A trip to the movies is supposed to mean a reprieve from television. But a night at the multiplex won't seem much different from a night in the living room, as more and more classic television shows make their way to the big screen.
The trend is not entirely new: We've had "Star Trek" and its sequels, "Dragnet" and "The Untouchables," to name a few, but at last count there were more than a dozen projects in development based on hit television shows of the '50s and '60s, including "The Fugitive," "Hawaii Five-0," "Mission: Impossible," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Little Rascals" and even a live-action version of 'The Flintstones." Already finished are Orion's version of "Car 54, Where Are You?" and one of the most anticipated movies of the Christmas season, "The Addams Family."
What is it about TV shows that makes studios want to spend millions to turn them into movies? Robert Solo ("Colors"), who produced Orion's "Car 54" movie, says, "It's happening for the same reason studios like to make sequels--they're easier to sell."
For one thing, there's the familiarity factor. "From the studio's point of view, these films are pre-sold," says Steve Tisch ("Risky Business"), who is developing "Hawaii Five-0" for Hollywood Pictures and has plans for a "Have Gun, Will Travel" feature. "The cost of exploiting a movie is so high that a pre-sold idea is an asset."
There's also the built-in marketing tool of the old shows' music--usually a theme song already familiar to moviegoers. Ed Feldman ("Witness"), currently developing "Mission: Impossible" at Paramount, cited the "Addams Family" trailer, which used the TV show's famous theme. "As soon as the audience hears the first four notes of music and the snapping fingers, they go wild," he says. And an executive at Hollywood Pictures already imagines the "Hawaii Five-0" trailer: "All you need is the theme song and a bunch of action shots."
Writer-director David Twohy, who's attached to the "Fugitive" project at Warner Bros., thinks there's one more reason for the sudden interest in vintage TV: "A lot of these guys who grew up watching all this stuff are now running studios and looking for hit movies," he notes. "One of (WB's president of worldwide production) Bruce Berman's all-time favorite shows is 'The Fugitive.' I don't think it's a coincidence that the project ended up at Warners."
But Roy Huggins, who created "The Fugitive" TV series in the mid-'60s and will be the film's executive producer, doesn't think it's enough that these shows are fondly remembered by fortysomething TV babies: "Nobody makes movies directed just toward older audiences," he says. "The only way to make these work is to make them hip and contemporary."
In keeping with that philosophy, Twohy says his $25- to $30-million "Fugitive" will inject new elements into the show's classic storyline of a doctor, wrongly accused of his wife's murder, on the run. There will be a mystery dealing with why the doctor's wife was murdered, a love interest and, of course, lots of action: "This film is a great vehicle for an action piece," he says. "We can do things the series could never afford to." And, perhaps also believing that "hip and contemporary" is better, producer Tisch describes his "Hawaii Five-0" movie as "a state-of-the-art cop movie with a lot of special effects and a strong action leading man, like Jeff Bridges or Mel Gibson."
Those involved with the current round of recycling are also aware that a successful show doesn't guarantee a hit movie. One such failure was "The Nude Bomb," a movie version of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry's classic "Get Smart" series that turned out to be just that--a bomb. "It's very hard not to get overwhelmed by an old series and its success," says David Permut, who produced the "Dragnet" feature and is developing "The Beverly Hillbillies" for the big screen. "The franchise of a classic show is great, but if the execution is not there and the material is not there, it won't be a hit."
So who knows? If any of them work, here's what we have to look forward to in the year 2015: "Designing Women: The Movie."