The Paley Center's PaleyFest Fall TV Preview — a dizzying, weeklong fan event that offers a sneak peek at the new shows networks are hoping against hope won't be instantly reviled and hastily canceled — kicked off last night with a screening of Lethal Weapon. No, not the movie that came out in 1987, the brand-new Fox TV show with a new Riggs (Clayne Crawford) and Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) and, hopefully, at least one utterance of “I'm too old for this shit.”
This year's crop of sitcoms, crime procedurals, hourlong dramas and reality shows includes a handful of movie-to-TV adaptations, including Lethal Weapon and The Exorcist, and the third season of El Rey Network's From Dusk Till Dawn (bonus: CBS' reboot of MacGyver, which was a TV show, then a TV movie and now a show again — people love that crafty son of a bitch).
Over the years, movies have been turned into TV shows with varying degrees of success. But it seems that for every M*A*S*H or Fargo, there are half a dozen flops. The late ’80s and early ’90s were a particularly heinous time in the realm of small-screen remakes. Let's remember some of the most forgettable examples.
Ferris Bueller (1990, one season)
At a recent 30th-anniversary screening of John Hughes' teen-comedy masterpiece Ferris Bueller's Day Off, it occurred to me that if anyone besides Matthew Broderick had played this precocious, reckless teenager who treats adults like dicks and talks to the camera, the world would really hate him. I'd forgotten that in 1990, NBC had put this premise to the test and proven me right, at the expense of Charlie Schlatter's career. In this mind-bending shitfest, Ferris is a real-life teen who had a movie loosely based on his life (even though it's years later and he's still in high school and lives in California rather than the Chicago ’burbs). It opens with Schlatter taking a chainsaw to a life-size cardboard cutout of Matthew Broderick as Ferris, which someone obviously thought was cute and clever but read more as the writers taking a big dump on beloved source material. Congratulations to Jennifer Aniston for emerging unscathed from her apoplectic performance as Jeannie.
Baby Talk (1991-92, two seasons)
Two seasons ain't bad, Baby Talk! Banking on the success of Look Who's Talking, Amy Heckerling's charmingly goofy movie about a schizophrenic baby with Bruce Willis talking inside of his head, Baby Talk premiered in 1991 as part of ABC's TGIF lineup of kid-friendly sitcoms. It actually might've had promise at the beginning (like, to the extent that it could): Heckerling helped adapt the show, George Clooney co-starred and Tony Danza, the most charismatic man on the planet, voiced the baby's internal monologue. Things went awry in season two. Julia Duffy, who played the lead, left and was replaced with Mary Page Keller, and Clooney was dumped in favor of Scott Baio. We all know how that turned out.
Dirty Dancing (1988, one season)
In the realm of film-to-TV adaptations, Dirty Dancing was an extra lazy one. Rather than picking up where the movie left off, the television version was a sort of expanded rehashing of the film, except that Baby and Johnny's relationship developed more gradually, which is a really boring, unsexy way for teen love affairs to unfold. The folks behind the show did, however, decide to turn Baby Houseman into Baby Kellerman, daughter of the owner of Kellerman's summer camp for bored rich people. With Melora Hardin as Baby and Patrick Cassidy (of the Hollywood Cassidys) as Johnny, the show held on for 11 episodes before slinking off into obscurity. (It's a testament to Jennifer Grey's too-short stint as a teen-movie powerhouse that this is the second show on the list based on a movie she starred in.)
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures (1992, one season)
This sitcom reboot of the quirky, funny, time-travel romp Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure was more like the adventures of two awful people in bad Bill and Ted Halloween costumes. (So bad that the guy playing Ted had to settle for a Dee Dee Ramone wig because it was all they had at Party City and it was the last minute and, what the hell, it was on sale.) They (Evan Richards as Bill and Christopher Kennedy as Ted) were joined by the guy who played the Drake on Seinfeld as Rufus (played in the film by George Carlin) for a whopping seven episodes before Fox pulled the plug.
Dumbo’s Circus (1985-'89)
I only included this one because I feel very strongly that Dumbo is one of the saddest, most frightening movies ever made and shouldn't be shown to children, especially when the cute cartoon animals have been replaced by a bunch of fetishists in costumes.
Uncle Buck (1990-91)
Way before there was Uncle Buck the TV show that was canceled in 2016 (even though it was sort of funny), there was Uncle Buck the TV show that was canceled in 1991 after 16 episodes. Besides being sort of pukey — they say “freckle butt” approximately a dozen times in the first minute of the pilot episode — the show took a dark turn: Rather than just being a part-time caretaker while Tia, Miles and Maizy's parents were out of state tending to a sick grandparent, Uncle Buck becomes full-time caretaker when the kids' parents are killed in a car accident. But, shit! Kids are resilient and no one seems too bummed about the tragedy, even Tia, who's magically gone from ornery to downright bushy-tailed for the purposes of feel-good Friday night TV.
Needless to say, Uncle Buck didn't leave an illustrious legacy. In 2014, when the newer Uncle Buck incarnation was announced, the families of John Candy and John Hughes released a joint statement that took a jab at the first adaptation: “The families feel a strong attachment to the original film, which symbolized the great and unique collaboration between Hughes and Candy. Recalling that the director was displeased with the first Uncle Buck TV show effort, which failed on CBS in 1990, it is well expected that he would not be supportive of this current attempt.”