Last night saw the arrival of “Fargo” on FX, the second attempt (after a very short-lived late-’90s version starring Edie Falco in the role that won Frances McDormand an Oscar) to bring the Coen Brothers‘ beloved comedy-drama to the small screen. Unlike that version, this is something “inspired” by, rather than spinning-off the original. And by most accounts, it seems to have worked, with critics warmly receiving the series executive produced by the Coens and which stars Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Kate Walsh, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt, Glenn Howerton, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key.
It’s hardly the first to attempt the transition—barely a TV season goes by without at least one big-screen spin-off, and indeed another one arrives shortly, with the Ari Graynor-starring adaptation of “Bad Teacher” debuting on CBS next week. But there’s a very spotty rate of success—for everything that spawns a multi-season smash, there’s another that proves to be a complete disaster that barely makes it to air.
We’re hopeful that “Fargo” will fall into the former camp, and to encourage it along, we’ve picked out ten movies that spawned notable TV series. Not all were total successes, but it’s a brace of examples that show that not every small-screen spin-off is to be necessarily feared. Take a look below (we excluded Saturday morning cartoons, because obviously) and let us know your own favorites in the comments section.
“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974)
Martin Scorsese‘s follow-up to his incendiary calling-card “Mean Streets,” and still a severe outlier in his filmography in its focus on a central female character (everything since has been far more testosterone-heavy), this Robert Getchell-penned drama won Ellen Burstyn the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the titular Alice, who aims to pick up her singing career after the death of her husband, only to become stranded in Arizona where a local rancher (Kris Kristofferson) woos her. The unlikely choice of Scorsese works nicely here, giving proceedings a grit that balances the slight paperback-romance feel of the story, and his work with actors is already strong here: Burstyn and Kristofferson are both terrific, and there are lovely turns from Alfred Lutter as Alice’s son Tommy, and a young Jodie Foster as his pal. Fans of Scorsese’s bloodsoaked crime sagas will likely be bored, but this is an underrated part of the director’s canon that makes us wish he’d try something similar again.
Two years after its release, Scorsese’s film spawned (somewhat surprisingly, in retrospect) a hit CBS sitcom, set around the diner at which Alice works in the film, that ran for nine seasons and over 200 episodes, as well as spawning a short-lived spin-off, “Flo” (about the character played by Diane Ladd in the movie). Broadway star Linda Lavin took over for Burstyn in the title role, and while Alfred Lutter reprised the part of Tommy in the pilot, he was later replaced by young actor Philip McKeon. Someone did make the transition: Vic Tayback, who played Mel, the owner of the diner, reprised his role, while Ladd joined the series briefly mid-run, though as a new character (and was swiftly replaced, allegedly after clashing with other castmembers). The series is fondly remembered by ’70s sitcom heads, and has charms of a sort, but feels a bit creaky, not least when it comes to the shoehorned-in celebrity cameos (including George Burns, Art Carney, Joel Grey and Telly Savalas as themselves). And it’s still somewhat baffling that a TV executive could take a look at the movie and turn it into something as frothy and gag-happy as this—it’s like seeing Christina Applegate topline a multi-camera sitcom based on “Blue Jasmine” or something.
“Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (1992)
Something of a forerunner of the one-joke title like “Snakes On A Plane” or “Hot Tub Time Machine” (she’s called Buffy! But she kills vampires!), the original “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” is probably most notable as the script that launched the career (after brief TV work on “Roseanne” and “Parenthood,” see below) of Joss Whedon, of late the mastermind behind the third biggest film in history, “The Avengers.” The movie, directed by “Tokyo Pop” helmer Fran Rubel Kuzui, sees shallow cheerleader Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) have her life turned upside down when she’s told by the mysterious Merrick (Donald Sutherland) that she’s a Slayer, a powerful being destined to battle vampires and other such creatures, and takes on the powerful Lothos (Rutger Hauer) with the help of love interest Oliver (Luke Perry). The movie isn’t quite what we’d call terrible—the glimpses of the idea, and of Whedon’s trademark dialogue, are in there, and Hauer and Paul Reubens are good value as the villains. But it’s generic both as a teen movie and as an action/horror, and there seems to be a nervousness to really embrace the feminist subtext that set the series apart. Whedon disowned the film for the most part (and, indeed, moved it to TV in an attempt to do the concept justice), and it mostly serves as a curious footnote to the series, rather than the jumping-off point.
“Buffy The Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003)
We’ve long said that movie remakes are worth doing the most when the original was something that didn’t quite work, and “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” is the clearest example that a similar maxim could be applied to the TV spin-off: it took a mostly forgotten film, and turned it into a bold, funny, inventive, rich show that changed TV forever, and remains one of the very best of the 1990s. Whedon’s genius was to turn familiar genre tropes into metaphors for growing up, and though that’s obviously been a part of the horror genre since its inception, it’s rarely been done as wittily or well as here. And Whedon and his writing staff (including future “Cabin In The Woods” cohort Drew Goddard) built up a coherent and satisfying mythology, the influence of which can be seen on most subsequent genre shows, none of which have such a strong and complex female lead. Sure, some of the acting could sometimes be patchy, and like most series, it lost its way a bit towards the end (the golden era ends after season three when the Scooby Gang graduate high school, though series highs like “Once More With Feeling” and the astonishing “The Body” came later), but this is legendary stuff nonetheless.
Even given that it was hitting just as interest in Jane Austen was hitting a peak, after the BBC‘s “Pride & Prejudice” and Ang Lee’s film of “Sense & Sensibility,” the idea of updating the novelist’s “Emma” to take place in a Beverly Hills high school sounded like madness. But in the hands of Amy Heckerling, who’d previously been behind teen classic “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” (which also spawned a short-lived TV spin-off), the result was a delight, a sharp, funny high school classic that defined a generation in the way that John Hughes‘ films had done a decade earlier, or “Mean Girls” did a decade later. Alicia Silverstone became, however briefly, a big star after playing Cher, a sweet but superficial rich girl whose matchmaking skills backfire and see her own popularity blow up, only to find love with her former stepbrother (Paul Rudd, in an early breakout role). Warm, sharp and quotable, it’s still something of a touchstone for the genre, albeit one that both Heckerling and Silverstone have struggled to escape the shadow of since.
A TV spin-off with an atypically close relationship to its big-screen sibling, “Clueless” hit ABC screens barely a year after the release of the movie, created by Amy Heckerling herself, and produced by superproducer Scott Rudin (his last foray into TV until “The Newsroom” a decade-and-a-half later). And while the burgeoning stardom of Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd meant that they (and Dan Hedaya, who’d originally played Cher’s father) didn’t make the transition, much of the movie’s cast, including Stacey Dash, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan, Wallace Shawn and Twink Caplan, did reprise their roles. The likable Rachel Blanchard stepped in for Silverstone, and the series was sort of bright and occasionally funny, but generally felt like a dumbed-down, less satisfying cousin to the original. (To wit: the gay character Christian didn’t make the transition, presumably in deference to broadcast network tastes at the time, though “Will & Grace” would prove a big hit only two years later.) The series was cancelled by ABC after only a single season, but when re-runs proved popular in the ratings, fledgling network UPN stepped in and commissioned another two seasons, though Heckerling mostly left it behind after that point. The result felt like it strayed even further from the source material, though it did last another two seasons before being cancelled due to dwindling ratings.
“Friday Night Lights” (2004)
An adaptation of writer Buzz Bissinger‘s seminal book (directed by Bissinger’s cousin, helmer Peter Berg), “Friday Night Lights,” the movie edition, was that rarest of beasts, a smart, grown-up, mostly cliche-free sports movie with more in common with “Hoop Dreams” than, say, “Varsity Blues.” Berg’s film—starring Billy Bob Thornton as the coach of the Permian Panthers, and Lucas Black, Garret Hedlund, Derek Luke and Jay Hernandez as some of his players—sticks closer to the events of the book than the subsequent series, and it’s this sense of realism that sets it apart. Sports in the movies tends to be about the glory and the victory, but Berg captures what exemplifies so much of real-world sports: the brutal disappointments and crushing losses, even for a team as successful as the Panthers. The director captures with docudrama precision the way that the games come to dominate life in Odessa, and the effect that being small-town celebrities has on his players, and the glimpses of personal life, particularly when it comes to the relationship between Hedlund and his bullying father (Tim McGraw), are all strong and searing. Gorgeously shot and scored, we should be so lucky to get a football movie as good as this one again.
“Friday Night Lights” (2006-2011)
Or indeed, a TV spin-off as remarkably good as this one. Arriving on NBC only two years after the movie, the small-screen “Friday Night Lights” departed substantially from the text (moving the setting to the fictionalized town of Dillon), but kept the spirit intact, with the same sense of quiet desperation and hidden triumph. Berg returned to helm the pilot, and as a result, it might seem a little over-familiar to those who know the film well: he carries across the same look and feel, and more than a few plot points recur. But as the series goes on, and showrunner Jason Katims (who’s had substantial luck with making the movie-to-TV transition work—see below) gets his teeth into the material, the story, all anchored by Kyle Chandler‘s Coach Taylor and Connie Britton‘s Tami (Britton also played the coach’s wife in the movie) becomes as nuanced and powerful as its big-screen counterpart. Berg again proved to be a strong talent scout, with performers like Scott Porter, Taylor Kitsch, Aimee Teegarden, Minka Kelly, Zach Gilford, Jesse Plemons, Gaius Charles, Adrianne Palicki and Michael B. Jordan all being showcased on the series. It did take a wrong turn over its five years (surviving for the last three after NBC partnered on the low-rated show with DirecTV), most notably the infamous season two murder storyline, but never in a big enough way that it became unwatchable. Mostly the reverse, in fact: looking and feeling like nothing else on network TV (or really, cable), “Friday Night Lights” was one of those dramas that started to kick off the debate over whether TV had superseded the movies. And on the evidence here at least, there was an argument to be made, because the show is the rare example that’s superior to the film.
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989)
The film Steven Spielberg made to “apologize for the second one” according to a Premiere interview from 1988, ‘Last Crusade’ did certainly give us our Indy back after the odd digression of ‘Temple of Doom’ (no amount of contrarian opinions on the matter can convince us that was anything but a misstep). Not just that, but it expanded on the Indiana Jones we knew by bringing his father along for the ride (the awesome casting of Sean Connery is a masterstroke) and also by giving us a flashback detailing the origin of Indy’s hat, bullwhip and fear of snakes. But really what ‘Last Crusade’ proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was that there was a definite appetite for more Indy, with the film raking in more than $474m, far surpassing the take of ‘Temple of Doom.’ But by spinning a critical and commercial success out of returning to the ‘Raiders’ wheelhouse of relics of religious significance and supernatural, divine power, and the need to keep them out of the clutches of conniving Nazis, ‘Last Crusade’ also showed that Indy’s popularity was as much about tone and setting as it was about the character. It was the “Boy’s Own” adventure stylings of the archaeologist hero that audiences responded to so strongly, and that would prove both the making and the unmaking of the eventual TV show.
“The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” (1992-1993)
The flashback in ‘Last Crusade,’ which starred River Phoenix as young Indy (he’d already played Harrison Ford’s son in “The Mosquito Coast”) is widely believed to have been the catalyst for putting the idea of a young Indiana Jones TV show together in earnest. Indeed, in the film, the segment plays like gangbusters, and it’s almost a wrench to leave it and come back to the ‘present day.’ The story goes that George Lucas wrote the outline for roughly 70 episodes of the show (about 30 of which were used), detailing the rough plot and who Indiana would meet in each adventure—it’s one of the pleasures of the TV show (and there are many) how ‘real’ history and historical figures are woven into Indy’s back story. So we get T.E. Lawrence, George Patton, Pablo Picasso, Winston Churchill, Louis Armstong etc., etc., a cavalcade of historical characters that sometimes admittedly felt shoehorned in or only glancingly characterized, but nonetheless were a fun and, dare we say it, educational addition to the series’ mythology. Because the show was unabashedly aimed at the younger segment of the Indiana Jones fanbase, and if it sometimes made the plotting a little obvious for older viewers, still the series’ considerable production values and epic sweep mitigated that. Employing no fewer than four actors to play Indy at different lifestages, Ford made an appearance in one episode, with a very aged George Hall playing Indy as a 93-year-old, Corey Carrier playing the 8-to-10-year-old and Sean Patrick Flannery taking the main duties as the late-teen version. The series also attracted some terrific behind-the-scenes talent, including Frank Darabont, Nicolas Roeg, Mike Newell, Carrie Fisher, Terry Jones and Joe ‘First Avenger’ Johnston. Aside from its occasional predictability, the show is still mostly a pleasure to watch because of the input of so many talents, but also because of the reason it would eventually prove non-viable: it was, and looks like a very expensive production, and so despite 12 Emmys (from 27 nominations), ABC cancelled it in 1993, though The Family Channel did produce four more 2-hour TV movies, which aired between 1994 and 1996.
Now established in the pantheon of classic films by
great auteurs, it’s hard to imagine that Robert Altman was not first
choice to direct the Palme d’Or-winning “MASH” (several directors had
already passed on it) and that the lead actors, Elliot Gould and Donald
Sutherland especially, were so wary of his unorthodox techniques that
they tried to get him fired on several occasions. Perhaps that
difficulty stems partly from watching the film: the loose-limbed,
lived-in vibe that comes across so well and gives the film such a sense
of authenticity and immediacy seems like it can’t have come from
anything but the most harmonious of sets. But then, that is a hallmark
of Altman’s style, which he refined with “MASH” and which would
characterize the rest of his career, more or less. Along with the
pioneering use of overlapping sound techniques, Altman’s fondness for big
ensembles and for films that rather than a classic plot structure seem
to amble from one event to the next in deceptively organic ways, can be
traced back to “MASH” and were arguably never put to better effect. Set
in a hospital unit during the Korean War, but widely read as a statement
about Vietnam, the film also came at the dawn of the ’70s and feels now
in retrospect like part of the Golden Age of Independent Film’s
vanguard: it’s sprawling, messy, and totally inconclusive, yet also
full of life and wit and intelligence and absolutely uncompromising
about the complexities of war and the ambivalences and ambiguities of
the people who wage it.
Given that many of
Altman’s films sprawl in a multi-stranded narrative in a given milieu
and tend to encompass a series of smaller events and stories rather than
one huge arc, and given its immediate and immense success, it’s not
surprising that “MASH” the film spawned “M*A*S*H*” the TV show. It’s
more shocking that not every one of Altman’s films got the same
treatment (though arguably, ‘Downton’ has beaten any potential ‘Gosford
Park’ TV show to the punch, and 2012’s “Nashville” did end any hopes of
er, “Nashville” on TV.) Because what made “MASH” work so well as an
atypical, mold-breaking movie is exactly what made it so perfect for
television and what led to one of the most enduring popular TV shows of
all time (leading to the most watched finale ever at that point). In
fact, one could argue that even the subversive edge of the original film
was sharpened purely by virtue of the fact this often bitingly satirical
take on U.S. militarism was piped weekly into people’s homes under cover
of being a prime time comedy. Perfectly cast (with Alan Alda proving a
more affable, less wolfish Hawkeye than Donald Sutherland in the film)
and genuinely terrifically well written—the writing absolutely holds up
to this day—“M*A*S*H*” is the rare TV show that equals, and at times
transcends the (very good) film on which it is based. No wonder, then,
that this serious-minded comedy (also pioneering the compromise use of a
“chuckle track” rather than the laugh track producers wanted), while
taking an often critical look at 20th century American history, has
itself become such an indelible part of it.
“The Odd Couple” (1968)
Premiering on Broadway in 1965 and running for a pretty impressive 964 performances, Neil Simon’s play was more or less an instantaneous success, netting Tonys for Author, Director and Actor for Walter Matthau, who originated the role of Oscar Madison on stage, opposite Art Carney as Felix Ungar. And it’s easy to see why it proved so instantly popular: the opposites-attract hook is hardly pioneering, but spun into a male friendship as opposed to a heterosexual love affair, and spiced up with Simon’s acerbic, anti-sentimental writing, the story is a perfect example of character being everything. Though it’s difficult to imagine now, Matthau, however, was not a done deal when the film version was first mooted, and Matthau’s Broadway replacement, Jack Klugman, as well as starrier names like Mickey Rooney, were bandied around, as well as Jackie Gleason (to star opposite Frank Sinatra as Felix at which the mind boggles, then goes “actually, come to think of it…”). And for Felix, Dick Van Dyke and future TV Felix Tony Randall were considered. But just a few years before, Matthau had won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in “The Fortune Cookie,” for which Jack Lemmon had insisted he be cast (over, coincidentally, other choices Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra!). Their chemistry was undeniable, the syncing up of their personas with the roles seemed impossibly perfect, and Lemmon was thankfully cast, consolidating simply one of the most indelible screen partnerships of all time. Over the course of their 10 films together (including the ill-advised sequel “The Odd Couple II,”) Matthau and Lemmon arguably returned time and again to riff on the dynamic established here, this archetypal relationship of opposites: the haphazard, pragmatic, cantankerous Oscar and the neurotic, neat freak, nebbish Felix.
“The Odd Couple” (1970-1975)
So technically the TV show was based on the play, but it was the success of the film that made it a viable prospect. And so the casting roundabout started back up again, with Art Carney, the original Felix to Matthau’s stage Oscar, back in the mix, along with Dean Martin, before that role went to Tony Randall, who had also played it on stage. Jack Klugman beat out Martin Balsam to fill Matthau’s shoes (as he had done frequently on stage), and the small-screen incarnations of Oscar and Felix were born. But perhaps because of the film’s success, the TV show, which eventually ran for five seasons, was slow to find an audience (indeed it never did particularly well ratings-wise), with Neil Simon himself initially rejecting it too. But as time wore on and the show created its own identity (as often with movie-to-TV transitions, the bristliness of the film is filed down to something smoother and more palatable for TV), it found its place, and indeed, the domesticity of the setting and the contained nature of the supporting cast (hangover’s from its stagebound origins) actually made it perfectly suited to episodic television. But its relative disposability means that the TV show, while still intermittently enjoyable to a modern eye, has not worn quite as well as the film, or rather the film’s period-specific feel for masculine relationships seems charming, where the TV show is creaky. Still, it ultimately lived or died on the chemistry between the leads, and Klugman and Randall do a fine job with that, putting it up to Matthew Perry (Oscar) and Thomas Lennon (Felix) for the new version which is throwing its hat into the ring (only for it to be picked up and replaced by Felix, presumably) for CBS this 2014 pilot season.
If the term ‘one of Ron Howard‘s best movies’
sounds like a backhanded compliment, that’s probably a testament to the
aggressively middlebrow nature of most of the
actor-turned-director-turned-“Arrested Development” narrator’s output.
But there are good movies among the Howard canon (“The Paper,” “Apollo
13,” “The Missing“), and for the most part, “Parenthood” takes its place
among them. It’s unashamedly a big-screen sitcom (it’s understandable
that it’s spawned two separate TV series over the years), but a pretty
good one, deeply felt, very well acted and with a pleasing messiness to
it that rings home to anyone that’s part of a large family. Steve
Martin, in one of his more satisifyingly grounded performances, heads up
the family unit, with Mary Steenburgen, an Oscar-nominated Dianne Wiest,
Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton, Joaquin Phoenix, Rick Moranis, Jason
Robards and Tom Hulce (especially good as the dark horse) all doing
some strong work. Howard and “City Slickers” writers Lowell Ganz and
Babaloo Mandel can’t help themselves from going super-broad in places,
but given how poorly this sort of film can be done, this isn’t a bad
effort at all.
“Parenthood” (1990) and “Parenthood” (2010-present)
we said, it’s not surprising given the feel of the movie that it
spawned two separate small-screen series over the past 25 years. First
up, and produced by Ron Howard, was the 1990 NBC series, which was
cancelled after only 12 episodes. From what we’ve seen, it was a
perfectly decent show, but it’s probably about right that it’s
remembered principally for giving very early showcases to future stars
Leonardo DiCaprio, Thora Birch and David Arquette (as well as an early
writing gig for Joss Whedon) than for changing TV comedy. The 2010
re-rub, again produced by Howard but showrun by “Friday Night Lights”
legend Jason Katims, was more successful, at least in terms of its
staying power. Departing more from its source material, the show was an
hour-long drama (with comedic elements) rather than a comedy with
serious bits, and it’s something that really gives the subject breathing
room—no series currently airing is able to make viewers cry as
successfully as this one. In part, that’s thanks to a very strong cast:
Craig T. Nelson, Bonnie Bedelia, Peter Krause, Monica Potter, Lauren
Graham, Mae Whitman, Erika Christensen, Sam Jaeger, Dax Shephard, Joy
Bryant et al. But it’s also a testimony to the quality of the writing by
Katims and the rest of his team. Never a ratings monster, it’s
nonetheless improved with each subsequent season, and, like “Community”
and “Parks And Recreation,” has managed to fail less than anything that
NBC have tried to replace it with, so looks like a decent prospect to
make it to a sixth season later this year.
“Planet Of The Apes” (1968)
“You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!” The defining contribution of “Planet Of The Apes” to pop culture (along with “Simpsons” musical version “Stop The Planet Of The Apes I Want To Get Off“) is probably its shocking gut-punch of an ending, but that often overshadows a film that, 45 years and two reboots on, remains a solid-gold sci-fi classic. Franklin J. Schaffner‘s film (based on Pierre Boulle‘s novel “La Planete des singes“) should be something silly, like an overblown “Twilight Zone” episode (in fact, Rod Serling wrote the first draft of the script)—the story of an astronaut who lands on a world where humans are slaves to a race of hyper-intelligent talking simians. But there’s an intelligence and inventiveness to the way that the film is executed—not to mention the legendary, and still impressive make-up effects—that’s prevented it from aging in the way that many films of its time did, thanks in part to the potent subtext, rigorous structure and the true awe that it inspires. It says something that despite the many sequels, spin-offs and reinventions (including the very solid recent “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes“), the original remains the definitive version of the material. We’ll see how Matt Reeves gets on with this summer’s “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.”
“Planet Of The Apes” (1974)
After the film series ran into the ground with 1973’s “Battle Of The Planet Of The Apes,” and the death of producer Arthur P. Jacobs, successful broadcasts of early films in the franchise caused CBS to press ahead with the idea of a small-screen version of “Planet Of The Apes” version. Again, Rod Serling was brought in to write scripts that ultimately went unused, with the eventual series focusing on chimpanzee Galen (franchise veteran Roddy McDowall, who’d played Cornelius and Caesar in earlier films), who goes on the run with another pair of Earthbound astronauts (Ron Harper and James Naughton, making Charlton Heston look like the greatest actor alive in retrospect). McDowall remains a great presence, and there are some intriguing allegorical aspects to some episodes (one episode involving chemical weapons was buried by CBS after the controversy over Agent Orange), but it’s otherwise pretty aggressively mediocre, falling swiftly into a “Fugitive“/”Incredible Hulk“-style formula that becomes highly repetitive almost immediately. Airing opposite comedy behemoth “Sanford & Son,” the show struggled in the ratings, and was cancelled after thirteen episodes aired. That wasn’t the only attempt, though: animated series “Return To The Planet Of The Apes” also managed a single season on NBC the following year.
“Working Girl” (1988)
It’s perhaps not a fashionable point of view to hold, but for this writer, as Hollywood romantic comedies go, Mike Nichols’ “Working Girl” strays dangerously close to perfection. Wait up, hear us out: it’s a tight, very funny script, delivered by a terrific cast: Melanie Griffith was literally never this good again; Harrison Ford manufactures some genuinely hot chemistry with her; Sigourney Weaver has a great time as a stone-cold bitch; Alec Baldwin is a huge creep as the philandering boyfriend; and Joan Cusack steals every scene (everyone knows the “Coffee? Tea? Me?” line, but her delivery of “6000 dollars for a dress? It’s not even leather” deserves more attention). But more than that, it’s a film about class and classism, which is not traditionally a topic that Hollywood has any time for, and yet here it’s dealt with head on, along with sexism and careerism and corporate backbiting and other such non-frothy themes. Of course it helps to have the frequently brilliant Mike Nichols in the director’s chair (and an Oscar-winning song in Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run”), and his tendency to undercut excessive sweetness with a welcome dose of bitter is in evidence here too, right up to the last shot of a triumphant Tess sitting at her desk in an office that a vast wide pull-out reveals to be indistinguishable from a few hundred other offices on in that city block alone. Surprisingly intelligent for a romantic comedy that is both romantic and comedic as well, in addition to being genuinely fond of its characters.
“Working Girl” (1990)
On paper, there’s no reason why the essential premise of “Working Girl” couldn’t translate well to a small-screen format, especially if the decision was made (as it was here) to start the series after the film ended (the show is largely about Tess’ teething problems with the corporate culture of her job with Trask Industries—the job she gets at the very end of the film). I mean, they had an Oscar-winning theme tune in the bag! But the execution turned out so uninspired that even the charms of rising star Sandra Bullock (four years pre-”Speed”) couldn’t get people invested in this dud, and, itself a midseason replacement, it was cancelled after just 12 episodes. In fact the show is more of a curio for diehard Bullock fans these days, or for anyone really fascinated by the career of perpetual nearly-man George Newbern, but Bullock was in fact the second choice for the role of Tess here, with the show originally being conceived as a vehicle for “Facts of Life” star Nancy McKeon (who would go one to lose out the rather more long-lasting role of Monica in “Friends” to Courtney Cox too). But mostly the show feels like it suffers from the “blandification” that dogs so many movie-to-TV transitions; without the more acerbic tendencies of the film, and with all ambiguities hammered out to turn in situations and jokes (and sets) that were pretty much interchangeable with those from about ten other early ’90s shows, even Bullock’s endearing puppyish appeal starts to grate pretty quickly. It’s not hard to see why it never pulled in the ratings, when it felt so indistinguishable from everything else, but let’s not worry too much about the show’s peppy star. She did OK for herself without it.
Honorable Mentions: Among the more successful of the ones that we didn’t have space to include include “In The Heat Of The Night,” the two TV series based on Luc Besson‘s “La Femme Nikita,” “The Dead Zone,” “Serpico,” “Alien Nation,” “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” “The Dukes Of Hazzard” (based on the movie “Moonrunners“), “Highlander: The Series,” “Stargate SG1,” “Dixon Of Dock Green,” “Fame,” “Mr. Belvedere” (based on the film “Sitting Pretty“), “What’s Happening!!” (based on “Cooley High“), “Harry And The Hendersons,” “Teen Wolf,” “The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father” and “Weird Science.”
Other shorter lived ones include “Beyond Westworld,” “Blade The Series,” “Blue Thunder,” “Casablanca,” “The Crow; Stairway To Heaven,” “Animal House” spin-off “Delta House,” “Ferris Bueller,” “Mortal Kombat: Konquest,” “My Big Fat Greek Life,” “Private Benjamin,” “RoboCop: The Series,” “Shaft,” “Starman,” “Timecop,” “Tremors: The Series,” “Uncle Buck,” “Anna & The King,” “Baby Boom,” “Bad News Bears,” Bagdad Cafe,” “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” “Bustin’ Loose,” “The Client,” “The Firm,” “Dangerous Minds,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Down & Out In Beverly Hills,” “F/X: The Series,” “Fast Times,” “Foul Play,” “The Four Seasons,” “Freebie And The Bean,” “Going My Way,” “Gung Ho,” “House Calls,” “How To Marry A Millionaire,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Net,” “9 To 5,” “Paper Moon,” “Party Girl,” “Peyton Place,” “Stir Crazy” and “12 O’Clock High.” — Oliver Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang