The Golden Age Of Television Is About To Go Bust
"We're gonna turn it into a movie!" is usually seen as all seven trumpets of the creative apocalypse. For every original screenplay in Hollywood, there are 10 film executives asking "What about Monopoly? Do we have the film rights to Monopoly?" Think about something that you loved as a child -- something pure, innocent, untarnished by time or cynicism. Eventually, that will be a movie. And Kevin Hart will be in it. And Maroon 5 will blare over the trailer. Your favorite toy, the golden retriever puppy you got when you were six, your first day of school -- eventually, they will all be movies starring James Franco.
However, "We're gonna turn it into a TV show!" is a little more cryptic. Especially because, right now, TV is really good, and some of the recent movie-to-TV adaptations have been really, really good. Fargo deserves 20 more seasons. Hannibal was a beautiful look into what happens when you decide that organs are best anywhere but inside of a torso. Hell, even Bates Motel has gone from being The Perks Of Being A Homicidal Wallflower to something that Alfred Hitchcock would possibly enjoy.
But that doesn't mean that we should get cocky. Just because you're creating a show that rubs shoulders with Game Of Thrones and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn't mean that some of that "award-winning" dust is going to rub off on you and transform you into the thing that AV Club dreams are made of. We still need to be picky when it comes to taking what entranced audiences in theaters and turning them into things that people can Netflix binge while they Snapchat their friends about how fucking hilarious it is to eat pizza, or whatever.
For example, there's gonna be a Marley & Me TV show. How? Is it an anthology series with a new dog dying in every episode? Or do you make a 100-episode series about a dog almost dying a bunch until it dies? More people know that the dog dies in that movie than any other plot point, so unless you're building to that, it's a show about a dog doing stuff while everyone thinks "So, uh, is this gonna be the one where the dog dies?"
Even beyond the central crux of the show, there are a lot of moving pieces that you have to consider -- moving pieces that are brittle and twiglike after getting streeeetched out over a regular CBS season. Big is getting prepped for a TV treatment. That's a story that makes sense when you have to wrap it up in an afternoon, but on an episode-by-episode basis, it's the story of a mom who loses her son for however many years the show goes on. It's a whimsical comedy about utter, hopeless grief. Either that or the kid can go back and forth between being a child and an adult, which just makes him the shittiest Avenger.
Often, when TV series are adapted from movies, they're simply brand names slapped on the side of something that's vaguely related to the same genre. The Friday The 13th movies are about a giant deformed camper and his itchy ax finger, but the Friday The 13th TV show is about a haunted antique store. And now they're trying to make a Friday The 13th series that actually includes Jason for the CW. This a double-edged machete.
If you don't include Jason all the goddamn time, it's just Spooky Forest Makeouts, Feat. Jason. If you include Jason all the goddamn time, you realize why the Friday The 13th movies are all about 90 minutes long. So every episode is a shortened Friday The 13th movie, which will get old by about week three because we've already seen 12 full-length ones. That or you get a show always coyly hinting that Jason might be just around the corner. It wouldn't be any different from any other show that was about a famous character, but also totally not about them. It's Gotham for Jason. It's 45-minute installments of a story in which people talk about subjects that would include Jason in the "Related" section of their Wikipedia articles.
Also being developed at the network that brought you The Vampire Diaries and season 12 of Supernatural is an adaptation of The Lost Boys. This show would take us, decade by decade, through the vampires' lives, and really make us understand what it's like to live forever. But isn't that something that good vampire movies do in way less time? Let The Right One In, the original The Lost Boys, Nosferatu The Vampyre, even Blade 2 didn't need to drag us around with these guys for years to make us feel for them. It's as if execs think the only way for us to sympathize with the agony of being immortal is to subject us to hundreds of hours of drawn-out plots until we beg for the sweet merciful release of our own mortality. And if you think it takes multiple years to get people invested in something, I feel terrible for everyone who starved to death because they accidentally asked you to tell them a little bit about yourself.
NBC has ordered a full season of a Taken prequel, which reveals the dangers of actually trying to connect a TV show to the movie it's based on. And it's not that no one would want to regularly watch Liam Neeson's character learn how to properly snap limbs and intimidate European people over the phone; it's that I have to refer to it as "Liam Neeson's character."
We're two years removed from Taken 3, and the Takener has only been played by one guy. It's not like Batman, whom we expect to change faces every half-decade or so. No matter how great of a job this new guy does at telling dudes to bring back other dudes or else, he's gonna be Not Liam Neeson. And let me tell you from experience, that's the fucking worst.
Look, it's possible to "just say no" to the shifty guy offering you an eight-ball of pure movie-to-TV-adaptation. J.K Rowling was asked about a Harry Potter TV show once, and acted like someone had told her the plot of Harry Potter Vs. Predator. Just to remind you, this is the same J.K. Rowling who was okay with making five Fantastic Beasts flicks, and was also okay with making Pottermore, a website that only exists to waste a Harry Potter fan's time on this mortal earth. J.K. Rowling, who seems ready to rip the crown of "Won't Just Let It Die Already" from George Lucas' salt-and-pepper noggin, thought that a Harry Potter TV show might just be a bad idea.
That might mean we should be devoting more than two seconds of time to consider bringing some non-TV property onto the small screen. Yeah, it sucked that in 2004 we waded through the mires and dungeons of bad TV just to reach the citadel of The Wire. But that doesn't mean that we have to take every single thing that people like and see if they'll also like it over the course of 500 hours. This might be a battle cry against optimism, but the best way to ruin this era of great TV is to say "People are starting to like TV more than movies. Let's try turning movies into TV."
Daniel has a blog.
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