Curse of the TV Movies
A Rant by Dr. Daniel
(Mar. 30, 1999) You know, I've remained rather quiet on this subject to date, but it's really starting to get on my nerves. I walked out of a screening of The Mod Squad with only one focused thought on my mind: must...kill...studio executives. What's the deal with these Suits who think that the best way to craft a movie is to remake a TV show? Are there that many empty headed idiots in charge out there? Are they so petrified of failure that they dare not be in the least bit creative? Or is it that they're just so feckless that they wouldn't know a bad idea if it socked 'em in the fork hole? If so, I'd suggest a trip down to Willy Wonka's factory for a lesson in imagination. Get you a golden ticket and jump on the great glass elevator, people, 'cause this just ain't cuttin' it any more.
It used to be that 'made for TV' movie was a shameful expression, but in the wake of The Mod Squad, The Avengers, and Lost in Space, the really shameful phrase is 'MADE FROM TV.'
Now, I grant you that this whole TV-to-bigscreen idea can work out for the good on occasion. Nobody's denying The Fugitive was a rockin' good time, The Blues Brothers was a hoot, and I sorta dug The Addams Family movies. And, despite the lack of earth-shaking plot revelations, I thought The X-Files translated well to the big screen. Sure, the Star Trek crossover is a bonafide phenomenon built on good movies (with the exception of number five), and they successfully phased in the newer cast to replace the geriatric version. Yet it's important to note that with both Trek and X-Files, we're sticking close to the source, using original cast members with the principal creative team running the show. But, these examples aside, there are way too few gumdrops in the vacuum bag.
You can paper a pet shop with the droppings from "Saturday Night Live" adaptations alone. Stuart Saves His Family, Coneheads, It's Pat, A Night at the Roxbury, all went to the toilet faster than the $3.95 Enchilada Platter at El Gringo Loco. The collective marblebag over at SNL seems to believe that any sketch they have can be a movie. God forbid they get that obnoxious-as-sand-in-your-crack Cheerleader sketch into a movie house. The retching sound might just deafen the popcorn girls. For that matter, I'll personally set fire to any theatre that shows a movie with that Goat Boy character.
For every good effort like Wayne's World, we get far too many bad ones, like The Beverly Hillbillies, or Elvira or those stinkin' Earnest movies (adapted from a TV commercial no less.) There's been talk forever of the Green Acres movie, the I Dream of Jeannie movie, the Bewitched movie (which shouldn't count because Bewitched came from a movie to begin with), and the only one I've actually been interested in, the Speed Racer movie. But, for all the talk, not a frame of film has been shot, to my knowledge. Maybe someone out there is wising up.
What I'm really curious about, though, is the X-Files Theory. What current shows are gonna gear up for the transition to big screens? You know there's some brain trust out there that's pondering this question even as I write this. Jerry Springer tried it, and, well, at least Charmin is two-ply, if you get my meaning. South Park is gonna do it this summer, which is gonna be a blast, I think. But what other stuff is headed for the Dodecaplex of our dreams?
To me the current primetime slate doesn't seem feature worthy. Maybe we're too close to it to be nostalgic about it, but it all just seems so television-y. Let's take it network by network. Ever since "Cheers" and "Cosby", NBC has focused above all on the sitcom format -- three cameras, live audience, 1-2-3 punchline -- so nothing from the Must-See food group will be there. Maybe in a decade or so, we'll see an "E.R." revival on the bigscreen, but beyond that and the aforementioned SNL spin-offs, I see nothing from their lineup making the large move. CBS goes the reverse route -- they hire 'retired' movie stars to make their TV shows -- Chuck Norris, Don Johnson, and the entire cast of Chicago Hope all made their hay on silver. Both "JAG" and "Martial Law" look like bad Cinemax action flicks, and "The Nanny" already polluted the celluloid with her Beautician and the Beast crossover (don't try to tell me it wasn't an adaptation of that TV show). Touched by an Angel and Dr. Quinn have their hardcore fan bases, but I think housewives and grandmas don't get out to the Odeon too often, so you can scratch those ideas. ABC usually just drifts from season to season, trying to copy the other networks' successes and rarely leaving anything on long enough to develop a following, save "Home Improvement". UPN and The WB don't rate either, since most of their programming either started as a film anyway ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Star Trek", "Clueless") or smells suspiciously like a film spinoff ("The Sentinel", "Charmed", "Dawson's Creek").
Of all the networks, Fox may have the most potential with animation friendly flagships like "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill". I can see possible forays onto the bigscreen for those two, once their TV days are through. And I'd be willing to bet money that they've noodled for five years on how to put the "90210/Melrose" saga into a movie. Trouble is, they can barely keep these two contained in a one-hour show. Can you imagine how much tragedy, backstabbing, addiction, and diseasing they'd shovel in to keep it maintained for two hours or more? And, for the life of me, I know I'm right to predict that some shark at Fox is gonna spring one of those near-death shows into a theatrical format. World's Greatest Police Chases: The Movie or When Animals Attack: The Next Generation. Well, I'd pay money to sit in a theatre and watch a bear eat some guy who tried to feed him a taco, and you know you would, too.
Hey! Here's a thought! WWF Raw is WAR in theatres! One big card every month or so, directly to theaters. That way, Vince and Stone Cold and Mankind and everyone could really cuss and rip women's clothes off and actually beat the living stank out of one another without the rules of Pay-Per-View holding them back. They could just flat-out have a match with chainsaws and crossbows and grenades, and what was left of the loser could be buried in a cornfield, only to have The Undertaker bring him back to life and make him one of his Undead cronies! George Romero could direct; Tom Savini could do the effects! It would be a masterpiece! It'd make The Evil Dead look like Oprah!
... or maybe that's taking this rant a bit too far.......
For now, how about just letting TV stay in our living room and divert these semi-creative minds toward a crumb of an original thought. Hey! There's an idea!
Pssssssst! Studio heads, just between you and me, keep working on that "Speed Racer" thing. If you knew how bad I want to see the Mark 5 driving underwater with Johnny Depp sitting behind the wheel, and with Kevin Spacey as Racer X, who is, of course, Speed's long-lost brother Rex Racer, who disappeared after a falling-out with Pops Racer, his father, who is the best automotive engineer in the world and only wears red golf shirts....