TV drama scripts pick up where 'Playboy,' 'Angels' left off
ABC’s “Charlie’s Angels” and NBC’s “The Playboy Club” are casting long shadows over the drama scripts stacking up at the broadcast nets for the 2012-13 season.
Those quickly canceled series may be prompting second thoughts among development execs who purchased plenty of pitches based on high-profile intellectual property, like “Angels,” or re-creating a bygone era, like “Playboy.”
Scripts based on so-called pre-sold titles are coming from everywhere, including the bigscreen, from recent Lionsgate fare like “The Lincoln Lawyer” to older audience favorites like “Romancing the Stone”; comicbooks (The Incredible Hulk); classic books (“Jekyll and Hyde”); and more contemporary tomes such as “The Carrie Diaries,” an adaptation of which could revive a younger version of “Sex and the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw on the CW.
Period pieces are still in fashion, particularly Westerns; each of the Big Four nets has at least one such script in development. But other potential projects could bring TV back several centuries if one of three different dramas about pirates gets a greenlight. A more recent but no less flamboyant era may be resurrected if NBC OKs a Jerry Bruckheimer TV script set in the world of pro wrestling during the 1980s.
While drama development for the 2012-13 season is filled with the usual array of detectives, doctors and district attorneys, it’s not difficult to see why adaptations and period pieces would be seductive. Series like CBS’ “Hawaii 5-0” have proved that a reboot brings built-in awareness that drives sampling. And a little dive into history wasn’t such a bad thing for AMC, which put itself on the map with the Emmy-friendly pop-culture phenomenon “Mad Men.”
The remake boom is far more prevalent in drama than comedy, though there are a few on the half-hour side. CBS has brought in producers of the Nicole Kidman-Will Ferrell feature “Bewitched” to try to restore Samantha Stephens to her former TV glory.
With the movie world already chockablock with sequels, perhaps it’s fitting that TV dramas are banking on films as the biz drifts in the same creative direction.
In addition to “Lincoln Lawyer,” bought by ABC, and “Romancing the Stone,” which 20th Century Fox TV and Shawn Levy’s production banner, 21 Laps, are developing for NBC, films as recent as this year’s Jake Gyllenhaal thriller “Source Code” could end up as fodder for CBS, courtesy of ABC Studios and Mark Gordon Co.
Gordon, whose ABC Studios-based banner is fielding a slew of projects this season, believes the movie will get him only so far with viewers. “I don’t think people will overwhelmingly tune in because of the title,” he said. “A brand is helpful, but I’d take a good show with no brand over a brand that lacks good storytelling anytime.”
Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment has teamed with Sony Pictures TV to adapt his 2005 hit “Hitch” at Fox. Cinematic success isn’t even necessary to get in the door at ABC, as “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino is teaming with the Weinstein Co. and Ryan Seacrest Prods. to adapt 2007’s “The Nanny Diaries.” The unheralded 2009 indie “The Joneses” will get a second chance from the producing team behind CW series “Life Unexpected.”
The biggest curveball on the film front may come from NBC, which is eyeing a new spin on the 1967 cult classic “Valley of the Dolls,” from “Precious” helmer Lee Daniels and Chernin Entertainment. The movie previously inspired short-lived attempts at TV revivals in 1981 and 1994.
Katherine Pope, prexy of TV at Chernin Entertainment, admits that remakes can be something of a double-edged sword.
“You can’t alienate the audience who loved the original, but you can’t stay so strictly within it that you don’t create something new,” Pope said. “It’s a deceptively difficult thing to do, which is why you hear more about the failures than the successes.”
Other potential series may not trade on a particular title but seek to put a new spin on an enduring legend. There’s plenty of loglines out there with the phrases “modern-day retelling” and “loosely based” thanks to numerous attempts to dust off and update icons from Frankenstein to Sherlock Holmes. “Jekyll and Hide” has inspired more than a few series reinventions, as has “Beauty and the Beast,” which could pop up on CW, or in a far grittier version for ABC.
Sometimes it’s not as simple as capitalizing on the built-in awareness of familiar titles and concepts. In the case of congloms that retain the rights to specific IP, launching a TV show can be the leading edge of a cross-platform extravaganza ringing cash registers everywhere from toy stores to theme parks. NBC, for instance, wouldn’t just reap ad revenue if the Bryan Fuller reboot of “The Munsters” ends up a hit on its primetime schedule; the property’s place in the Universal Pictures library could guarantee a multipronged money machine.
That logic was key to Disney’s purchase of Marvel Entertainment last year. No wonder ABC Entertainment chief Paul Lee has made a priority out of getting some Marvel IP on his development slate, which could yield a series version of comicbook heroes the Hulk or Jessica Jones. CW is also keen on leaning on its Warner Bros. sib DC Comics, which will help the net develop its “Deadman” asset for TV.
Period pieces can be risky business — precious few have worked on primetime over the past few decades. Nevertheless, AMC’s “Mad Men” has made it an irresistible challenge, as have some successes in a genre that was a specialty of broadcast TV in its early years: the Western.
There are at least seven entries walking into studios with their cowboy boots on, ranging from an oater set in 1960s Las Vegas to be produced and directed by “Walk the Line” helmer James Mangold to a Western procedural from Sony and Ron Moore, an exec producer who pulled off one of the unlikelier reboots of all time with Syfy’s “Battlestar Galactica.”
Pirates may be the next Western, judging from interest from ABC, Fox and NBC, which all have variations on that theme in the works (as does cabler FX). Otherwise, period pieces are all over the map, harking back to a Civil War project that “Lost” exec producer Carlton Cuse has at ABC.
With “Playboy” gone and “Pan Am” hitting some ratings turbulence, it’ll be interesting to see whether the nets still have an appetite to go retro. ABC has at least nine drama scripts in the hopper set in various decades in the past few centuries, including a project set at a 19th century hotel shepherded by “Grey’s Anatomy’s” Shonda Rhimes.