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Big to small screen

Proven premises from films find new life as TV series: Witness 'Eastwick,' '10 Things I Hate About You' and 'Parenthood.'

July 05, 2009|By Denise Martin | Staff Writer
(NBC )

"Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" had all the makings of a hit, even without Arnold.

But after just two shortened seasons, Fox pulled the plug on the blockbuster franchise's move to TV. Ratings had fallen to a series low by May, and it seemed the show was doomed to be unfavorably -- and maybe unfairly -- compared to its iconic source material.

This year, the networks are trying something more subtle. More movie reboots are on the way, but rather than plucking from mega properties, the networks have chosen less obvious films to help launch, but not overshadow, new series. In the fall, NBC will bring a drama version of the 1989 Steve Martin family movie "Parenthood" (a prior, short-lived comedic attempt aired in 1990), while ABC has slated a "Desperate Housewives" spin on "The Witches of Eastwick," simply titled "Eastwick."

ABC Family on Tuesday will premiere the half-hour series "10 Things I Hate About You," based on the 1999 teen comedy of the same name.

Though the films themselves may no longer be at the forefront of pop culture, each spinoff feels more like a homegrown project than a marketing ploy; "Parenthood" continues NBC's tradition of extra-large-ensemble dramas ("The West Wing," "ER" and "Heroes"), "Eastwick" adds another female-centric soap opera to ABC's stable ("Grey's Anatomy," "Brothers & Sisters"), and "10 Things" has the comedic edge of ABC Family's hit "Greek" (not coincidentally, "Greek" writer-producer Carter Covington works on both shows).

Time and distance between iterations offer advantages too. When the WB slowly grew "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" into a cult hit in 1997, few made comparisons -- or even remembered -- the 1992 movie that preceded it.

Name recognition, even if it summons a dim memory, is important, said Angela Bromstad, president of prime-time entertainment for NBC and Universal Media Studios. "When you're in such a crowded space, anything that resonates is good," she said. "To be honest, I haven't watched the original 'Parenthood' in some time. It's sitting at my desk at home -- I was planning on taking it on vacation to watch again."

That means no angry fanboys burning down NBC if the Steve Martin role is miscast. Jason Katims, who is executive producer of the series, said he likes "the fact that even if most people know the film, they won't be demanding the series be a certain thing. Hopefully, they'll be more open."

The gamble is not entirely new to NBC. The network saw moderate success with Katims' adaptation of the Peter Berg high school football drama "Friday Night Lights." Though the ratings-challenged show had a difficult time explaining itself to an audience -- the story centers on the issues facing a small-town community in Texas more than it does on high school football -- it found a critical following so devoted that NBC engineered a deal with DirecTV to keep the show on the air through 2011.

Katims thinks his new show will be a much easier sell. " 'Parenthood' is simpler -- it's all there in the title," he said. "It's dealing with the beauty and heartache of everyday life, specifically for parents."

As in the Ron Howard-directed film, the show will revolve around the daily dramas of a supersized adult family: four adult siblings (Peter Krause, Maura Tierney, Erika Christensen and Dax Shepard), their spouses, kids and parents (Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia). Howard will be executive producer of the series with producing partner Brian Grazer.

"Like with 'Friday Night Lights,' I think there's positive attachment to 'Parenthood,' " Bromstad said, recalling being a young mom herself when the film came out. "I don't remember the specifics, but I do remember it being a rare comment on how challenging parenthood was, but also how great."

A hard spell to cast

"Eastwick" executive producer Maggie Friedman concedes she initially found it troublesome that "The Witches of Eastwick" might be a little too memorable.

A couple of series attempts had already been made in the aftermath of George Miller's 1987 supernatural comedy-horror movie, based on the John Updike book, which starred Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer as a trio of lusty but vengeful witches and Jack Nicholson as "your average horny little devil." Pilots were produced in 1992 and as recently as 2002, with Marcia Cross, Kelly Rutherford and Lori Loughlin playing the women as mothers with teenage sons (all three are now regulars in returning series this fall).

"It was extremely intimidating," said Friedman, who had worked with ABC when she was a writer on "Once and Again." Also, the idea of a remake had already stalled out twice before, but Friedman said she eventually gave in because of her "intense interest" in magic. (She had previously written a show about a witch for Warner Bros. that never got picked up.)

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