Movies Inspired By TV Shows: Are They a Bad Idea?

Movies Inspired By TV Shows: Are They a Bad Idea?

We’ve seen it occasionally happen over the years: movies that hope to cash-in on iconic television shows by using them as a basis for a feature film. Typically, these outings are awful. They seldom do anything to improve upon the performances and premises on which they are based. The recent ChiPs is an example. A bumbling film of poor taste that does damage to the show’s reputation by recreating it as a comedy with insipid, juvenile humor and frankly, poor taste. Other TV to film enterprises include the Scooby-Doo films, Bewitched, The Flintstones, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angels, Dragnet, Dukes of Hazzard, Fat Albert, The Fugitive, Lost in Space, The Smurfs, South Park, Thunderbirds, Veronica Mars, 21 Jump Street, The Avengers, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Inspector Gadget, The Honeymooners, Miami Vice, Mission: Impossible, Star Trek (myriad inceptions), and The Mod Squad. This is just a partial list, but as you glance through it, only a handful stick out as having been faithful, entertaining adaptations of their original sources. Why is it that so many films that found their genesis in popular TV shows have failed to ignite on the big screen? How does this bode for the upcoming and eagerly-anticipated (by some) Baywatch film?  

 Linda Cardellini, Matthew Lillard, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar

Linda Cardellini, Matthew Lillard, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar

TV shows, particularly sitcoms, work because they are broken-down into bite-sized, half-hour or hour segments. Stories are encapsulated within the timeframe of the episode, often wrapping-up with a pat ending that satisfies the viewers in one-sitting. Character development is kept at a minimum, and story arcs reserved for only the shows that utilize that conceit (The Walking Dead, American Horror Story for example). When a TV show is stretched-out into a feature-length film, it is demanding we accept that it can be opened-up and hold our interest beyond the duration of a typical episode. These premises don’t necessarily have the advanced structure to sustain such demands, and that factors into why many of these films fail to succeed on the big screen. Too much filler is added to stretch a TV show into a film.

Another challenge of these transformations is in evoking enough recognition and nostalgia for the original TV series to appeal to the die-hard fans that tuned-in every week. Some films have done this well. The Brady Bunch, for example, smartly recreated the Brady house, made sure the actors were cast to look like the stars who played them in the original series, and they alluded to episodes that we remember fondly. Was The Brady Bunch film a masterpiece? Hardly. But it did well at the box office because it gave audiences what they wanted, playing to their beloved memories of a corny sitcom. Television programs become very important to people. We spend time with these characters every week and they become members of the family. Any film that doesn’t do service to that feeling is missing the boat on how to appeal to audiences. If we don’t recognize Carol Brady or Fred Flintstone when they are transported to the big screen, are we really going to care? Unless we are coming to the table with no pre-conceived notions of these shows, they are always going to pale by comparison.

Turning TV shows into films is not always a bad idea. In fact, with some thought and common sense, there are many titles that could work great. Gilligan’s Island would be fun, if it is executed in a way that is similar to The Brady Bunch. Green Acres would work along the same lines. TV dramas like Hill Street Blues, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and even Dynasty could work if those writing them understand that their popularity stems from a certain feeling and tone. It’s a matter of marrying nostalgia with an idea that can sustain itself for the length of a movie.   

Please follow me on Twitter at @theatreguy22 or on my Facebook page Mark Robinson Writes.

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