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…

A SERIOUS MAN: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dirs. Joel & Ethan Coen, 2009)

“No Jews were harmed in the making of this motion picture.”
– Disclaimer in the end credits.

In the 25 years since they first burst on the indie movie scene with the stellar BLOOD SIMPLE, the Coen Brothers have hit many cinematic curveballs into the woodwork of their films. Those being character or tangents (or both) that appear not to fit initially into their understood premises and leave us scratching our heads to their purpose in the grand scheme of things. Examples include: Mike Yanagita (Steve Park) -the high-school classmate of Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) who oddly appears at an pivotal point in FARGO, the pedophile bowling rival Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) who steals a good 5 minutes of THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and Ed Crane’s (Billy Bob Thornton) UFO dream in THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE. As perplexing as these seemingly ersatz elements are, they are often the most memorable moments of their movies. Imagine if they concocted an entire film out of such scenes.

A SERIOUS MAN isn’t quite that concoction, but it comes pretty damn close with its unproven paradoxes, character threads that aren’t followed through, and fake-out dream sequences. On the surface it’s about the trials and tribulations of Minnesotan physics professor Larry Gobnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) in the late 60’s. Beneath the surface it’s about religion, betrayal, academia, Jewish suffering, and a futile search for meaning – I think. When the opening couplet of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” (a driving force throughout the movie) is recited by a Rabbi as if it’s an ancient prayer, you can be sure that what this film is about exactly is going to be up for debate for a long time.

Gobnik is surrounded by headaches – his wife (Sari Lennick) wants a divorce, his schlebbish but possibly brilliant brother (Richard Kind) sleeps on his couch, his daughter (Jessica McManus) is stealing from his wallet for a nose job, his son (Aaron Wolff) is stealing from her for marijuana, and his tenure may be threatened by a series of slanderous anonymous letters that his school’s committee keeps receiving. There’s also a thick headed racist gun-toting neighbor (Peter Breitmayer) and a Korean student (David Kang) who attempts to bribe Gobnik for a passing grade. In a confrontation over that particular no-win situation the student’s father tells Gobnik to “accept the mystery.” Obviously that’s what the Coen Brothers are telling us too.

Here’s hoping movie goers got their A-list fill with their previous outing BURN AFTER READING because there are very few recognizable names here. Folks will likely know Richard Kind and Adam Arkin (as a somewhat sympathetic lawyer) from various television roles, but the cast is mostly fresh and unknown with Stuhlbarg’s pitch perfect exasperated everyman standing out in the starring role.

As one of the Rabbis that Gobnik seeks solace from, George Wyner (also familiar from TV as well as turns in fan favorites SPACEBALLS and FLETCH) owns one of the best scenes in the film (an instant classic in the Coens canon BTW) relaying a story about a dentist who is shocked to find Hebrew engravings on the back of a non-Jewish patient’s teeth.

Gobnik’s son Danny’s (Wolff) bar mitzvah is another notable highlight. While his father struggles with existential discord, Danny’s biggest concerns are out-running a bully he owes money and getting the best possible TV signal so he can watch F Troop. As seen through Danny’s stoned eyes, the paranoia pulsating through his coming of age ceremony is pleasingly palpable.

There is quite a bit of humor in A SERIOUS MAN but it’s not laugh out loud funny, it’s more like inward cringing giggle funny. It has been called the Coen Brother’s most personal film as the suburban tract housing world it creates is reportedly identical to the one of their childhood as are the overriding rites of a traditional Jewish upbringing but it rarely comes off auto-biographical. Gobnik and his family’s fates are literally about to be twisting in the wind as we leave them and while that’s of little comfort – for some reason it made me smile. One day maybe I’ll be able to say exactly why.

More later…

The Coen Brothers Repertory Role Call 1984-2008

In anticipation of the new Coen Brothers film BURN AFTER READING (opening next week!) I decided it was time to update the listing of their stock company of able bodied actors. Lets get right to it starting with:

The Major Players

Steve Buscemi (MILLER’S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, FARGO, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, PARIS JE ‘TAIME): The bug-eyed Buscemi is a perfect fit for the world of the Coens making. After making an undeniable impression in bit parts for the brothers in 3 films in a row, he graduated to major player as Carl Showalter in FARGO – a tour de force performance which should have gotten him an Oscar or at least a nomination. Next up as Donnie, the daft but incredibly lovable bowler/surfer in THE BIG LEBOWSKI he had many memorable moments (Im throwing rocks tonight!) before his untimely demise. He didn’t show up for them again until their short segment of the colorful anothology film PARIS JE ‘TAIME (2007) in which he played an unlucky tourist in the city of love. Heres hoping it wasnt his last time in front of the Coens camera.

George Clooney (O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, BURN AFTER READING): Many thought the square-jawed leading man if there ever was one would be like Nicholas Cage or Tim Robbins – i.e. a starring part one-off for the Minnesotan movie-makers but Clooney keeps coming back for more. Completing what he calls a trilogy of idiots with BURN AFTER READING it is rumored that he may be on board for the brothers long talked about Hercules project. Man, I hope that comes together!


HUDSUCKER PROXY (just a radio voice-over cameo), THE BIG LEBOWSKI, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?): One of the most reliable of the major players, Goodman brings a stern but dangerously stupid edge to every character hes embodied. From escaped felon Gale Snoats in RAISING ARIZONA to BARTON FINKs charming but murderous Charlie Meadows (who could tell you some stories) to the incredibly quotable Walter Sobchak (Mark it zero!, were talking about unchecked aggression here, Dude, this is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!, etc.) with his turn as Big Dan Teague in O BROTHER… being possibly his last film with the Coens. He told Rolling Stone: After a while, (my) characters got too similar. Their names were even similar, so we had to part company. I kind of miss those days. Theres a lot I would do differently, but you cant do that. Its against the laws of nature. Time travels on. Maybe so but I for one hope the Coens go for the Goodman goods again some day.

Holly Hunter (BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?): She was just a uncredited voice on a phone answering machine in BLOOD SIMPLE but Hunters ferociously feisty performances in the comedy classic RAISING ARIZONA and the Oedipal musical O BROTHER… definitely make her a major player in the Coen canon. Officer Edwina Ed McDunnough in RAISING ARIZONA was a breakthrough role for her and it paved the way for an Osacr nomination the following year for BROADCAST NEWS. She took home the Academy Award for THE PIANO in 1994 but that didn’t mean she would turn her nose up at the prospect of reteaming with the Brothers. As the fierce Penny in O BROTHER… she seemed right at home. Like Goodman and, well, every one of these folks, I hope to see her in Coen country again someday down the road.

Frances McDormand (BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA, MILLER’S CROSSING, FARGO, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, BURN AFTER READING): Obvious why she makes the grade. McDormand starred in the Coen brothers film debut BLOOD SIMPLE, she had brief but memorable bits in RAISING ARIZONA and MILLERS CROSSING before once again ruling the screen as pregnant Police Chief Marge Gunderson (which won her the Best Actress Oscar), she has a key part in THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, and she returns in BURN AFTER READING as gym employee Linda Litzke which I can’t wait to see. Oh yeah, shes married to Joel Coen so theres that too. Fun fact: Pre-stardom McDormand once shared an apartment with both Joel and Ethan Coen as well as Sam Raimi, Scott Spiegel, and Holly Hunter.

Jon Polito (MILLERS CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE): A great under-rated character actor, Polito has stolen every scene he’s been in under the Coens direction from the GODFATHER-esque opening monolgue in MILLER’S CROSSING right through to the sleazy businessman Creighton Tolliver in THE MAN WHO WASN‘T THERE.

Tony Shalhoub (MILLER’S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE): Better known these days as Monk, Shalhoub was a great presence usually playing a slick fast talking insider in a brief but sweet sideline role. As Hollywood producer Ben Geisler in BARTON FINK he constantly admonishes Fink (John Turturro) about his struggles with writing: Wallace Beery. Wrestling picture. What do you need, a roadmap? As defending lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider (great name) in THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE, Shalhoub is no less harsh: I litigate. I don’t capitulate.

John Turturro (MILLER’S CROSSING, BARTON FINK, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?): Turturro is IMHO the finest actor present as a major player and each of his roles are works of beauty. His powerfully intense performance as BARTON FINK is of course a stand-out being that it is a starring role but oddly THE BIG LEBOWSKIs Jesus Quintana (which pretty much just counts as a cameo) may be his most lasting creation for the Coens. In a recent interview Turturro spoke of wanting to do a LEBOWSKI spin-off sorta sequel that focused on Jesus getting out of jail and landing a job as a bus driver for a girls high school volleyball team. It will be a combination of ROCKY and THE BAD NEWS BEARS. At the very least we’d have to have a Dude cameo. I wouldnt hold my breath on that happening but it is a funny thought.

And The Rest:

Bruce CampbellTHE HUDSUCKER PROXY, FARGO, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, THE LADYKILLERS: 2 small parts and 2 as soap actor on TV – all 4 are uncredited.






Stephen Root O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU, THE LADYKILLERS, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – Another personal favorite of mine. Root, best known as Newsradios Jimmy James and OFFICE SPACEs Milton (pictured right) has only had a few very small parts in the Coens work. I really hope they throw something more substantial his direction because he seems like he was born to be in their world.

J.K. SimmonsTHE LADYKILLERS, BURN AFTER READING – Another hope to be regular in my book (on my blog more like).


Pancakes House loving nihilist through and through.

Bob ThorntonTHE MAN WHO WASNT THERE, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY – Hope he gets used again too.

M. Emmet Walsh (pictured on the left) BLOOD SIMPLE, RAISING ARIZONA – A key player in the first 2 Coen bros. flicks Walsh couldve easily slipped into the cast of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

Okay! Did I miss anybody?

More later…

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN Enters The Classic Coen Bros. Canon – Just Don’t Call It A Comeback

Cormac McCarthy: MILLER’S CROSSING is in that category. I don’t want to embarrass you, but that’s just a very, very fine movie.

Joel Coen: Eh, it’s just a damn rip-off.

– Time Magazine Oct. 18th, 2007 (A Conversation Between Author Cormac McCarthy And The Coen Brothers)

It has been a while since Joel and Ethan Coen unleashed a movie that really made an impact. Their last offerings – THE LADYKILLERS (2004), INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003), and a personal favorite of mine – THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001) all had their fair share of merits and moments but you’d have to reach back to O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU (2000) to cite any serious seismic blip on the pop culture radar. Even during this supposed down-time they never had a critically lambasted failure or did anything resembling “jumping the shark” so the held belief was they would check in with another masterpiece someday in the future. Well the day has now come with the instant classic that is:

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Dirs. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, 2007)

A more faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel could not be imagined. There are a few transitional dialogue and setting embellishments but the bulk of this film is directly, word for word, from the brilliant book. In the vast plains of Rio Grande, Texas in 1980, Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss – a poor Vietnam vet who one day when out hunting antelopes comes across a slew of dead bodies, a large surplus of heroin, and a satchel containing over 2 million dollars. He takes the satchel and returns to his wife (Kelly Macdonald) at his trailer park home but wakes in the middle of the night with what he himself recognizes as a “dumber than Hell” compulsion to return to the crime scene. Soon to be on his trail is what can only be described as a completely evil man – Chigurh (Javier Bardem). With an odd Prince Valiant-style haircut and a never ceasing confidence, Chigurh uses a cattle gun to kill just about anyone who gets in his way throughout the film (usually through the forehead) and it also comes in handy to blow out door locks. “What is this guy supposed to be, the ultimate bad-ass?” – Moss even asks Carson Wells (a smooth Woody Harrelson) – yet another man on the trail of the money.

As Sherriff Bell and a sort of narrator in his grizzled though still whimsical monologues Tommy Lee Jones tries to make sense of these new violent times. He never appears surprised by each new bloody development – he takes it all in with a jaded shrugging sigh. Though many of the stylistic devices have been used and reused by the Coen Brothers before (the roadside murders, the seedy hotels, etc.) amidst the shoot-outs, chases and scary darkness there are waves of fresh subtleties that they hadn’t explored before. The quirky everyday folk that reside in little general stores out in the middle of nowhere might have provoked ridicule before in such Coen classics as RAISING ARIZONA, FARGO, and O BROTHER but this time out I found the audience around me were tittering around – almost afraid to laugh at these people. Like Chigurh – who one character refers to as a man “without a sense of humor” seems to know all too well is that their fates, whether by his hands or by natural destiny, aren’t that funny.

More later…