Can TV adaptations of movies work?

DECEMBER 1 — Few people today would remember the movie Breaking Away. It was a coming of age drama from 1979 about four teens from the wrong side of the tracks. 

Future stars such as Dennis Quaid (Frequency which will be mentioned below) and Daniel Stern (Home Alone) cut their teeth on this poignant drama. 

Sadly, its TV spin off made the following year, did not last more than eight episodes. 

Shaun Cassidy, who was hot property at the time, took over the main role and the main cast from the movie were absent save one. I remember enjoying the show on Sundays on RTM before it was suddenly pulled from the line-up for some inexplicable reason. Now, thanks to the magic of IMDB, I know why.

After watching the short-lived series again, as a middle-aged adult no less, I can see why it was axed. While the movie was very focused and had a clear purpose, the TV series did not. 

It felt a little directionless and was wandering from episode to episode. Also, perhaps expectations were too high considering the excellence of the original film.

Can a TV series be successfully derived from movies? I expect they can be but not easily. 

The opposite is not easily true either. In 2004 we had the Starsky and Hutch movie which was a comedic interpretation of the original 1970s series. 

It was a great success not least due to the talents of Ben Stiller and his chemistry with Owen Wilson. In just the following year, the Dukes of Hazzard was adapted to the big screen. It turned out to be one of the worst films of that year. 

This was despite having Seann William Scott (Stiffler of the American Pie saga) as one of the main actors. Perhaps it was simply past its zeitgeist. The original Dukes was during a less politically correct 1970s. But then, so was Starsky and Hutch.

So how about the opposite? TV series from movies? I encountered two interesting example recently: Frequency and Lethal Weapon

The Frequency series was adapted from a 2000 movie of the same name. The movie starred the aforementioned Dennis Quaid (a long way from his youthful role in Breaking Away) and Jim Caviezel who play father and son respectively. 

The movie revolves around a man who loses his father at an early age but somehow re-establishes contact with him through a ham radio. 

He then alters the course of history by saving his father but with dire consequences to his mother instead! From this, one can easily deduce the ending but this still doesn’t detract from the quality of the film. 

This film managed to hit us in our emotional weak spots and was a tough act to follow. 

Sixteen years later came the TV series. It was cancelled after just one season but I was not in the least bit surprised. 

After all, how long can you stretch that one basic premise? One could feel the TV equivalent of waffling (I’m a writer, I can see waffling a mile away!) as they had 13 episodes to fill with one basic premise. The acting, while good, could not match up to the original film.

Next, we have Lethal Weapon. For those in the know, this quadrilogy of films was the peak of Mel Gibson’s career. His chemistry with Danny Glover and in the later three films, Joe Pesci, was so amazing. 

To successfully adapt this to TV would be a tall order indeed. However, the first season was a modest hit. The new Mel Gibson did not try to replicate his character. He had a different approach to it and pulled it off very well. 

Of course, choosing veteran comedian Damon Wayans for the Danny Glover character was also excellent. While I never expected them to replace the original films, they did not try to do so either. 

Instead, they remained modest to their TV scale and the show is now in its second season. Perhaps it also helps that they had many plots to choose from, unlike Frequency.  

It is also worth noting that a co-producer of this series is Adele Lim, a Malaysian former Star columnist from the 90s (and less interestingly, a former college mate of mine!).

Moral of the story: TV shows and movies need some careful thought before adaptation. Do not make them carbon copies though. That is a set-up for failure

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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