18 May 2017

Stop turning movies into TV shows

9:15 am on 18 May 2017

Is the Golden Age of television over?


A scene from The Departed.

A scene from The Departed. Photo: Warner Bros / Everett Collection

The dog dies at the end of Marley and Me.

Sorry, not sorry for the spoiler. It’s been out nine years - time to take the mushy labra-bore off the to-watch list.

The dog dies and Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston blissfully live forever in the suburbs on a journalist’s salary. Full stop. Finito.

Yet in 2014, someone woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night with an idea - a Marley and Me TV series.

Here’s the pitch: Years after Marley’s death, the Grogan family move back to Florida and their neighbour’s mistreated puppy comes scratching at their front door. They adopt it and give it Marley’s old leash and tags and even the name of their former pet.

“I love it,” someone at NBC presumably said. But shockingly, despite being given a scriptwriter and a director for a pilot, the reboot has languished in development purgatory.

Marley and Me was one of more than 20 movies successfully pitched as TV series in 2014.

Fewer than half made it to the small screen - Westworld, Rush Hour, Richie Rich, Scream, School of Rock, Minority Report, Limitless and Uncle Buck. Westworld proved a success, and despite average reviews, School of Rock and Scream are still on the air, although the latter is slated for a complete cast and storyline overhaul.

Hitch, Say Anything, Monster-in-Law, Shutter Island, Big and American Gigolo never made it past a pilot.

Adapting movies for TV is not a new phenomenon. M*A*S*H* eclipsed its big screen predecessor, Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought stakes and libraries into the mainstream and God knows there have been enough reboots of Stargate.

But 2014 seemed like peak movie-to-TV madness … or so we thought. The scattergun approach taken by studios shows no signs of ending.

The adaptations currently being streamed into bedrooms range from the sublime to the absurd. Fargo and Westworld have had rave reviews, there are fans of Bates Motel, Frequency, Lethal Weapon and The Exorcist, but Snatch, Taken and Training Day are dire. The last two are among the worst-rated shows this year, according to website Metacritic.

A scene from Marley & Me.

A scene from Marley & Me. Photo: Barry Wetcher / Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises

Currently in development are adaptations of (*deep breath) The Departed, Snowpiercer, The Notebook, Rambo, Bachelor Party, Blue Crush, The Devil’s Advocate, In The Heat Of The Night, In the Line of Fire, The Last Starfighter, The Lost Boys, Single White Female, She's Gotta Have It, To Live and Die in L.A., Tremors, The Truman Show, The Italian Job, Underworld and Metropolis.

Some of those could be decent. Metropolis is being helmed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, The Lost Boys is in the hands of Rob Thomas of Veronica Mars fame, while Snowpiercer’s original director Bong Joon-ho and Oldboy director Park Chan-wook will produce the remake.

Some may not. The Departed is under the guidance of Jason Richman, the writer of illustrious action flicks Bad Company and Bangkok Dangerous. There will be none of the same characters and the show will focus on Latino gangsters in Chicago. Eh?

The trend is part of something American media scholar Henry Jenkins defines as “transmedia”. “Transmedia storytelling represents a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience,” Jenkins wrote in 2007.

It also represents something he calls “synergy”. “Modern media companies … hold interests across a range of what were once distinct media industries. A media conglomerate has an incentive to spread its brand or expand its franchises across as many different media platforms as possible.”

Media economics aren’t secret. When studio Paramount announced it was considering adapting The Truman Show, exec Amy Powell told The Wrap, “We have buckets of content we’re looking at, and one of them is intellectual property of the studio, which has been around for over 100 years, owns”.

It’s just easier to repackage and market something people are familiar with.

It’s no guarantee of success, though. Training Day and Snatch are on the verge of being cancelled, while NBC’s Taken has been renewed for a second run despite averaging a well-below par 5.1 million viewers. Last year, Uncle Buck, Minority Report and Rush Hour were consigned to the scrap heap after one season.

Selling a reboot may be easy, but the show has to be watchable for people to stick around.

The idea that we are living in the “Golden Age of Television” is such a given, there’s a Wikipedia page for the concept. Everyone is streaming, everyone is binge-watching and Netflix, with about 100 million subscribers, is king.

Sure, everything rips off everything, but the “Golden Age” is supposed to be a storyteller’s creative paradise where originality triumphs over the remake, sequel and comic book-obsessed movie world. Television is supposed to be the “new movies”.

But as more people shift to streaming services, the major networks take fewer risks in the pursuit of a slam dunk. A few months ago, Sam Thielman of The Guardian wrote TV executives are planning for a “less luxurious future” involving lower budgets.

Each year, the number of original scripted series increases. Last year, then-HBO president Michael Lombardo told the Hollywood Reporter his major concern for the industry was “chasing noise to break through the plethora of choices”.

That doesn’t mean new dogs should be named after dead ones.