main reason the pilot didn't work, and recommended fans watch the original version and not the American version (Craig Charles, on the other hand, claimed in "Dwarfing USA" that Bierko was very good (that's what pissed him off), but was 6 foot 4 and handsome), and was initially worried that the British version of the show was finished.
The failure of the Red Dwarf USA pilots allowed two of its actors to go on to success in other series: in 1993, Leeves began an 11-year run on the sitcom Frasier as Daphne Crane, while Farrell was cast as Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which began airing in 1993. Hinton Battle's musical and terpsichorean prowess can be seen in his guest spot on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the Demon of Dance in the episode "Once More, with Feeling".
Over a decade later, Craig Bierko, the actor cast as Lister, gave a notable interview regarding Red Dwarf USA. Bierko said he was a big fan of Red Dwarf and described the original British series as "ridiculously brilliant, revered", and that "America crapped on it", in his own words. Bierko also said that he himself was wrongly cast, as Lister should have been a "John Belushi"-type character, and not a rugged "Han Solo" type.
- Red Dwarf article on Wikipedia
- "Dwarfing USA" documentary on the Series V DVD
- Article regarding the history of "Red Dwarf USA" on the official Red Dwarf website