They Can’t All Be M*A*S*H: 10 Failed Attempts To turn Hit Movies Into Hit TV Shows

Everybody knows M*A*S*H, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Alice (based on Martin Scorsese’s ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE) were successful long-running TV series based on popular movies but there have been dozens of other adaptations that didn’t make the grade and are largely forgotten these days. For one misguided reason or another most of them barely finished out a season with only a handful of episodes airing and a few never made it past the pilot stage. Here are 10 of the most notable, or most amusing, failures to translate booming box office into ratings sensation:

1. Delta House (Based on NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE) (1979) As a mid season replacement that only ran 13 episodes, this actually had decent ratings but was brought down by battles with the network (ABC). Retaining several of the original cast members (John Vernon, James Widdoes, Stephen Furst, and Bruce McGill), Delta House had the impossible task of making gross out frat boy humor work in prime time with canned laughter. With Josh Mostel standing in for Bluto John Belushi (understandably too big and busy with SNL and The Blues Brothers at that time to do a sitcom) as his brother Jim ‘Blotto’ Blutarsky, the show was either too tame or too lame to catch on. Still it had its moments and it’s worth looking up on YouTube if only to see a young Michelle Pfeiffer (credited as “The Bombshell”) slutting it up on the Delta’s crusty couch. Also worth noting: John Hughes wrote 5 episodes.

2. Fargo (1997) This is odd indeed, a pilot directed by Kathy Bates based on the Coen Brothers classic with Edie Falco (best known as Carmella Soprano) in the Marge Gunderson role made famous by Frances McDormand. A few minutes are below and it’s funny to see Falco in the get-up and accent – comes off pretty SNL-ish really:

Despite that it’s not a bad clip. By the way it’s dated 2003 because it was aired that year as part of the now defunct Trio channel’s “Brilliant But Canceled” series. The episode looks like it would be a nice bonus feature on a future DVD and Blu ray edition of FARGO. Which brings us to:

3. Black Bart (Based on BLAZING SADDLES) (1975) As an extra on the 30th Anniversary edition DVD of BLAZING SADDLES this is a fairly unfunny pilot yet still a likable curio. Featuring Louis Gossett Jr. and Steve Landesberg in the Clevon Little and Gene Wilder parts respectively and an obnoxious laugh track (see also #1 on this list) this acts as further proof that a raunchy R-rated movie can not be successfully sanitized into sitcom fodder.

4. Parenthood (1990-1991)

This was actually a decent Thirtysomething styled show with a solid cast including Ed Begley Jr, Jane Atkinson, David Arquette, Thora Birch, Leonardo DiCaprio (!), and the recently deceased Ken Ober. Zachary La Voy and Ivyann Schwan reprised their roles from the film and Ron Howard executive produced. The show was written by Joss Whedon who, of course, would have better luck with future endeavors. In the last year a second attempt to adapt the 1989 movie has materialized with Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Craig T. Nelson, and Bonnie Bedalia. It’s only appearing on this list as a footnote to the 1990 version as it hasn’t aired yet.

5. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1973) I was unable to find any clips of this adaptation of the racy 1969 movie but the concept of sitcom-izing these 2 married couples struggling through the sexual revolution is baffling at best. Robert Urich, Anne Archer, David Spielberg, and Anita Gillette take the places of their big screen counterparts (Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliot Gould, and Diane Cannon) and Jodie Foster appeared in 2 episodes as Ted and Alice’s daughter but reportedly the show was too much titillation for network censors and not enough titillation for viewers so it was canceled after 12 episodes.

6. The Bad News Bears (1979-1980) This was one I watched as a kid. It was cute-crude rather than crude-cute like the movie (or movies – there were 2 sequels not to mention a 2005 remake) and Jack Warden actually was a good television replacement for Walter Matthau in the role of Morris Buttermaker. It lasted longer than most on this with 22 episodes but was cancelled just a few episodes into its second season. A pre-puberty Corey Feldman played one of the bratty Bears so there’s that too. Again it was hard to find any video proof of this show but I did locate this promo for its premiere coupled with The White Shadow:

7. Ferris Bueller (Based on FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF) (1990-1991) This one season NBC spin-off starring Charlie Schlatter is mainly remembered for being one of Jennifer Anniston’s first roles (she played Ferris’s sister Jeannie). That’s fine because little else about it is very memorable except that FOX had a competing show with the almost the exact same premise: Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. Parker Lewis brutally beat Bueller in the ratings and went on to last 3 seasons. Ouch.

8. The Player (1997) Very little information exists about this spin-off with Patrick Dempsey in the Griffin Mill role part that was played to perfection by Tim Robbins in the excellent 1992 film, but writer Michael Tolkin talks about it quite a bit in the commentary on the THE PLAYER DVD. Jennifer Grey and Jennifer Garner also starred. Definitely another one that would be neat to see surface someday.

9. Revenge of the Nerds (1991) As another lame pilot that wasn’t picked up this only makes the list because of the appearance of the rowdy Robbie Rist as Booger (played by Curtis Armstrong in the film series). Rist, best known as Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch but should be recognized for tons of other notable work (Mary Tyler Moore, CHiPs, The Bionic Woman, What’s Happening, etc.) plays up the weak material with gusto while everybody else fades into the background. Still, it’s a pretty sucky show as you can well see:

10. Herbie, The Matchmaker (1981) I saw this one as well when I was a kid and really didn’t like it – maybe I was getting too old for Herbie anyway but making the crafty Volkswagen racing car into cupid struck me as pretty stupid. Dean Jones, who was in 2 of the movies, reprised his role as Herbie’s owner and, uh, I don’t remember anything else. It only lasted 5 episodes so I doubt I’m alone. This clip featuring one of the worst theme songs in TV history doesn’t bring anything flooding back either:

Okay! So, that just scratches the surface as there are many more failed attempts to cash in on a movie’s success with an idiot box redux out there so let me know if you have any favorites. I purposely ignored animated adaptations (I just didn’t want to write about Clerks) but, of course, will welcome all comments about them.

This post is dedicated to Ken Ober (1957-2009)


More later…

Soundtrack September: 10 Favorite Fake Film Bands

As a concluding piece for Soundtrack September here’s another patented Film Babble Blog list. Despite that this is something that’s been covered a lot on the internets (see for example), I decided to put my own personal spin on it. Now, I tried to avoid bands that began on television, like, say, The Blues Brothers or Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, but #1 on this list itself originated on a TV special so that was difficult to do. For the most part though these are fictional groups introduced to us on the silver screen. So here they are:

Film Babble Blog’s 10 Favorite Fake Film Bands

1. Spinal Tap from THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)

I know, it’s an incredibly obvious choice but this list wouldn’t exist without David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) as one of England’s loudest bands and stars of Rob Reiner’s cult classic rockumentary. Their soundtrack set the template for music parodies while the film’s faux documentary style is still a vital formula today (see The Office). Now celebrating their 25th anniversary Tap still tours, usually with the Folksman (also consisting of the same folks) from A MIGHTY WIND opening and have just released a new album: “Back From The Dead” so the line fine between fantasy and reality gets more and more blurred as time goes on, or is it the fine line between stupid and clever I’m thinking of?

2. Max Frost and the Troopers from WILD IN THE STREETS (1968) James Dean lookalike Christopher Jones fronts this great group of rowdy rebels (including future Ohio Senator Kevin Coughlin and future famous funnyman Richard Pryor) in this teen exploitation flick that’s as ridiculous as it is fun. Here’s a clip of Jones, Jim Morrison style, lip synching “Shape Of Things To Come” which was actually a #22 hit on the US Billboard charts:

Incidentally songs credited to Max Frost and the Troopers were on the soundtracks to the Dennis Hopper film THE GLORY STOMPERS and Jones’ AIP film followup THREE IN THE ATTIC.

3. Circus Monkey from BANDWAGON (1996) As the focus of a funny and touching portrait of a indie band just starting out, Circus Monkey (Kevin Corrigan, Steve Parlavecchio, Lee Holmes, and Matthew Hennessey is an endearing quartet of indie underdogs. I’m biased about their inclusion because the movie was filmed in my area by NC native John Schultz (formerly a member of the Connells) with a gig set at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro as well as a climatic concert filmed at the Rialto theatre in Raleigh, but I still strongly stand by the choice – their songs (especially “It Couldn’t Be Ann”) are catchy and their story a heartfelt one. Sadly it has never been released on DVD but here’s the trailer to tide you over until it is:


A great girl group shoo-in from one of my favorite could be cult films that came up in another recent list. Again in the interest of space check out my original review.

5. Eddie and the Cruisers in EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (1983)

My pal “Pinball” put it best in his essay for Soundtrack September in the previous post. Read it here.

6. The Wonders in THAT THING YOU DO! (1996) Tom Hanks directorial debut features the fab fascimile of The Wonders – literal one hit wonders (like you couldn’t figure that out) that had one catchy ditty that actually became a real life hit (# 41 on the Billboard Top 100). The band consisted of Tom Everett Scott (“the smart one”), Johnathon Schaech (“the talent”), Steve Zahn (“the fool”), and Ethan Embrey (uh, the unremarked upon one). The film is a guilty pleasure I usually stop on when changing channels – the title song is so damn catchy!

7. The Five Heartbeats in THE FIVE HEARTBEATS (1991) Robert Townshend’s homage to the heyday of Motown, with obviously the Four Tops and Temptations as template, is another film that wore its way into my heart through multiple cable airings. The music and merit within definitely give DREAMGIRLS a run for its money – “A Heart Is A House For Love” recorded by the Dells (another obvious influence) is a Helluva song.

8. Stillwater in ALMOST FAMOUS (2000) This 70’s arena rock band was concocted out of stories about interaction with such bands as the Eagles, the Allman Brothers, and Lynyrd Skynard (among others) during Cameron Crowe’s days as a teenage journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, but they still seem like a real living breathing entity mainly because of his angsty autobiographical angle. Stillwater, which features Jason Lee and Billy Crudup as its Plant/Page or Glimmer Twins or what have you, only had one song on the official soundtrack: “Fever Dog” written by Heart’s Nancy Wilson (also Crowe’s wife).

9. Citizen Dick from SINGLES (1991) Matt Dillon’s Cliff Poncier is definitely in the right place at the right time – in a grunge band in Seattle in the early 90’s. With a wardrobe and songs written by Green River/Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament as well as all of Pearl Jam as fellow band members, Dillon has more than a little help from his friends. None of Citizen Dick’s songs are on the soundtrack but “Spooner” written by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell can be heard in an acoustic version can be heard in the background at one point.

10. Otis Day and the Knights in ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)

Another seminal band that started out fake but got real after the fact. The Delta’s toga party favorites, fronted by Dewayne Jessie, put out an album produced by George Clinton called “Shout” in 1989 and have been touring as “the number one party band in America” to this day.

Okay! One last special mention: Autobahn in THE BIG LEBOWSKI. The nihilist Kraftwerkian band consisted of Flea, Peter Stormare, and Torsten Voges. Sure we never hear a note of them * but damn that album cover ought to count for something!

* Correction: We do actually hear “Wie Glauben” – supposedly an Autobahn tune in the movie and the soundtrack album. From composer Carter Burwell’s notes at “The story also involves a band of nihilist Germans, and in their final scene their music is playing on a boombox. For this I wrote “Wie Glauben” (“We Believe” in German) a techopop tune.”

More later…

10 Movie Posters That Completely Co-opt Others Original Designs

This is a sequel of sorts to a post I did earlier this year (10 Of The Most Misleading and Mis-representing Movie Posters Ever!) with one of the same posters mentioned and the same theme of mis-marketing dominating. Recently the publicity for the new pop-doc AMERICAN TEEN included a poster that directly recreates the iconic poster image for the classic 80s teen angst flick THE BREAKFAST CLUB. The similarity was so blatant that it made many folks (including me) think it was a retitled remake:

You see? To be fair AMERICAN TEEN has another poster design out there that’s more original but that above is still still close for comfort. This is a pretty common device that calls for another patented Film Babble Blog list:

10 Movie Posters That Completely Co-opt Other Poster’s Original Designs

1. THE BIG ONE appropriates MEN IN BLACK and suffers legal action for it – That’s right the image for Michael Moore’s self indulgent book tour doc was ruled too similar to the design for the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi vehicle so a judge ruled that Miramax had to remove the posters from distribution. The taglines: “Protecting the Earth from scum of the universe” from MEN IN BLACK and “Protecting the Earth from the scum of corporate America” from THE BIG ONE would probably be dismissed by most of us as parody not copyright infringement but Columbia Pictures’ lawyers thought differently.

2. FLETCH LIVES for some reason regurgitates GONE WITH THE WIND – This lackluster sequel did itself no favors by placing Chevy Chase’s Irwin M. Fletcher character into the framework of one of the most famous films of all time. Not sure the thinking here, did they really think it was a good idea to equate the camera-mugging wise-ass with a suave Rhett Butler in the thralls of a tragic romance while Atlanta burns? I suppose the GONE WITH THE WIND design is just a device for selling the Fletch inherits a Southern Plantation’ premise and I should cut them some slack for trying to wrap a failed follow-up in something resembling a classy package.

3. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? macks on the art for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – Meticulously copying the entire design right down to the typefaces and every detail of the amazing Amsel painting done for the 1982 re-release of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Morgan Spurlock’s much lambasted quasi-poli-doc tries to align itself with the same globe trotting heroic splendor of the Spielberg classic but just ends up looking desperate. I haven’t seen WHERE IN THE WORLD… but not being a fan of SUPER SIZE ME or Spurlock’s television work makes me ambivalent at best to it with this uninspired poster design putting me off even further.

4. THIS IS SPINAL TAP jumps on the back of AIRPLANE! – This one I wrote about before in the Most Mis-leading Movie Posters post mentioned above, noting that director Rob Reiner remarked: “They marketed it with a guitar flying in the air with a twisted neck which looked like the poster for AIRPLANE! It looked like it was trading on

another film”. There were many more comedies that were marketed with crazy flying in the air’ imagery – the Zucker Bros. own NAKED GUN movies kept the concept alive for another decade after SPINAL TAP.

5. PROBLEM CHILD crassly copies PARENTHOOD – A mere months after Ron Howard’s family comedy was a hit came this tasteless anti-family comedy with a poster design that mocks the former’s switching the roles and supposedely doubling the laughs. Not a bad advertising approach mind you, I’m sure many rented one after glancing at the video box thinking it was the other.

6. DEAD HEAT duplicates GOODFELLAS – This one is really annoying. Same dark design with 3 protagonists posing above a street scene and the same typeface

shows a complete creative bankruptcy on the side of the promotional department. The utterly forgetable Keifer Sutherland crime thriller that somebody on the IMDb message board called “SEABISCUIT meets GOODFELLAS could not come close to competing with Scorsese’s masterpiece so seeing them try is painful.

7. ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL re-amps NATIONAL LAMPOONS ANIMAL HOUSE – Lots of crude sloppy comedies have likewise Mad Magazine derived designs but the folks behind marketing the Ramones’ film debut didn’t look very far for an angle here – they just went with what worked for the previous years teen gross-out blockbuster. Squint and you’d think you’re seeing the same picture (especially with the tiny examples I’ve provided here).

8. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY redoes ANNIE HALL (as does the movie) and begat a flood of rom com movie marketing – A couple in a hesitant yet sexually tense moment always makes for a good poster picture for a romantic comedy,

right? Well just add a city skyline (most often New York, duh!) underneath and now you’re talking. Dozens upon dozens of recent rom coms have used this type imagery including SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, TWO WEEKS NOTICE, MAID IN MANHATTAN, ALEX & EMMA (also Rob Reiner), etc. Oh yeah, the Dudley Moore / Mary Steenburgen movie actually named ROMANTIC COMEDY had a similar image too.

9. CLOVERFIELD marks on THE DAY AFTER TOMORROWs territory – The Statue Of Liberty gets a lot of abuse in the world of movie posters. In CLOVERFIELD its head gets blown off (same thing is shown

on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORKs poster incidentely) and a long shot view shows us a stormy New York in turmoil. Looks a lot like the same painting style and tone used in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROWs the Statue Of Liberty under ice image. The poster for the upcoming sludge through bad pop culture spoofs DISASTER MOVIE features our long suffering statue getting drowned in a tidal wave. Hard job it is being a giant symbol of freedom I guess.

10. TRANSFORMERS apes PLANET OF THE APES – Why would anybody want to recall the roundly rejected Tim Burton remake of the Charleton Heston “damn dirty ape” classic with a poster image that looks nearly identical? It seemed like TRANSFORMERS would’ve had its own shiny take on the aesthetics and wouldn’t have to stoop to this so was it unfortunately unintentional? Did somebody think the look and angle of the Ape design was cool and thought it was either forgotten or needed to be re-done and re-purposed? Whatever the deal, I can still barely tell them apart.

Okay! Now, I know there are lots of movie posters that have co-opted the designs of others that I missed so feel free to comment away.

More later…

Meet Me At The Wrecking Ball – A Blog With A Cause

“Is that the worst word of the new culture – ‘blog’?”
– Jerry Seinfeld on The Late Show With David Letterman 10/29/07

Actually, I think it’s one of the best.

This post is going to be a bit different from my usual array of riveting reviews and looney lists – this time I have a cause. I rarely write about things local, except for mentions of the theatre I work at part time (The Varsity), but it has come to my attention that a historic house not far from where I live in Chapel Hill, NC is in danger of being demolished very soon. How this pertains to Film Babble is that this house was used as a film location almost 40 years ago. The house is the Edward Kidder Graham House (named for a former UNC President who died in 1918) located on Battle Lane at the edge of the UNC campus and the movie it was used in was THREE IN THE ATTIC (Dir. Richard Wilson, 1968).

Haven’t heard of it? That’s okay, I hadn’t either – It isn’t available from Netflix having never had a proper DVD release (I found online that some outfit called Must Have Films is selling DVD copies of it but they don’t look quite legit) and VHS copies are fairly hard to find. After some phoning around I found a shoddy old videocassette copy at a local video store (a building surely to be demolished soon as well) and viewed it anxious to see some Lyndon B. Johnson era shots of my hometown. Through the awful picture full of drop-outs (horizontal white streaks) and the incomprehensible muffled sound I was able to make out the Edward Kidder Graham House as well as many shots of the UNC campus, surrounding neighborhoods and the Alpha Tau Omega House on Franklin Street which was used prominently in a party sequence.

The movie itself is honestly a pretty schlocky 60’s sexploitation picture. Made by American International Films, a company that specialized in low budget fringe films that would appeal to teenagers, it is by today’s AMERICAN PIE standards a fairly lame affair – though one not without its kitschy dated charms. James Dean look-a-like (and somebody who studied Dean’s every move) Christopher Jones finds himself locked in a sorority house attic (The Edward Kidder Graham House stands in for Ford Hall as UNC doubles as the equally ficticious Willard College For Men and Fulton – A Women’s College) after 3 college girls ( Yvette Mimieux, Judy Pace, and Maggie Thrett) find out he’s been triple timing them. As Paxton Quigley, Jones’ voice-over narration promises a look at the “groovy subculture of today’s female” and he says “you’ve heard of the sexual revolution…well, I’m probably one of its first casualties” but this is pretty grandiose talk coming from someone decked out in what looks like the JC Penny Jim Morrison line – fluffy white shirt, love beads and yes, leather pants. No such social sexual commentary or satire is really presented – just dialogue like this between Quigley and girlfriend #1’s (Mimieux) father, played by Richard Derr, who bursts in on them living in sin:

Mr. Clinton: “What kind of a man are you?”

Paxton Quigley: “Well, I think I know…I know where it’s at.”

Mr. Clinton: “What?”

Paxton Quigley: “I know my way around.”

Mr. Clinton: “Are you one of those potheads?”

Yep, that’s about the level of insight in THREE IN THE ATTIC. There was potential as Roger Ebert notes in his 1968 review that it could’ve been a “near GRADUATE” but the film makers motives were just as cheap as its budget. Essentially a series of love montages hanging on a bare narrative thread this movie still has some lure as a curio – fans of college cult films * will delight in its pre-ANIMAL HOUSE sensibility, cinéastes will enjoy the notion of what direction James Dean’s career might’ve gone in (or at least looked like) had he lived through to that turbulent time, but for this blog’s purposes Chapel Hill residents will celebrate THREE IN THE ATTIC as a snapshot of the town in the late 60’s and a portrait of a house worth preserving and restoring.

* It is most certainly a cult movie – Joe Bob’s Ultimate B-Movie Guide gives it 4 stars and says of it – “one of the weirdest flicks of the sixties” (Joe Bob Briggs, 2000).

Postnote #1: There was actually a sequel entitled UP IN THE CELLAR (1970) also known as THREE IN THE CELLAR which also had Judy Pace in it. It was a little of a bigger deal with Larry Hagman and Joan Collins but since it was filmed in New Mexico I didn’t seek it out.

Postnote #2: For more information and pictures of the Edward Kidder Graham House and other historic houses in Chapel Hill please visit :

The Preservation Society of Chapel Hill

Flickr: Photos from chapelhill.preservation

Also this interview with Preservation Society of Chapel Hill Executive Director Ernest Dollar is worth a read:

Independent Weekly: News: Q&A: Ernest Dollar

More later…