Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1184: Uncle Bucked?

In case you've been living in a cave, the original Uncle Buck from 1989 was the start of a multi-picture deal between Universal Pictures and writer/director John Hughes. 

It's about a family that's newly moved to Chicago and the parent's have to go to take care of the mother's father, who has had a heart attack. The only person they know in Chicago who can look after their kids is the father's brother Buck, a shady bundle of vices who makes his living rigging the odds at horse races, played by the late comedy legend John Candy.

The little movie was a big hit in theatres and later on home video and television, and it inspired Universal to sell it as a TV series.

I'm not talking about the current TV series, I'm talking about the Uncle Buck TV series from 1990.

Don't remember it?

There's a reason for that.

It bombed.


First the TV Buck had no visible input from John Hughes, or John Candy who skill and charm made the original film work.

Second, they changed the premise to add something the original film didn't have: DEATH. To give Buck an excuse to be around the kids they killed off the parents, putting a nasty pall over the whole proceedings.

Third, the scripts were old fashioned hackneyed antics lacking in the original's charm and skill.

The show's opening ratings were big, mostly because of curiosity on the part of the original's fans, but collapsed almost entirely by the second episode, and the show barely lasted one season.

So far, it looks like this new Uncle Buck show is going to be a repeat of the old Uncle Buck show, which makes me ask: Why?

Multiple reasons:

1. FAMILIARITY SEEMS SAFE: Remember, originality scares network executives. If they can get a familiar and popular title and put it on they'll do it, even though the success/fail ratio is probably worse than for original material, since they have to deal with the baggage of the source material.

2. ONCE IN A WHILE IT WORKS: NBC has a cult-hit with Hannibal, and the networks are looking at that and are saying: "Me too!" The problem is that they don't see what got Hannibal its dedicated fans. Aside from the names of characters and some basic premises, it's a massive departure from the "Hannibal Lecter" movies. Style, characterizations, and plots go in new and unpredictable directions, which is an achievement for what's essentially a prequel show. I don't see them trying something as radical as that on a mainstream network family sitcom.

3. THE ORIGINAL MOVIE'S PRINCIPALS ARE DEAD: Both writer/director John Hughes and star John Candy are dead. That means they can't use social media to sink the deal in the way Cameron Crowe and John Cusack did for a TV series version of their 1989 romantic comedy Say Anything.

And the networks wonder why they're getting their asses kicked by cable and Netflix.

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