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Het Zonnetje in Huis (1993–2003)
A summery by one of the writers.
16 January 2004
't Zonnetje In Huis started life as an ITV sitcom called Tom, Dick and Harriet by the prodigious writing duo of Mortimer and Cooke. It starred Lionel Jeffries as Tom and Ian Ogilvy as his son Richard, who takes him in after the death Tom's wife. The series focused on the antics of Tom, who after thirty years of being denied everything, now wants to life the life he has never been able to live. Much to the chagrin of his son and daughter-in-law. The series was not a success in the UK and was canceled after two six episode seasons, but did spawn an even shorter lived American remake Foot In The Door, starring Harold Gould as the widower.

In the Dutch remake, the role of the widower was played by the famous dutch comedian/actor John Kraaykamp. He brought a lot of himself to the role and when the first 13 episode season was done, the network very much wanted to continue. Brian Cooke was asked to provide additional episodes (on his own, as his writing partner has since died). But he was working in Hollywood at that point and didn't really have the time to do it, so he got two young writers to do the work under his guidance. Both the network and the Dutch producer did not think that was a good way to work. For the third season Dutch writers were sought.

Harm Edens and I had successfully done adaptations of the British series Porridge and Man About the House and a Dutch version of the American hit The Mary Tyler Moore Show. After years of doing adaptations we were ready to go and do our own show, but the climate here still wasn't ready for that. Most shows were adapted or started out life as adaptations. Our first show, the dutch version of Porridge, had run for sixty self written episodes after the initial 21 British ones were used up and our Dutch version of Man About The House was to run even longer (although we pulled out at a certain point after training a couple of new writers).

We were asked, along with three other writers and one American who claimed to have written on Cheers, but hadn't and was dropped very quickly after his first contribution, to set up a third season. At the end of that season only we remained. The cast only wanted to work with our scripts and we were very proud of that.

We also reworked the series basic situation to suit our needs as writers and those of our actors. First of all, our Tom was cast a lot older than the original one. His character was different too. John Kraaykamp is at his funniest, when he is complaining. He has a comedians charm to pull that off without alienating the audience and an actors inclination to get his laughs through his lines and not by tomfoolery. The basic idea of the series shifted because of that. It was no longer about a man, who could enjoy life after having been put down by his wife for so many years. It was now about the effect of a grumbling old man coming to live with his son and daughter-in-law. It's the daughter-in-law who takes the brunt of his constant griping and she copes with that by giving as good as she gets. The developed a style of bad-mouthing each other (always with reason, which we took great care of in every episode) in such a way that they both remained human. At times it may seem that this series is something like the American sitcom Married With Children, but that is not the case. Zonnetje is a more human. In fact, the more they set each other off the more normal they seem. Richard, the husband in all this, plays the role of the middle man. He is someone who believes differences between people can be overcome by patience and communication. He is not a weak man, because he defends his position with force. But he is a nuanced man and that's what makes him funny.

We also changed the setting of the series. In the second series, Brian Cooke had already given Richard and Harriet a child and created a place where Tom could meet with his friends; a simple pub somewhere in the heart of the big city where this sitcom takes place. We had Harriet quit her job as a magazine writer and have Richard and her start his own ad agency in an office over the pub. We also changed the bland barman from the Cooke and Mortimer set-up to his wife, who comes from a rival big city (Rotterdam as opposed to Amsterdam) and deals with the disappointments in her life by putting everyone down, including herself. On other thing we changed was the tone of the comedy. Because of our preferences and our writing style, we shifted the series from a typically British plot-driven comedy to a more American style conflict driven show. This also made it more 'modern' than it's original.

In this set-up the series went on for seven more seasons, the last two of which were only ten episodes, due to the age of the actors involved and the fact that John Kraaykamp was doing a lot of theater as well. The series remained very popular, viewing figures soaring to new heights for the last three seasons, when we dropped the extra sets that we had been using for scenes set outside of the home of Richard and Harriet, their office and the pub and just concentrated on the essence of this great show: how hard it is to live together and to deal with the disappointments of life.
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Laat maar zitten (1988–1991)
More Info
29 May 2002
Laat Maar Zitten was an adaptation of the British comedy Porridge, one of the all time best comedies ever written for television. Harm Edens and mine adaptation for Dutch tv is now forgotten because it is never repeated, but at least for a while it was very popular and had the highest possible ratings. There were 21 original episodes which we all did in Dutch before writing our own. This had always been the intention, but we still owe both the VARA and producer/director John van de Rest a huge debt for making the start of our writing career so relatively easy. We just sat in our offices and wrote and wrote and wrote. Was it any good? Well, we were just starting out and finding our own voice, but thankful, the basic idea for this series set in a remote and relatively friendly prison, was a good one. Lots of underlying drama to give the comedy some pathos. The first twelve episodes we did ourselves I am still proud of and they got the highest ratings of the whole series. After that Johnny Kraaykamp (our Ronnie Barker) left the series and we had to find a new balances for the remaining characters. Still, we did a couple of episodes I am still proud of. Unfortunately some new actors were added we didn't like and under a new director the series drifted towards sketch humor acting. The final series, we used guest writers. But the VARA had decided to cancel the series anyway and most of those last thirteen were edited quite badly, as if the director wanted to punish the network. All in all, about eighty episodes were done sixty of which were originals. None are being repeated at the moment of available on video, so believe me when I say they were all marvelous.
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