IN ALL THE ANALYSIS of the fall schedule, one aspect ignored thus far is that there isn’t a single new series based directly on a major motion picture.
In fact, the only regular entertainment series derived from a movie out of 80 scheduled by the three networks and Fox Broadcasting Co. is the long-running drama “In the Heat of the Night.” Purists may cite “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” as having cinematic roots, but those roots go back to TV and serials as well, and a preview of the pilot indicates it has relatively little in common with the feature films starring Christopher Reeve.
Studios once viewed movies as a major asset in terms of generating series, seeking to cash in on the name recognition a theatrical release provides. That would seem to be an even greater asset now: With 38 new shows premiering in the fall, the challenge of getting sampled has become increasingly difficult.
The absence of movie spinoffs may be due in part to the poor record of such shows in recent years, where the trail of casualties includes “Parenthood, “”Eddie Dodd” (nee “True Believer”), “Baby Talk” (aka “Look Who’s Talking”), “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,””Starman,””Bagdad Cafe” and “Ferris Bueller.”
As a result, the webs and studios seem to have at least temporarily abandoned the practice in prime time; in fact, the sole area where it remains in vogue appears to be Saturday morning, where the marketing tie-ins afforded by major theatrical promotions still have enormous allure to programmers in their ability to generate sampling among kids.
Next fall, the kidvid menu will include “Disney’s Adventures of the Little Mermaid,””Dennis the Menace” (based on the comic strip, not the upcoming feature), “Land of the Lost”to capitalize on the dinosaur craze, “The Addams Family” (also based on the comics, but nevertheless hoping to benefit from the sequel “Addams Family Values”), and “Batman: The Animated Series.” A TV series based on “Aladdin” will arrive the following year.
The problem with most movies adapted to prime time series form is that they don’t really lend themselves to a sustained, week-in, week-out premise. As a result, the success of a film on the big screen is seldom the best indicator of how well it will translate to the small screen.
On the flip side, the seemingly inverted explosion of movies planned or in production based on TV series underscores how different movies and television can be. The odd truth is that there’s a large overlap between people who watch movies and TV series, but they view them differently, and approach them with different expectations.
A concept like “The Fugitive” may make a more satisfying movie than series since the payoff (i.e., catching the one-armed man) isn’t drawn out for five years, while curiosity was enough to make “The Addams Family” movie an enormous hit, while series revivals like “The Munsters Today” have generally flopped.
THIS LENGTHY PREAMBLE comes to mind after viewing the summer’s two most-ballyhooed movies, “Jurassic Park” and “Last Action Hero.” While the former figures to be the big winner in this summer’s box office sweepstakes, it’s the latter that actually has the makings of an intriguing television series — one that might be more satisfying than the movie.
Robert Prosky’s character delivers the series pitch in the midst of “Action Hero,” talking about how as a young movie fan he dreamed of stepping into the big-screen fantasy world and meeting characters played by the likes of Bogart and Garbo.
Sounds like the blueprint if there ever was one for a light-hearted anthology series featuring a young kid who escapes periodically into the movie world by virtue of his magic ticket — a sort of entertainment buff’s take on “Quantum Leap.”
By contrast, repeated exposure to the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” would have a numbing effect — even if the reptiles could be reproduced at any sort of reasonable cost, on a level even remotely comparable to the remarkable and lavish F/X on display in the feature.
Television, unlike movies, can’t survive on gimmickry alone. There has to be some sort of ongoing premise that can be returned to over and over again. The strength of that concept ultimately has less to do with success over the long haul than the strength of its execution and characters. What differentiated “The Cosby Show” and “Cheers” from less successful shows wasn’t a high concept, but strong writing and relationships.
The same holds true looking at other summer releases. “Life With Mikey,” despite modest box office results, seems to have “sitcom” written all over it, while a better-executed concept like “Dave” would nevertheless wear thin quickly in series form.
For those with a somewhat saltier appetite, “Indecent Proposal” could make an intriguing weekly format, positioned as “The Millionaire” meets the Playboy Channel. By contrast, “Sliver” would run out of residents (and positions) within about five episodes.
While it’s premature to write off the relationship between movies and TV series, recent history indicates more thought has to be given the sort of projects that get shrunk down for the tube as well as those blown up for theaters.
It’s also necessary, as with the case of “Young Indy,” to provide what the movie contained, not to entice viewers with the theatrical hook,then deliver something that bears little resemblance to it.
As for this summer’s crop, remember, you heard it here first: “Last Action Hero” may, indeed, be back … nly smaller.