The June 20th debut of “Get Smart” could very well be the last adaptation of a truly memorable live-action TV show from the 1960s. Studios hunting for recyclable TV product have plundered that decade like Vikings on a rampage leaving no TV set unturned.
“Sgt. Bilko,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Bewitched,” “McHale’s Navy,” “Leave It to Beaver”…all theatrical deadwood.
The box office and critical success films such as “The Addams Family,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Maverick” and “The Fugitive” enjoyed in the early 1990s (Harrison Ford’s film even earned a Best Picture Oscar nom) spoiled the studios, and turned TV Land into a virtual script factory for Hollywood. Executives saw easy-to-translate material, familiar characters and an easy marketing strategy laid out for them: “The TV classic comes to theaters! Don’t miss it!”
But after that first wave, many live-action TV adaptations have failed critically and commercially.
It's not hard to see why. “The Honeymooners” is one of the most beloved TV shows of all time, but a plot that revolves around the sitcom shenanigans of two bickering buddies isn’t meant to sustain a feature-length film.
Same goes for a show like “The Dukes of Hazzard,” a lame show turned into an even lamer movie that was just an excuse to put Jessica Simpson in a pair of Daisy Dukes.
Genre shows haven’t fared much better at the movies. “Wild Wild West,” “Lost in Space,” “The Avengers” and “My Favorite Martian” all failed to live up to the standards of the original programs. All were box-office flops as well.
Top 10 TV Adaptations
1. Mission impossible II (2000) - $215.4M
2. The Fugitive (1993) - $183.8M
3. Mission Impossible (1996) - $180.9M
4. Mission Impossible III (2006) - $134M
5. The Flintstones (1994) - $130M
6. Charlie’s Angels (2000)- $125M
7. S.W.A.T. (2003) - $116.9M
8. Wild Wild West - $113.8M (1999)
9. The Addams Family (1991) - $113.5M
10. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) - $109.7M
Box office numbers are often deceiving when it comes to a film’s quality (the ‘Dukes’ movie did make $88 million after all) but they are especially so when it comes to based-on-TV movies.
Outside of “The Fugitive,” “MI:3” and “Maverick”, the Top 10 list of highest-grossing TV adaptations is cluttered with utterly forgettable pictures. Can anyone out there actually remember the plot for “Charlie’s Angels”? (And even though I’m a TOS guy, “Star Trek IV” I’d have to be locked down in Desmond’s old hatch on the ‘Lost’ island to sit through that one again).
Every once in a while we’ve been treated to an inspired take on a nostalgic favorite.
“The Brady Bunch Movie” worked because of dead-on casting, especially Gary Cole (“Put on your Sunday best, kids. We’re going to Sears!”). The outrageous lampooning of the source material was almost like amnesty for those poor people embarrassed that they actually laughed with The Bradys the first time around, instead of at them!
“Starsky & Hutch” capitalized on all the jokes fans of the original show made at the expense of the title characters.
But those are the exceptions. Mostly, we’ve had to endure adaptations that either thumb their noses at the original concepts or are so predictably reverential, you can see the original cast member cameo coming three scenes before it actually happens.
Even worse are films like “S.W.A.T.” and “Miami Vice,” which tried to piggyback on name recognition even though they bear little resemblance to the shows they adapt.
‘Vice’ could have been called “Bad Boys 2.5” because it skewed closer to that franchise than to one of the seminal shows of the 80s.
“Get Smart” comes armed into the busy summer season with a few advantages, namely its spy spoof motif and Steve Carell. But “Austin Powers” did the ‘60s kitsch thing already, so this just feels a bit…familiar.
And while Warners has the show’s classic theme song playing during the advance trailers … how many people under the age of 50 actually recognize the tune? The show’s been off the air for 38 years!
Bottom line is, Hollywood’s running out of quality shows to recycle, so they would be wise to jump on the few blue-chippers left.
The white whale for producers is “The Six Million Dollar Man.” But that project’s been cursed by horrible ideas (Jim Carrey in a comedy spoof) and because of legal issues, will likely stay trapped in development hell for years. A shame, because in the hands of the right people, this could make for a rockin’ sci fi/spy games movie.
Then there’s “Dallas,” which for some ungodly reason has been high on the remake list for years. Thankfully, the project appears cursed. This is a perfect example of studio execs missing the point. Why remake this show? It wasn’t the premise that made the show a classic, it was the characters and the actors who played them. John Travolta as J.R. Ewing? Sorry, I don’t see it.
One TV show that looks very likely to be coming to a theater near you very soon is “The A-Team.” Already we’re hearing that director John Singleton is being lobbied by actors like Ice Cube and Tyrese to play B.A. Baracus.
Speaking as someone who watched the show as a youngster during its initial run, “The A-Team” never really lived up to the potential of its great show open. Hopefully, Singleton will add some grit to the screenplay, cut back on some of the annoying slapstick and make the A-Teamers actually hit someone with their bullets this time.
But outside of those projects, consider the barrel scraped. The studios have called dibs on practically every other iconic TV property.
We could be facing a future theatrical slate that includes “Tales of the Golden Monkey,” “Manimal”, “Voyagers”, and maybe even an animated take on The Cosmic Cow (Ted Knight’s fictional comic strip character from “Too Close For Comfort”).
Remember, “Car 54, Where Are You?” has already been remade.