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Sci Fi's 'Tremors' Has Perfection on Its Side

By hiring people who helped make the film franchise a cult hit, the network hopes to beat the movie-to-series jinx.

March 23, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding" isn't the only hit film recently transformed into a television series. The 1990 cult sci-fi comedy "Tremors," which has already spawned two made-for-video sequels, is the latest feature to try its luck on the small screen.

And "Tremors" will need all the luck it can muster.

Over the years, the track record of films becoming successful television series has been pretty bleak. For every "MASH" there is a graveyard of failures, from "Father of the Bride" to "Anna and the King" to "Baghdad Cafe" to "Working Girl." Even "My Big Fat Greek Life" has been the victim of bad reviews and declining ratings since its premiere last month on CBS.

Bonnie Hammer, the president of the Sci Fi Channel, believes that "Tremors: The Series" will beat the curse. "Oftentimes when a movie turns into a series, you never retain the creative auspices. You buy the idea, you buy the franchise and then you bring in a whole new creative team and copy the tone or sensibility."

But for "Tremors: The Series," Sci Fi signed up Michael Gross, who played the outrageous survivalist Burt Gummer in the first three films. It also signed Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson, who wrote and created the franchise, to be executive producers.

"So we have the people who lived and breathed the movies," Hammer says. "What we didn't want to do is change the franchise. We decided to see if the franchise could work as is. Where we expanded it is that the characters have a little bit more story."

"Tremors" is set in the fictional desert town of Perfection, Nev., that has become famous since giant worms, hatched from eggs that were dormant for more than 300 years, went on a feeding frenzy.

About 30 feet long and blind, these subterranean eating machines use their extra-sensitive hearing to terrorize and devour townsfolk and animals. Given the moniker "graboids" by the locals, these beasties have permutated into even deadlier creatures.

As the series opens, 14 people still call Perfection home, including the famous "Monster Hunter" Gummer, who is always on the trail of the graboids, especially an albino male called El Blanco. The government, though, is protecting El Blanco because he is sterile and can't reproduce.

Gross, who is filming the fourth installment of "Tremors" movies, jokes that his life is "all 'Tremors' all the time right now. I was thinking of starting our own cable network, the 'Tremors' cable network, filled with nothing but 'Tremors.' "

He confesses he had no idea that "Tremors' would turn into a cult sensation. "I was delighted 13 years ago to be on the set of 'Tremors' the day after our 'Family Ties' wrap party. And I thought, thank God, at least it answers two questions for me: One, will I work after 'Family Ties'? And two, will I play a vastly different character or will I be typecast?"

The actor says that he believes there are several reasons why "Tremors" has developed a cult following. "It has broad appeal. It appeals to adults because the comedy is very smart. It's tongue-in-cheek, and for the kids there are monsters. I think it also returns to the form of innocence that American had once upon a time when you went to see a movie and the good guys were the humans and the bad guys were the monsters."

Executive producer David Israel says the series will feature a lot of new creatures and retain the spirit of the movies, which he describes as " 'Jaws' meets 'The X-Files' at the intersection of 'Northern Exposure' and 'Little Shop of Horrors.' "

Still, Israel says, "I think it's the kind of show that has something everybody can enjoy. The violence that occurs is not the kind of street violence that might adversely affect people. Our characters never fire guns at other people."

Who needs guns when you have man-eating worms?

"Tremors: The Series" can be seen Fridays at 9 p.m. on the Sci Fi Channel. The network has rated the first episode TV-PGVL (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for violence and suggestive language).

Cover photograph by Joey del Valle.

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