The Impact of the Small Screen on Movies
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but if there’s one thing that Hollywood is good at, it’s making the most of a story idea. That story or characters can be adapted numerous times in a variety of ways, and then still be picked up again and adapted further at a later date (look at the Casablanca sequel that they’re trying to get off the ground seventy years later, or the fourth Indiana Jones film). Hollywood is also good at pulling inspiration from anywhere, from books to musicals or even songs (I’m still waiting for the day Hotel California by the Eagles gets a film deal). But the one place that interests me as a source of Hollywood inspiration is the television.
In my mind, the Hollywood scene can be divided into four major categories: the movie crowd, the theater crowd, the television crowd and the music crowd. For the most part, there’s a little bit of overlap. But television and movies seem to be the two that intersect the most. For one thing, they tend to share a lot of the same actors. Many people who are big in the movies got their start on the small screen and vice versa. Sure, there are those who prefer for the most part to stay in their medium, but there’s certainly a lot of overlap. The same can be said for the shows and stories themselves.
I’m interested in the answer to two questions. One, why would you adapt a film into a television show, and two, why change a television show into a feature length movie? Now I know the short answer to both of these can vary from “for the money” to “popularity” (but mostly it’s for the money). But really, what are the benefits of going from one medium to the other and back?
The trend in going from movie to television seems to be this: when you’ve got a hit film on your hands that you want to adapt to television, make it into a cartoon for the kids. Honestly, a larger portion of the trend does just that. It’s a well known fact in Hollywood that kids are the biggest market, because you’re not just looking at marketing a story or program, but toys, clothes, etc. The immediate reaction of having a hit film is to adapt it into an animated series for the younger crowd. Ace Ventura, Beetlejuice, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future all attempted this.
There are, of course, a few exceptions. Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You were popular teen films, and so they were marketed into shows designed to target the same audience. M*A*S*H*, often considered one of the greatest shows ever to grace the small screen, was first a film. Stargate and The Terminator were developed into their own science fiction shows, which went on to find their own fanbase in the market. Even The Avengers is in the process of being developed into its own spinoff series based around S.H.I.E.L.D. When going from movie to television series, the idea of getting your money’s worth out of an idea makes more sense. But what about the other way around?
Why develop a film from a television series? The money angle doesn’t always work here. After all, if a television series only garners partial attention on the small screen, why spend all the money getting it to the big screen? In the same token, why take a wildly popular series and simply rehash it on the big screen? The trend this way seems to be less about money and more about giving things new life, maybe even a second chance.
The idea of taking a television show and adapting it to film is two fold. Let’s take the film Serenity, whose base was the television show Firefly, an ill-fated underrated science fiction show that only ran one season. Now, what is the purpose of developing film based around the events of a show that only ran for one season? Most people will say “the fans”, but really? Is a producer somewhere really going to greenlight a project just because there’s a group of people who says he should?
No, the trend seems to be that film is where good television shows get their one last chance. As soon as a television show is cancelled, the first thing that fans do is try to get it made into a feature film. Even they know that most shows that die on TV stay dead, but movies have the power to give them a fresh start. And in giving that idea a second chance in film, it also builds up the popularity of that film and offers the opportunity to reach more viewers the second time around. It also provides nostalgia for those in the know, while introducing others to a standalone story that the producers already know works. It’s almost like a partial guarantee in some ways.
I think there’s something to be said about the effect that movies and television have on each other. I also think that there’s a happy medium between the two that we’ve only begun to tap into: the miniseries. SyFy has started working its way into this market, and I think it has a lot of merit. It’s a feature length movie aired on the small screen. It’s almost as good as a television pilot. If it works, it can be made into a movie for the big screen. If it doesn’t work, well… it can always be remade in a couple of years.