Lost Gems: Dear John (1986-1987)/Dear John (USA) (1988-1992)

Lost in translation across the Atlantic

John Sullivan is best known in the UK as the creator and writer of Only Fools and Horses. But he did write other shows, including Just Good Friends and… Dear John. Guest what show this Lost Gem is about.

As the show’s title suggests, this is about a regular guy called John who comes home to get a ‘Dear John’ letter from his wife (the words of which are sung in the theme tune), who tells him she’s leaving him for another man.

To get his life back on track, schoolteacher John joins a support group for divorced people, run by a woman called Louise (catchphrase: "Were there any sexual problems?") and populated by various oddballs, including Ralph (a colossal nerd who drives a motorcycle-sidebar combination), Kate (an attractive but ‘frigid’, thrice-divorced woman played by Belinda Lang from 2.4 Children), and ‘Kirk’, a man who dresses like John Travolta and claims to be a spy, but is really a guy called Eric who lives at home with his mum.

The show largely revolved around the interactions between these characters at the support group and the humour of their various situations and characters. But there’s a great deal of pathos as well, given the situation, with Ralph having been married by a Polish woman just to get a UK passport and Eric/Kirk being lonely and inadequate so having to devise a persona in order to function in the real-world and possibly romance Kate, with whom he falls in love: in one episode, Eric resolves to be himself, but when a pub fight breaks out, he discovers he can only stop it, by becoming Kirk again.

The show ended inconclusively after two series and a ‘special’. Kate gets a new boyfriend and goes to Greece, but that’s about as far as it goes for story arc. But that was about as far as it went.

Dear John (USA)

However, following the sitcom-import trend of the 70s and 80s, NBC in the US acquired the format and scripts and developed their own Dear John. Notable cast members were Judd Hirsch of Taxi fame, who played John, Isabella Hoffmann (Homicide) played Kate, Harry Groener (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) played Ralph, while Jere Burns (Burn Notice) played Kirk.

There were a few but notable changes to the show along the way, changes that essentially made the show blander and less biting. The theme tune, while essentially the same, becomes faster and happier; Kate is no longer frigid, merely divorced; and Kirk really is a secret agent, even if no one believes him at first (ironic, given Burns’ current role in Burn Notice).

Although considerably messed around in the schedules, Dear John (USA) (as the BBC retitled it when they acquired it) lasted four seasons on NBC, but hasn’t been seen since, making it a ‘Lost Gem’. However, the UK original is available on DVD.