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...With a Modern-Day Twist! Nine Classics TV is Dragging into the Present

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire October 10, 2012 at 3:25PM

Lately, there seems to be no easier shortcut to a TV series than taking a classic novel, character or tale and giving it a contemporary twist -- plus bonus points if the source material is in the public domain.
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'Beauty and the Beast' (CW); 'Revenge' (ABC); 'Elementary' (CBS)
'Beauty and the Beast' (CW); 'Revenge' (ABC); 'Elementary' (CBS)

Lately, there seems to be no easier shortcut to a TV series than taking a classic novel, character or tale and giving it a contemporary twist -- plus bonus points if the source material is in the public domain.

"Revenge," ABC's Hamptons-set update of "The Count of Monte Cristo," is now in its second season, while CBS and PBS have dueling contemporary takes on Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective in "Elementary" and "Sherlock." The currently airing "Grimm" and "Once Upon a Time" bring fairy-tale characters and creatures to a modern setting, as does The CW's "Beauty and the Beast," which premieres this Thursday. And there's much, much more.

READ MORE: The Case for Benedict Cumberbatch as the Greatest On-Screen Sherlock

Here's a look at some of the other modernizations of old-school stories that are currently being considered for the small screen.

Robin Hood: Ken Sanzel, the executive producer of "Numb3rs" and "Blue Bloods," recently sold NBC his idea for "Hood," an Occupy-inflected take on the legendary English outlaw that casts the main character as a veteran of the Iraq War who comes back to upstate New York to find his home besieged by greedy bankers and a corrupt privatized police force.

"Great Expectations": Reese Witherspoon is executive producing an adaptation of Charles Dickens' book at The CW with a female lead, a small-town girl who heads to San Francisco to make it big, only to fall on hard times until a mysterious anonymous benefactor comes to her aid. J. Mills Goodloe ("A Gentleman's Game") is writing the planned hour-long drama. And ABC just announced its own modern-day take on "Great Expectations," "Legacy," with executive producer Debra Martin Chase ("The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") promising a sexier and soapier update on the story.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: ABC's developing "Finn & Sawyer," which reimagines the Mark Twain characters as young men in their twenties who've become -- seriously -- steampunk New Orleans detectives. While this seems to be more of a stylistic update than one of era, we're counting it, since what's more weirdly of-the-moment than steampunk? The project is the creation of Jason Richman and David Zabel ("Detroit 1-8-7").

"Alice in Wonderland": Yes, Lewis Carroll's character is also becoming a cop. The CW's "Wunderland" will reimagine Alice as a young female detective who stumbles onto another world that exists below the surface of present-day Los Angeles. McG (who outside of film has served as an executive producer on "Chuck," "Supernatural," "Nikita" and others) is producing the series alongside Chad Hodge ("The Playboy Club"), who will write it. 

"Hamlet": Fox is working on a contemporary take on Shakespeare's play that will not feature Ethan Hawke delivering soliloquoys in the aisles of a Blockbuster Video (see Michael Almereyda's 2000 film version for that). No, "America's Son," created by Paul Redford ("The West Wing"), is set in D.C.'s world of politics, to which a JFK Jr.-style character returns after his father, a presidential hopeful, dies mysteriously in a car wreck that his son knows was no accident. FX's "Sons of Anarchy" also started as a biker take on this play, though it's since largely parted ways with the original structure.

"Romeo and Juliet": "Hamlet" isn't the only one of the Bard's works to be plucked up this development season -- McG, once again, is working on an untitled pilot that would bring the story of the star-crossed lovers to Venice, California, where two rival families battle for power. Byron Balasco (also of "Detroit 1-8-7") is on board as a writer. 

"Wuthering Heights": NBC's update of Emily Brontë's 1847 novel about the doomed love between Catherine Earnshaw and the brooding Heathcliff also transplants the classic to modern-day California. "Napa," from "Everwood" creator Greg Berlanti, will be set in wine country and will be written by Tom Donaghy ("The Whole Truth").

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow": There are dueling updates of Washington Irving's Headless Horseman story in the works at the moment. The first, at Fox, is from "Fringe" creators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci and will be a modern-day thriller that pairs Ichabod Crane with the town's local female sheriff to help a community plagued by supernatural happenings. Kurtzman and Orci are attached to write alongside Phillip Iscove. The second, at The CW, is from "Missing" writers Patrick Macmanus and Grant Scharbo. This one has more of a horror slant that may not be supernatural at all -- in it, Crane is an FBI agent who comes to the town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a mysterious beheading.

Peter Pan: J. M. Barrie's never-aging boy has also inspired his own contemporization -- sort of. "The League of Pan," which hasn't landed at a network yet, is from newcomer Brian McCauley Johnson and will catch up with Pan companions the Lost Boys a decade after they left Neverland and were adopted by the Darling family.

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Elementary, Revenge, Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Sherlock







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