Some great (or at least cult hit) television shows have been inspired by successful movies. M*A*S*H was a book, certainly, but the television show was created because of the Robert Altman film. The Paper Chase was an early critical success for the fledgling Showtime channel. McCloud was what happened when someone wanted to turn Coogan’s Bluff into a television show and realized that they couldn’t begin to afford Clint Eastwood’s salary. Buffy the Vampire Slayer went from a minor camp movie to an international television hit.
Those are the successes. There are also, as one would expect, failures.
Nothing In Common, for example. What could be better television fodder than a movie about an embittered family trying to deal with each other and the father’s secretly gangrenous foot? NBC gave it a prime slot… just after Cheers. It lasted seven episodes before disappearing, Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason couldn’t convince audiences to see the movie. I assume the only reason the show was attempted was a bet between studio executives.
Certainly, though, what was needed was movie success to create a winning show. That’s why, when the blockbuster movie (and, ultimately, the progenitor of most current teen comedies) Animal House was brought onto television screens as Delta House, it…
Oh, yeah. It bombed too. Badly. And deservedly. Unlike many other “translation” shows, they were able to secure some of the cast members from the movie to star in the show. But the sexually-suggestive nature of many of the movie jokes were curtailed for television, and the National Lampoon writers of the movie were jettisoned in favor of a more easily controlled group of experienced Hollywood screenwriters who were only too happy to avoid pushing boundaries.
Both of these were comedies, though. What has to be my favorite awful translation of movie to television comes from a failed television pilot for an action movie. Remo Williams, The Adventure Begins was made into Remo Williams: The Prophecy for television.
First, they dropped Fred Ward. That’s always a mistake, as Fred Ward has the ability to make just about anything entertaining. The guy they replaced him with didn’t exactly scream “grizzled reluctant assassin”; more “Rick Springfield video dancer”.
The choice to play Chiun, the Korean master assassin, though, that was inspired. The movie had Joel Grey in that spot. In an effort to get the whitest white guy they could, however, the television producers instead chose… Roddy McDowall.
He’s obviously just there to cash a paycheck, and I imagine that paycheck was fairly large, because he’s still completely out-acting anyone else in the show, and that’s while he’s under heavy makeup. Guess he really learned some things from his time as an ape.
Here’s the full pilot. If you want to see how not to handle the Destroyer series of novels, click on the video link.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite tv show of the 1980s?