I'm seeing a disturbing trend coming out of Hollywood lately. This trend is to take movie franchises and remake them as TV series.
It's not a new trend, in fact it goes back to the earliest days of the medium. A good example is the 1955 prequel series to the classic movie Casablanca that lasted 10 episodes and a second attempt in 1983 that lasted a whopping 5 episodes.
Now I'm not saying that all projects translated from the big screen to the small screen are failures or complete creative abominations.
But for every M*A*S*H* and Buffy The Vampire Slayer style long running classic that comes along there's about ten Dirty Dancing: The Series, and Delta Houses crashing and burning.
However, what strikes me about this latest crop is a certain air of desperation as networks and studios scramble to come up with content while avoiding any new ideas. The latest report I saw is that MTV is trying to find a way to convert the Scream franchise, which fizzled out in part four into a TV series.
Now I'm not going to talk about animated spin-offs of movies, I'm just going to talk about the live-action movies turned TV shows, why the studios and the networks do it, and what can make or break the project.
WHY DO THEY DO IT?
Short Answer: Fear.
Long answer, studios and networks are run by people who are terrified of risk. New ideas are risky in two ways. There's the risk of failure and the risk of success.
If the show with the new idea fails, either as an unsold pilot, or a canceled series the studio and/or the network will lose a lot of money.
If the show with the new idea succeeds, then they have to share more of those profits with the show's creators.
Much like movie remakes these executives will try to cushion themselves from those risk by sticking to properties they already own with familiar titles or premises.
With most of the major studios merged or in some sort of relationship with TV networks, the temptation to do this is increased exponentially.
It doesn't matter that 90% of such projects last less than a single season, the security these executives see in these sorts of projects outweigh the pitfalls.
NOW, WHAT ABOUT THE PITFALLS?
They are many, and what works in one adaptation can damn another. Among them are....
AUDIENCE EXPECTATIONS: The audience has certain expectations when it comes to a TV adaptation of a beloved movie franchise. The more they love the original the more critical they will be of the TV show's cast, look, and story-lines.
Exceed those expectations, and you can succeed, but fall one inch short, and you're doomed.
LIMITED PREMISE: A lot of movies have premises that do not translate well to episodic storytelling. They're built around one specific event, place, and actions, and trying to make it into a TV series would lead to a much cheaper repeat of the movie on a weekly basis.
REINVENTION: Sometimes a movie can be completely reinvented right down to its foundation when its adapted to a TV series. This can save a series, or it can sink it.
Good examples are the TV versions of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Ferris Bueller.
Where the movie Buffy was a broad farce, the TV Buffy was much darker, more violent, and the humor was cleverer and the characters were developed into being more than just excuses for jokes or silly scenes.
The TV Ferris Bueller was an adaptation of John Hughes' 80s teen classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
Where the movie was about a smart, smooth, and popular charmer getting away with thumbing his nose at dimwitted authority the TV Ferris was about a smart, but unpopular nerd getting into trouble without neither charm or flair.
Where Buffy seemed to fans like it was getting to the heart of creator's Joss Whedon's original vision, Ferris had no input from the film's creator, John Hughes, and struck everyone who saw as a weak attempt to take a show premise created by someone else, and try to sell it by slapping a previously successful name to it.
That struck the audience as phony, and the show was gone before the end of the season.
I don't see this trend ending anytime soon, in fact, I fully expect it to get a lot worse before it gets any better.