Amazon recently announced it will be spending a gazillion dollars on a 5 year Lord of the Rings TV series and YouTube is producing a Karate Kid update. It’s hard to come up with ideas, so why not go backward and reuse and repackage a winning franchise? Film-to-television has happened since the dawn of the mediums. Even one of the best movies of all-time, Casablanca, was made into two different series thirty-plus years apart. TV producers figure: if there is a successful film property then why not turn it into successful television? There are a couple of different ways to do this, each with varying success. One way is a straight adaptation with the same characters using different actors (Lethal Weapon, The Odd Couple, About a Boy), another way is to do a prequel (Casablanca, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles), or it could be a sequel or continuation of the story (Ash vs. Evil Dead, Training Day). Some are hugely successful (MASH) and others not so much (Alien Nation). So we wondered what movies could we turn into successful television programming.
I cannot believe how many films were actually made into TV shows. Surprisingly, I have liked so few of them. Most are derivative or cheap versions of the original. When I was young I remember watching a ton of episodes of The Odd Couple not even knowing it had been a movie and I thought it was great. I loved the movie About a Boy and the show was well done too. I will say with the advent of streaming and limited-run series the world is open to making more out of these films exploring the worlds, even more, Westworld, for instance, showed how the material can surpass its film. My three are a little out there but I was mostly going for broke.
The Goonies (1985)
I loved the Goonies growing up. I put it in the E.T. category just under the Indiana Jones and Star Wars films. I must have said “Goonies never say die!” a thousand times in my life. But as an adult, I loved it more as a memory. It’s a fun movie that has an overreaching reputation that doesn’t always hold up. I am very surprised, though, that nothing more was ever done with this film. Done today it would have been beaten into submission including a Disney “land”. I have zero interest in a live-action TV series where new actors try to recreate these iconic characters. I did for a split second think of reviving it as a “where are they now?” show a la YouTube’s Karate Kid, I am sure Corey Feldman, Sean Astin, and maybe even Josh Brolin would return. But I decided I wanted to see this differently. I was thinking how about a thirty minute “80’s animation style” adventure series each week. A literal throwback to the cartoons of my childhood. It would allow for the characters to remain as children and you could even bring back Mama Fratelli. Sloth would continue to be a fun character and maybe the show’s moral compass. There could be 80’s music montages. Now if you didn’t want a total Saturday morning-like flashback you could also spin it into a primetime cartoon with a little more edgy material with a PG-13 spin, nothing too hardcore, just some mild language and some jokes that may go over the kids’ heads. 80’s stuff is nostalgic and the Goonies is a beloved film, a perfect time to revisit it in a fun comedic adventure cartoon.
Bonus: If I was in a pitch room, I would go with a Steven Spielberg cartoon comedy hour with this Goonies pitch and perhaps a 30-minute E.T. cartoon, or Jurassic Park.
MG: This isn’t a bad idea at all. For whatever reason, The Goonies lives on in people’s minds, and is still regularly shown on cable channels. The animation idea could work, but if you wanted to reach adults nostalgic for this, you might have to do a live-action version. HBO has a family channel – it would be perfect there. If they hurry, they could still get Cyndi Lauper to write a song or two for it – maybe pop-in for a cameo.
The Thin Man (1934)
The 1934 Thin Man movie is one of my favorite film comedies of all time. It starred Willam Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a married couple who were famous private investigators. They also had one of Hollywood’s most famous dogs, Asta who helped when he could. Powell and Loy had a great chemistry, which is hard to match. The characters were socialites who drank a lot. It spawned five successful sequels and was immensely popular at the time. Before the older generation (because our readership trends over 70) calls me out, yes it was a TV show that ran from 1957-1959 starring Peter Lawford. That was 60 years ago so let’s pretend that never happened because my idea is fresh. I am envisioning this as a weekly hour series, on a major network, that showcases a new mystery each week. I would even consider it taking place in the 1930’s, trying to keep the original spirit intact. At least this way there can’t be any crossover episodes with CSI/NCIS or even the dreadful Bull. It would be light and would need to be well-written, it needs to have a lot of good banter and make sense. The actors need to be likable and charismatic. Not sure if we have many mystery writers these days on TV but what we need here is a Matlock/Murder She Wrote vibe with interesting realistic cases. It should also keep the Scottish Terrier. I think this would be a big hit with middle-aged – older crowd and bring a little light escapist fun back to TV.
Bonus: I need someone out there to help me cast this one, all ideas welcome, please submit in the comments or on Twitter.
MG: I can see this idea going over like a lead balloon in the network boardroom. This is CBS’ demographic, so maybe they’d be willing to take a chance on this. I have no idea who could be cast in this – tough to envision current actors doing these types of roles. You may have to change the title as women and the “weight challenged” would be up in arms.
Uncommon Valor (1983)
My last pick was going to be L.A. Confidential until I recently heard it’s actually already in development, so instead, I went way off the reservation with a film most people may not have seen or remember. Back in the 80’s, there was this Reagan-era burst of Vietnam nostalgia and along with the Platoons, i.e. “serious” Vietnam movies, there was the Missing in Actions – over the top return to ‘Nam to rescue POW films. One of these films was Uncommon Valor starring Gene Hackman as a father of a soldier who is listed as MIA. After many trips to southeast Asia, he believes that after 10 years his son is still being held prisoner in a Vietnamese jail. Hackman, after coming up empty with the US government, recruits a “rag-tag” group of ex-vets to bring his son back. It’s as cheesy as it sounds. You do get some 80’s character actors, Reb Brown (America’s first Captain America), Fred Ward, and Randall “Tex” Cobb, with names like “Sailor” and “Blaster”. The film was a hit with moviegoers (like me) but critics hated it. I see this as an HBO/Netflix limited run series maybe 8-10 episodes. I always felt this movie was rushed with poorly written dialogue and nonsensical situations. This could be made as a brutal comment on the U.S. government’s decisions to ignore POWs/MIAs after the war. The first episodes could be about the father’s search, and the acquiring of financial backing to put together this team. Other episodes could be about the assembling of the team, the motivations of these men to go back and then the subsequent raid. This would be a one-time series that ends with the aftermath of the raid. I don’t it want to end as a happy everyone comes home story, that would cheapen it, and this would keep to the film’s original intent. It could be exciting and heartbreaking and be some riveting television.
Bonus: I would need someone to please get Gene Hackman to come out of retirement for any kind of cameo, that would be awesome!
MG: You love your 80s’ nostalgia. The key is to get the tone right – not too campy and not too heavy – and I could see this working. You probably need a stiff government suit or two trying to discourage him from doing it. Maybe the government almost shuts down the operation before it launches, and the team has to get away by the skin of their teeth. Or the government stooge gets captured by them and he sees first-hand the POW camp and has a change-of-heart (of course he’d probably have to get killed in a heroic stand covering the team’s escape).
Hollywood loves to cannibalize itself, which has resulted in a lot of crap flowing between the big and small screen, in both directions, in an effort to squeeze every dollar out of a perceived good idea. Most of it is bad, but there have been some notable exceptions. Battlestar Galactica finally turned out a good product, after going from TV to the movies and then back to TV. I never did check out the SyFy series Dune, which I heard had the faint praise of being better than the notorious film, but it is definitely a “product” that deserves another go with a decent budget and could be just as good as a Game of Thrones type of show. Here are some thoughts about movies that could be re-imagined as a TV series:
The Usual Suspects (1995)
I’ve seen this film several times, and I am always amazed at how much was packed into the script. It moves so fast, you really need to see it a few times to get all the plot intricacies. Writer Christopher McQuarrie truly took to heart the screenwriter’s mantra that something should happen on every page and director Bryan Singer filmed this with a pace that was intense but still allowed us to get to know the characters. It’s the density of story material and well-written characters that would help break this out into a successful 10-13 show arc. There are several ways to approach this – you could do an origin-story tale since the movie references that the main four characters have worked together on big heists in the past, or you could re-tell the movie plot but include flashbacks in the episodes that reference their past. The backstory/mythology of Keyzer Soze could be explored in more detail as well. Or you could just take the framework of the script and expand on it, perhaps giving more screen time to the detectives working the case. Obviously, a sequel wouldn’t really work. This is one of my favorite films from the 90’s and I think enough time has passed where a new version in TV form with different actors would be fun and interesting. I can see it as an HBO summer fill-in limited series.
DJ: I think this is a great idea, the only thing that concerns me is with a twist ending, how could we get past that? People who are interested would already know the outcome. The Sixth Sense for instance would also be problematic. Great film though, and I do see how thematically it could fit into a limited run show.
Short Time (1990)
Other than DJ, I doubt many people remember this little-seen Dabney Coleman film, so I’ll take a moment to explain the plot. A police detective learns he has a terminal disease and when he finds out his life insurance pays out more if he dies in the line of duty, he tries everything he can to make that happen. Unlike Usual Suspects, the simplicity of this concept makes it ripe for expanding into a TV show. I’m envisioning a dark comedy vibe, so casting the lead character that could pull off drama/action/comedy would be critical. Maybe an aging action star like Bruce Willis would work, or it might be better to go with someone who isn’t physically imposing like the movie did with Coleman. By the way, a lot of people remember Coleman from 9-5, if he’s remembered at all, but he was one of my favorite actors from the 80’s. Back when acting on TV was considered slumming it, he was one of the few actors that successfully bounced between TV and movies. He’s still acting today, mostly on various episodes of TV shows. So with the TV version of Short Time, there would definitely be various police cases worked into the narrative to define the individual episodes. Having a solid supporting cast with well-written roles would be essential for the main character’s family, and perhaps a partner on the force. In some ways, it might follow a “Breaking Bad” type of development, where someone who was following a normal, conforming lifestyle discovers what is important in life and who he really is – except it would be more of a positive journey.
DJ: Yeah I love this film. Coleman was huge back then, he had that Buffalo Bill TV series, he was also in the underrated Cloak and Dagger, Wargames, and The Man With One Red Shoe. I see this show a bit different, what about an HBO comedy 25-30 minutes weekly using this concept, maybe from the Larry David comedy team?
MG: Yeah, I can see that. I may even like your idea for it better. Larry David could even star in it.
V For Vendetta (2005)
I recently rewatched this film and was reminded of how good the writing, directing and acting were in this. In some ways, I don’t think it got the recognition it deserves, and I rarely see it mentioned anymore. With its fading recognition and the current political climate, in the States and around the world, I think a revival of this story on the small screen would do well. Of course, when I started to research V For Vendetta I discovered that it supposedly is in development for a TV series in Britain, as of October 2017, but who knows where the project is actually at, so I’ll continue to make my case. I’ll admit that I have not read the graphic novel series on which the film was based, but I know there is A LOT of story beyond what was in the screenplay – enough for several seasons of a TV series. Where the film focused primarily on V, played by Hugo Weaving, and Evey, played by Natalie Portman in one of my favorite performances by her, the novels have a lot of detailed supporting characters that were either not in the film or only briefly sketched. The detective, played by Stephen Rea in the movie, could have a much more robust storyline and backstory. I can see it having some of the feel of the Netflix’ series Altered Carbon, where the viewer is thrust into this changed society, and it takes 2-3 episodes just to get grounded to what’s going on. I would love to see a TV series that was truly provocative and challenged our concepts of good/evil and whether it’s better to be safe and hope for slow change, or take radical action and suffer the consequences.
DJ: Great movie! I don’t disagree with any of this, I could clearly see this being done. Maybe give Hulu this one, it can be part of their Dystopian future block.