Right now we’re living in a golden age of TV shows made from movies. You’ve got Friday Night Lights, Fargo and Hannibal. From the distant past we had, M*A*S*H, The Odd Couple, Alice, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and two Teen Wolfs. It was not always this way. No, sir. Who can forget Sandra Bullock in Working Girl or the worms in Tremors? If you’re lucky you can answer the previous question in the affirmative.
On the surface, it makes a lot of sense why networks and syndicators constantly push for TV shows based on movies. The primary one is that TV shows based on films come with a built in audience and name recognition.
What they often fail to take into account is that most of the time, the stars of the movie want nothing to do with the TV show. Plus, a lot of time the movie told the whole story. Again, in “Working Girl,” by the end of the movie, Tess was a big success. So, what would the TV show focus on, Tess consolidating her power? Nope, the TV show basically kept retelling the story of the movie, namely that of a secretary who’s trying to get ahead.
Below are some of the more spectacular failures of this creatively bankrupt programming genre. Some managed to linger for a season or two before surrendering to the inevitable. Others were gone after a mere handful of episodes. Please, enjoy.
10. My Big Fat Greek Life (2003)
What a lot of people don’t know is that before “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was a movie, Nia Vardalos pitched it to CBS as a TV show. After the movie became this huge phenomenon, CBS picked it up as a series. By now, Vardolas wanted nothing to do with it. She was a movie star and the last thing she wanted was to be tied down on a show where she’d basically be repeating herself. But, a contract’s a contract.
The show just kind of laid there. Miraculously, they were able to get most cast members from the movie with the exception of John Corbett. The ratings dipped severely after the premiere and even having Rita Wilson on as a guest star couldn’t avert the slide and the show was cancelled. I’m pretty sure Nia Vardolas didn’t shed too many tears over it.
9. Delta House (1979)
“Animal House” was a huge hit in 1978. It was the first R rated comedy to explode, opening the door for many others. Since TV is known for jumping onto any trend, that following summer there were three shows that centered on fraternities. ABC figured they hit the jackpot by getting the rights for “Animal House” but trying to take an R rated movie into a PG television shows involved many challenges. Challenges that were never conquered.
At least they had a good chunk of the original cast except for John Belushi. Instead they cast Josh Mostel as Bluto’s brother “Blotto.” The show also gave Michelle Pfeiffer her first role as “the bombshell.” The writing staff included John Hughes, Stephen Tolkin, Harold Ramis and Doug Kenney. But in the end, making a show that aired 8 pm on a Friday night that would be true to the “Animal House” spirit proved to be too much of a challenge and the show was cancelled after thirteen episodes. Blame the Omegas.
8. Ferris Bueller (1990)
Our culture tends to idolize those who take a big risk when it pays off. When it doesn’t, not so much. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was a big hit in 1986. For some reason, it took four years for it to reach the small screen. They changed the location from Chicago to Los Angeles and recast virtually every part with a cocky Charlie Schlatter taking over from Matthew Broderick. Here’s where the risk come in.
In the opening scene, Charlie Schlatter took a chainsaw to a cardboard cut-out of Matthew Broderick, then look into the camera and say, “This is television, this is real.” Sure, real boring. At least the show introduced us to a young Jennifer Aniston. Again, this one was thirteen and out.
7. Uncle Buck (1990)
Another swing and a miss from a TV show based on a John Hughes movie. Hell, it was in the same year. In this one, instead of John Candy, we got Kevin Meaney as “Uncle Buck.” The big deal about this show was that in the first episode, one of the characters said something “sucks.” From there it went down hill. Even having sitcom vet Audrey Meadows couldn’t save it. At least, it went twenty two episodes, beating the three previous entrants.
6. Planet of the Apes (1974)
Man, was this franchise tired by 1974. There had already been five movies that got progressively worse, so the logical thing to do was to make it into a TV show. It was basically a retelling of the first movie, which was about astronauts getting caught in a space/time continuum and landing on an Earth where the apes were the dominant species and man was subjugated.
The one thing connecting the TV show to the movie was Roddy McDowell playing “Gallen,” a chimp that was sent by the ape elders to try and make the astronauts safe. The shows were heavy handed and quite obvious. Plus, the special effects and ape make-up were a couple of notches below that of the films. The show died after fourteen episodes because “Sanford and Son” and “Chico and the Man” destroyed it in the ratings. The studio did the next logical thing and in 1975 made “Planet of the Apes” into a Saturday morning cartoon.
5. Baby Boom (1988)
Instead of Diane Keaton who starred in the movie, we get Kate Jackson, the “smart” Charlie’s Angel. She plays a Harvard educated attorney whose life was turned completely upside down because of a baby. Even with Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, the creators of the movie, being in creative control of the show, the result was mediocre at best. With only eight episodes filmed, it holds the record for shortest run on this list. Well done.
4. Dirty Dancing (1988)
“Dirty Dancing” was a surprise smash hit in 1987, so it was inevitable that it would become a not so good TV series. The deck was stacked against them from the beginning because a big reason for the success of the movie was the chemistry of its stars, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, neither of whom wanted to do the TV show.
Also, part of the appeal of Swayze’s Johnny Castle was that he was a rebel. In the show he was the resort’s talent director. Not a lot of rebels were talent directors and if they were, how would that manifest itself? Putting three juggling acts on in a row? Another change from the movie is that “Baby” wasn’t the daughter of a guest, she was the daughter of the resort owner and Johnny’s boss. Their relationship started adversarial but, perhaps, if the show lasted longer then eleven episodes those two crazy kids would’ve gotten together. If only.
3. Casablanca (1983)
Here’s an idea, take one of the greatest movies of all time and make a TV series out of it forty two years after the fact. That way, anyone connected with this beloved classic will have been dead for years. Didn’t say it was a good idea.
Standing in for Humphrey Bogart was David Soul, the sensitive guy from “Starsky & Hutch.” This series is a prequel, taking place before the start of World War II, or the interesting stuff. Watch “Rick” deal with distributors and decide what night to make “Ladies’s Night.” NBC finally realized what a bad idea this show was and cancelled it after two episodes. The three unaired ones are available on DVD. A lesser writer would say, “don’t play it again.” Don’t play it again.
2. Parenthood (1990)
There was a series called “Parenthood” before the current one running on NBC. This one was actually based on the Ron Howard movie. Standing in for Steve Martin was Ed Begley Jr. In a contest over who is the more environmentally conscious, Ed Begley Jr. wins every time. Any other competition, you got to give it to Steve.
The series wasn’t awful, just really, really dull. What makes this frustrating was that the cast was amazing. Leonardo DiCaprio, Thora Birch, William Windom and Ken Ober were all in this. Part of the problem was that there were too many characters to serve, so no story line really had time to breath or jell. In the end, nobody cared and the show was cancelled after twelve episodes. Don’t worry, Leo was able to find work.
1. Police Academy: The Series (1997)
Oh, the humanity. If you’re going to be a turd, be a magnificent turd. This is one unmagnificent turd. For starters, the only original cast member was Michael Winslow who should legally change his name to “The Guy Who Made the Sound Effect Noises In The Police Academy Movies.”
This show was syndicated so it was not uncommon to see it scheduled on Saturday afternoons. As a result, this show was pretty tame, especially when compared to the films. In the end, even the star power of Leslie Easterbook, Bubba Smith and David Graff weren’t enough to save this show and after twenty six hour long episodes, it was yanked. To all the “Police Academy” fans, there is talk of a remake. Like you could ever catch that kind of lightning in a bottle a second time.