Friday, June 11, 2010

TV to Movie

When I was growing up a surprising number of TV shows were based on movies. Many of them were successful and ran for several years but, with the exception of M.A.S.H., none of them were memorable. Things did not go the other way - TV shows did not become movies.

There were minor exceptions to this. Some TV shows would make a theatrical version - basically an extended episode shot during production of the TV show with the regular cast. These were shot in color and had a slightly higher budget than a regular episode but otherwise were indistinguishable. Examples include the 1960s Batman movie and ones featuring the Munsters and McHale's Navy.

As far as I know, Star Trek was the first TV show to make the jump to the big screen after it had been canceled. It is also a special case for reasons I will get into later.

I'm going to sub-divide the TV-to-movies genre a few different ways. First, there are the movies made with the original cast. These have generally been successful, either artistically or financially. This includes Star Trek, The Simpsons, Firefly/Serenity, Sex in the City, and the X-Files.

The other divide is movies with entirely new casts. These can be further divided into dramas and comedies. I said that Star Trek is a special case - with the recent reboot, it now qualifies as both original cast and new cast.

The dramas have been fairly successful. I am including lighter shows like Maverick and the Wild Wild West in this (WWW made a lot of money, even if I don't want to see it ever again). Mission Impossible is probably the top money-maker in this class. Some of the early efforts like the Fugitive show that it is possible to get critical acclaim in a TV-to-movie.

There have also been a lot of bombs. Comedies usually translate poorly. The Brady Bunch is the only one I can think of off-hand that made enough money to get a sequel. Others like McHale's Navy, the Beverly Hillbillies, and Car 54 Where Are You sank fast, leaving a stink behind. Even a first-rate cast like Bewitched had couldn't save it from being a bad movie.

There is one exception to this - the Addams Family. Both movies were very good and quite profitable. The question is, do they count? I am not counting other media that was adapted to TV before being made into a movie (Spider-Man). The Addams Family was a series of cartoons first and some of the humor in the movies came directly from these. On the other hand, the cartoon characters were undefined. They didn't even have names. This came from the TV show.

I think that the lesson here is that characters and situations that can fill an hour-long TV show can be expanded to fill a feature-length movie but half-hour situation comedies rely of short doses and established characters. These are much harder to flesh out.

A further lesson is that SNL sketches usually strain to fill ten minutes. Trying to expand most of these to feature-length is an exercise in futility.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One thing that irks me is the idea of making live action movies from animated cartoon characters i.e. Mr. Magoo, Inspector Gadget, George of the Jungle, etc.