When a movie makes a big enough financial and/or cultural impact the wait for a sequel or TV adaptation or some kind of brand extension usually isn’t long.  Heck, the TV adaptation route used to be so common that four such shows premiered around the same time in 1990 (Uncle Buck, Ferris Bueller, Parenthood, Baby Talk), and as of this writing Casablanca, Psycho, and Parenthood have each yielded 2 different TV adaptations.  

Now, the film-to-TV adaptation is making a bit of a comeback with FX hitting big with their version of Fargo, A&E and NBC enjoying modest success with their prequels to Psycho (Bates Motel) and Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal), SyFy soon to deliver their version of Legion (for some reason), and Robert Rodriguez launching an entire new cable channel centered around a TV version of his own film From Dusk Till Dawn.  There’s even an About a Boy sitcom on NBC right now.

However, did you know that FX is not the first network to adapt Fargo to TV?  A pre-Sopranos Edie Falco actually starred in the Frances McDormand role in a 1997 pilot for CBS which never made it to air.  More often than not, some producer or studio’s clear attempt to cash in on a popular film results in a show which crashes and burns, either spectacularly (My Big Fat Greek Life) or so quietly most don’t even remember the show ever existed.

Here are 12 famous films which have yielded short-lived TV shows: 

1) Film: Casablanca (1942)/Show: Casablanca (ABC, 1955-1956)/Show: Casablanca (NBC, 1983)

cassablancadavid4454It’s the movie so nice they had to adapt it twice (on TV at least).  The first (1955) featured Charles McGraw playing Rick (that’s Humphrey Bogart’s role, dangit!), and the second (1983) went with David Soul (Hutch from Starsky and Hutch) in the lead.  The 1955 version actually lasted longer, airing 10 hour-long episodes, but even though it only lasted for 5 episodes the 1983 version had the more colorful cast.  Beyond David Soul, it had Hector Elizondo as Captain Louis Renault, Ray Liotta as Sascha, and and elderly Scatman Crothers as Sam.  Wait, where was Isla Lund, played by Ingrid Bergman in the film?  Not around since these were prequels.  Duh.

2) Film: Pyscho (1960)/Show: Bates Motel (NBC, 1987)

A&E’s current hit Bates Motel, goofy as it may be, understands that our familiarity with the Psycho story is tied to the character of Norman Bates.  Back in 1987, Universal did not so much get that.  They’d experienced some box office success with their two Psycho sequels earlier in the decade, both of which featured Anthony Perkins back as a Norman Bates, released from the mental hospital and returned to running Bates Motel. 

To extend the franchise, they created an anthology TV series which pretended that Norman never left the hospital, but did make friends with a fellow inmate (played by Bud Cort) to whom he bequeathed Bates Motel upon his death.  So, Cort’s character then re-opens the moribund hotel with the help of a teenage runaway (Lori Petty) and black handyman (Moses Gunn), and the series was meant to focus upon strange happenings encountered by the Motel’s guests.  NBC declined to pick it up to series, but aired the pilot as a TV movie over the Fourth of July weekend.  Universal’s next Psycho project was the official TV movie prequel Psycho IV: The Beginning, and its flashback sequences have far more in common with the current Psycho prequel Bates Motel than the old NBC Bates Motel.

3) Film: Animal House (1978)/Show: Delta House (ABC, 1979)

After Animal House and its tale of a misfit college fraternity’s hi-jinks-heavy battle with the dean of the school turned into the second highest grossing film of 1978, the networks wanted in on that action.  So, 1979 saw the debut of two new sitcoms inspired by Animal House (NBC’s Brothers and Sisters, CBS’s Co-Ed Fever) and one that was actually an official continuation of Animal House, ABC’s Delta House.  The latter featured John Vernon, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, James Widdoe, and Priscilla Lauris reprising their roles from the film, with John Belushi’s iconic Bluto character replaced with Josh Mostel’s Blotto, Bluto’s brother.  Behind the scenes, Animal House‘s producers (Ivan Reitman, Marty Simmons) were involved, and the film’s screenwriters (Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller and Harold Ramis) penned the pilot.  However,  the raunchy antics of a college fraternity (or sorority in Co-Ed Fever‘s case) just didn’t transfer well to the small screen after having to go through network Standards and Practices.  Co-Ed Fever only lasted for 1 episode, Brothers & Sisters for 12, and Delta House for 13, despite actually pulling in decent ratings.  Delta House is now best remembered for being one of Michelle Pfeiffer’s earliest projects as well as the earliest film/TV writing credit for a man who would rule teenagers like no other throughout the 1980s: John Hughes. Wait. That sounded wrong. I just mean John Hughes wrote all of those 80s teen comedies.

4) Film: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)/Show: Fast Times (CBS, 1986)

Though fondly remembered now, Fast Times at Ridgemont High wasn’t actually a box office hit during its theatrical run, ending as the 29th highest grossing release of 1982. Porky’s, the 5th highest grossing release of 1982, was the true teen comedy of the year. However, by the middle of the decade Fast Times was popular enough to warrant a CBS sitcom. There was reason for optimism. Behind the scenes, the film’s director, Amy Heckerling, was attached as a producer, and screenwriter Cameron Crowe at least acted as a creative consultant. In front of the camera, Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli reprised their roles as Mr. Hand and Mr. Vargas respectively. Oingo Bongo (really just Danny Elfman) composed the show’s theme song. To make sure the dialogue was hip to how the kids “talked these days” fresh-out-of-high-school Moon Unit Zappa (what else would Frank Zappa name his daughter?) was hired to liven up the dialogue.

Unfortunatley, similar to the Delta House experience what do you have left when you take the “R” out of the R-rated teen comedy?  Nothing particularly compelling. Fast Times only lasted for 7 episodes.  It’s now mostly known for starring a bunch of people you’d recognize from bigger (mostly later) things: Courtney Thorne-Smith (Melrose Place, Ally McBeal), Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy), Claudia Wells (the original Jennifer in Back to the Future), and Wally Ward (Veronica’s Closet).

5) Film: Police Academy (1984)/Show: Police Academy: The Series (Syndicated, 1997)

police-academy-the-series-movie-poster-1997-1020473370Forget a TV show.  It’s kind of amazing that Police Academy would ever become a film franchise in the first place, yet that’s exactly what happened with one new Police Academy film released per year between 1984 and 1989.  It was the Friday the 13th of comedy franchises in the late 1980s.  Like Friday, it was a case of one big hit followed by increasingly diminished returns until truly and utterly bottoming out with a gross less than $200,000 for Mission to Moscow in 1994, which cost $10 million to produce.  

Longtime series producer Paul Maslansky was undeterred, working with Warner Bros. Television to create Police Academy: The Series since they’d previously done okay with their animated Police Academy TV show, cranking out 65 episodes between 1988 and 1989.  Why not do a live-action version?  The only actor from the films to appear in a recurring fashion on the series was Michael Winslow, aka, the guy who makes the funny noises with his mouth.  Otherwise, it was an entirely new cast, who got to be police academy’s latest and greatest cadet’s for only one season of 26 episodes.

Maslansky’s not done yet, though.  He’s been at work trying to get another Police Academy film made since 2007, with a script being re-written as of June 2012.

6) Film: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)/Show: Ferris Bueller (NBC, 1990)

A hipper than thou teenager who’s so cool he can’t be constrained by cinematic convention, instead periodically stopping to address the camera and provide commentary?  That’s what the youth of America wants to see more of, right?  Well, kind of.

By 1990, there were 3 Ferris Bueller types running around: Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell (which gave him the ability to also literally stop time, like an X-Men mutant), Parker Lewis on Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, and Ferris Bueller on Ferris Bueller. In fact, Ferris Bueller and Parker Lewis both debuted in the same month (September 1990). Ferris, with Charlie Schlatter stepping in for Matthew Broderick, used the opening minutes of its pilot to …well, just let me know when you get to the part where their Ferris takes a literal chainsaw to a cardboard cutout of Matthew Broderick:

So, basically, they told their core audience (fans of the film), “Remember how much you loved Matthew Broderick in that movie? Yeah, fuck that guy!”  You can see where fans of the Bueller-style of humor might have been turned off by this, and more intrigued to see if that Parker Lewis fella could indeed not lose. Ferris otherwise stuck to the film’s formula, with sad sack best friend Cameron, potential girlfriend Sloane, annoyed sister Jeannie (pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston.), clueless parents, and a principal and his doting secretary playing Wile E. Coyote to Ferri’s Road Runner. NBC only stuck with it for 13 episodes, replacing it at mid-season with the debut of Blossom. You hear that? The failure of Ferris Bueller is partially to blame for Joey Lawrence and Mayim Balik’s hats.

7) Film: Dirty Dancing (1987)/Show: Dirty Dancing (CBS, 1988)

The cult of adoration for Dirty Dancing lives on to this day, what with the ever-present threat of a remake at some point in the future and CBS’s The Millers re-creating the film’s iconic climax in its pilot (plus, New Girl never misses a chance for a Dirty Dancing joke).  However, it was at a fever pitch back in 1988.  The film had become the 11th highest grossing release of 1987. This spilled over into 1988 with continued huge sales for the soundtrack, a 90 city music tour (Dirty Dancing: The Live Tour) and a TV show. Wait, how do you make a TV show about a girl visiting a resort with her family?  Duh, you make her the daughter of the owner of the resort ala the Lea Remini-starring summer season of Saved By the Bell. 

Replacing Jennifer Grey was Melora Hardin, who we now know as Michael Scott’s boss-turned-lover on the US Office.  The Cassidy acting family had a spare part sitting around so they gave us Patrick Cassidy (uncle to current Arrow star Katie Cassidy) in the Patrick Swayze role. The plot was basically the same, except now Baby was the talent director at the resort overseeing Johnny. Major sparkage? Maybe. Time of their life?  Not so much.  CBS canceled it after only 11 episodes.

8) Film: Working Girl (1988)/Show: Working Girl (NBC, 1990)

Working Girl was eternally baby-voiced Melanie Griffith’s major breakthrough, starring as a working secretary who seizes the opportunity to move up at her Wall Street investment banking company when her boss (Sigourney Weaver) is sidelined with a leg injury.  It was the Devil Wears Prada of its day, and became the 11th highest grossing film of 1988.  It scored a Best Song Oscar for Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run,” and acting nominations for Griffith, Weaver, and Joan Cusack. It was even nominated for Best Director and Best Picture.

The TV show was supposed to be Sandra Bullock’s big breakthrough, too, taking over Griffith’s role from the film.  However, it was an odd mix of workplace and family sitcom, with Bullock’s character promoted from secretary to junior executive in the pilot and having to contend with her bitch of a boss (a pre-Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Nana Visitor) and various rivals and underlings. Yet, she also suffered through her parents’ constant nagging back home on Staten Island, and continually fought off the advances of the neighborhood Romeo. Only 8 of its 12 produced episodes ever aired, and to this day it is one of Sandra Bullock’s only TV credits.  After Demolition Man in 1993 and Speed in 1994, she never really needed to go back to TV unless she absolutely wanted to. 

 9) Film: Parenthood (1989)/Show: Parenthood (NBC, 1990)

Current NBC critical darling Parenthood, a dramatic re-telling of the Steve Martin’s ode to parenting, has spent most of its life constantly on the bubble of cancellation. However, it has survived for 90 episodes across 5 seasons, and made Monica Potter a personal hero to many a viewer.  

Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s first attempt to adapt the film to TV didn’t go nearly as well. They cut out all the drama (a couple contemplating divorce, a son with a gambling addiction, a father learning his son has a learning disability), and turned it into a wacky family sitcom with Ed Begley, Jr. standing in for Steve Martin. They at least hit it out of the park with their casting decisions, giving early breaks to the likes of David Arquette (in Keanu Reeves’ role), Thora Birch, and Leonardo DiCaprio (in Joaquin Phoenix’s role). In fact, critics actually loved the dang thing, regularly listing it among the “canceled too soon” shows of the 90s.  NBC only stuck with it for 12 episodes.

10) Film: Uncle Buck (1989)/Show: Uncle Buck (NBC, 1990-1991)

From writer/director John Hughes, Uncle Buck is about a slovenly, unemployed, overweight man who agrees to look after his two nieces and one nephew due to a family emergency on his sister-in-law’s side of the family.  By the end, he wins over teenage niece Tia, who initially hated (hated!) him, by tying up her boyfriend, placing him in the trunk of his car, and then bringing him to her so that he might apologize for cheating on her.  After that, Buck hits the kid with golf balls, which Tia is totally cool with. 

That’s just good family fun right there.  So, when NBC decided to turn it into a TV show, without any participation from Hughes, they figured a hilarious premise for a sitcom would be Buck taking over as legal guardian for the kids after their parents die in a car crash.  Cue laugh track.  Featuring comedian Kevin Meaney in the title role, the show was not an immediate ratings failure, but tanked in the ratings after CBS moved it to Friday nights during that weird period where the networks were experimenting with what to do with Friday night programming.  So, Uncle Buck managed to last an entire 22-episode season, but its title character would not return to make any more oversized pancakes.

11) Film: A League of Their Own (1992)/Show: A League of Their Own (ABC, 1993)

Penny Marshall struck gold as director of the instant classic A League of Their Own, giving us such immortal lines as, “There’s no crying in baseball!”  It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1992, and ABC was eager to turn its fact-based account of an all-girls baseball team during WWII into an episodic TV show. Marshall even participated, directing the show’s pilot in which Dottie (the Geena Davis character, now played by Carey Lowell) returns to the Rockford Peaches after her husband is called back into service. Future episodes would see the team receive a chimpanzee as a mascot as enter into a dance context to promote their league. Plus, they would tease out the potential romance between Dottie and Coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks in the film, Sam McMurray in the show) by having them go out on a date. It was a ratings disaster. ABC only aired 5 of the 6 produced episodes, the unaired one featuring Dugan hiring a new shortstop for the team just because she’s hot (the incorrigible cad!). The only actors from the film who showed up on the show were Megan Cavanagh (Marla Hooch) and Tracy Reiner (Betty Horn).

12) Film: The Crow (1994)/Show: The Crow: Stairway to Heaven (Syndicated, 1998)

Based upon a cult favorite comic book series, The Crow featured Brandon Lee as a rock singer who returns from the grave a supernatural entity out for vengeance. Then Lee died during filming, catapulting the film to box office success, cult favorite status, and probably greatly extended the career of the wrestler Sting. A direct-to-video sequel focused on an entirely new character becoming the new Crow, but The Crow: Stairway to Heaven returned to the original film and featured Bryce Zabel as Lee’s character, searching for redemption and re-connection with his soulmate.  Usually airing on the Sci-Fi Channel in the US, the syndicated show was actually a big enough hit to more than justify a second season after its initial 22 episodes had aired, but its corporate parent was sold and the new owner, Universal, opted not to continue despite a cliffhanger of a season finale. Sadly, though, Stairway to Heaven ultimately claimed an actual person’s life when a stuntman was killed by falling debris during the filming of an episode.

So, basically, when adapting a film to TV doing it usually makes no diffrence if you’re doing it completely on your own or with assistance from the creative behind the scenes/on-screen talent of the film. Plus, oddly, many of the failed TV shows served as incubators for future stars like Jennifer Aniston, Patrick Dempsey, Sandra Bullock, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Also, whatever you do don’t spend your first minute taking a literal chainsaw to a visual representation of the film you’re adapting. Bad, bad, bad idea, Ferris Bueller.

Related Articles

Ferris Bueller’s further days off: 14-plus short-lived film-to-TV adaptations | avclub.com

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Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

One Comment

  1. […] being rebooted as TV shows is nothing new, lest we forget TV’s version of Ferris Bueller taking a literal chainsaw to a cardboard cutout …, and the same goes for TV shows being revived or rebooted.  However, when so many of them are […]

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