‘Shameless’ takes to TV screens in America

BIG TIME: A Times Square billboard promoting Burnley wirter Paul Abbott's Bafta-winning TV show Shameless which has hit screens across the US. (s)
BIG TIME: A Times Square billboard promoting Burnley wirter Paul Abbott's Bafta-winning TV show Shameless which has hit screens across the US. (s)

From the backstreets of Burnley to billboard posters in New York’s Times Square – Paul Abbott has come a long way.

The Burnley writer’s hit series “Shameless”, which is based on his experiences growing up in the town, began its first season on US television on Sunday.

Starring Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy as likeable rogue Frank Gallagher, the American remake is set in a downtrodden suburb of Chicago rather than Manchester’s Chatsworth estate. A massive promotional campaign was run by the television network Showtime, which included a huge poster in the iconic Times Square.

As in the original version of the show, alcoholic father Frank is often AWOL, leaving his eldest daughter Fiona in charge. The tales of the Gallagher household are based on Paul’s own upbringing in Burnley. A former pupil of Barden High School, he was supervised at home by his eldest sister after both parents walked out.

But Paul has used his passion for writing to carve out an extremely successful career. He joined Burnley Writers’ Circle as a teenager and was soon noted for his potential, winning a raft of prizes for his stories. At 22, Paul was writing plays for BBC Radio 4, but then moved into television after being talented-scouted for “Coronation Street”. He soon established himself as one of the soap’s most prominent writers and also penned other popular serials including “Clocking Off” and “Touching Evil”. When “Shameless” first aired in 2004, it became an instant classic and Channel 4 is currently showing the eighth series.

But the big question now is whether Paul’s creation will translate across the Atlantic.

He said: “One of my overwhelming imperatives was to make sure that television reflected what we all know is truly real life. When I started writing ‘Shameless’, I knew that it ought to be able to fit in any culture, because these families exist in every single culture. The filming and visual quality is brilliantly heightened in the US version, but it’s still the small story you’re looking at. It fits an American interpretation and the fact that this family is surviving against all odds.”

Paul’s sentiments are echoed by Burnley’s “Shameless” star Alice Barry, who plays Lillian. She said: “When I heard it was going to America I was a bit unsure of how well it would work. But after watching the first episode I was really pleased! “It’s set in a poor area of Chicago, but apart from that everything else is the same – even the script is word for word.

“I think they’ll like it over there – I’m not sure if the Bible Belt will appreciate all of it – but everyone else will enjoy it! The great thing about being a part of ‘Shameless’ is that everyone loves it. We’re filming 22 episodes this year and people all over the world watch it. I’ve had people from all over Europe, Australia and even Singapore telling me how much they love the show.”

As for Lillian’s storylines, Alice, who now lives in Blackpool, said that viewers have “a lot to look forward to” in the eighth series, which hit our screens this week.

The US version of “Shameless” will be screened in early spring on More4.