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…

John Hughes R.I.P. (1950-2009)

A day after I posted about his essential DVD commentary only available on the 1999 DVD edition of his comedy classic FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, I was extremely saddened to hear that director/writer/producer John Hughes had died. As a teenager in the ’80s, Hughes’ films meant a lot to me – I even skipped school to see FERRIS BUELLER on opening day – obviously you can see how fitting that is. Hughes left behind a series of films that still resonate – from the National Lampoon VACATION movies to the Molly Ringwald trilogy (SIXTEEN CANDLES, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, and PRETTY IN PINK), to the attempt to grow up and make adult films (SHE’S HAVING A BABY, PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES). His last few films may have been toddler fodder (HOME ALONE, CURLY SUE) but his lasting influence on today’s film makers like Kevin Smith and Judd Apatow can not be easily dismissed.

Again, I implore you – seek out his wonderful commentary on FERRIS BUELLER. It as fitting tribute to the man as I can think of right now. Maybe, this will force them to re-establish it on future editions and re-issue the Blu ray which was just released without it. If you’re not familiar with the work of John Hughes – I’d suggest any of the titles listed above (well all of those before HOME ALONE anyway).

So, as Ferris Bueller said: “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Thank you so much, Mr. Hughes for helping me to stop and look around – without you I think there would’ve been a lot of stuffed I missed.

More later…

Another Round Of Great DVD Commentaries

Several years back I posted about great DVD commentaries with a top ten list of my favorites (“Let Them All Talk” Sept. 29th, 2005). Since then I’ve been collecting notes every time a new (or new to me) commentary was particularly interesting. I’d thought I’d share them in yet another patented Film Babble Blog list. Now, I know a lot of folks don’t listen to commentaries but I thought talking about some really notable ones would encourage folks to give them a try and turn that track on – if only just to sample. So, here goes:

10 More Great DVD Commentaries

1. THE PASSENGER (Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) A rare feature-length solo commentary track by Jack Nicholson puts this at the top of the list especially as he declares: “This picture, ‘The Passenger’, was probably the biggest adventure in filming I ever had in my life.” His involving comments are helpful because without them the film can be a long haul. Most compellingly is Nicholson’s breakdown of how the final sequence was filmed (contains Spoilers!):

Nicholson: “Now, that shot was the reason they built the hotel. The hotel, in order that the camera be able to dolly out through those bars and out the window…why I hope Michelangelo doesn’t mind my revealing of the magic of his work…was that the entire hotel could be mounted on a crane and broken in half so that they could go out into the courtyard, shoot film back towards the hotel, after they exited, with the hotel having been pushed back together again and reconstructed for the remainder of the shot.”

Whew! Hope Jack sees fit to do other commentaries ’cause that one’s a keeper.

2. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986)

This customer review on Amazon says it best:

“Film buffs, DVD collectors, and John Hughes fans beware! The “Bueller…Bueller…” edition DVD does not include the commentary track by writer/producer/director John Hughes which was included on the original 1999/2000 DVD release. It is a great commentary and is sorely missed from this edition.”

That’s right, even the new Blu ray of this 80’s teen classic is sans Hughes commentary and the DVD I was recently sent from Netflix was the “Bueller…Bueller…” edition. The Hughes track on the 1999 edition is well worth seeking out because it truly is one of the most insightful listens all the way through. Some sample quotes:

Hughes: “After the film wrapped, Mr. and Mr. Bueller (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), in real life, got married. At the time we were shooting this, Jennifer Grey and Matthew (Broderick) were dating. It was kind of a strange situation because everybody in
this scene is in love.”

And my favorite bit is the art gallery scene:

Hughes: “And then this picture, which I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie. A pointillist style, which at very very close to it, you don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it.

I used it in this context to see that he’s (Alan Ruck) looking at that little girl. Again, it’s a mother and child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees. Of course, with this style of painting. Or any style of painting really.

But the more he looks at, there’s nothing there. I think he fears that the more you look at him the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.” Watch the scene sans commentary here.

Used copies can be found fairly easily of the 1999 version with the commentary as its only special feature (what more do you need?). Just look for the one with the cover pictured to the left.

3. TOUCH OF EVIL: THE 50 ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Dir. Orson Welles, 1958) The packaging is mistaken when it lists the “Preview Version feature commentary” to be Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Restoration Producer Rick Schmidlin. It’s the 1998 “Restored Version” that contains their commentaries. The other versions – the theatrical and preview cuts have fine bonus audio tracks with writer/filmmaker F.X. Feenet and historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore, but it’s the Heston/Leigh/Schmidlin track on the first disc of the wonderful 50th Anniversary Edition that I strongly recommend.

Wonderful moments abound: Schmidlin pointing out: “When you see Joseph Cotton listen to the voice but it’s not Cotton…” Heston: “It’s not Cotton?” Schmidlin: “It’s, uh, Orson’s voice.” Heston: “For Heaven’s sake.” Leigh: “Orson did Joe’s voice?” Also its amusing to hear Schmidlin call out which shots are Welles’s from which are Harry Keller’s later inserts to the repeated rekindling of Heston’s and Leigh’s memories. “You’ve really done your homework” Heston remarks with a slight chuckle in this charming and essential commentary.

4. BLOOD SIMPLE (Dir. Joe Coen, 1984) This beyond odd track features audio commentary by “Kenneth Loring”, the “artistic director” of “Forever Young Films” (a fictional gig – but whatever). Maybe the most surreal listen on this list.

5. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

As 5 time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus in a tense moment making a Vietnam War movie, in black-face mind you, Robert Downey Jr. declares: “I don’t drop character till I done the DVD commentary!” You know what? Like a real method actor, he keeps his word.

In this free form three way between Downey Jr., Stiller, and Jack Black, the snark level is high which is way apt considering the over the top tangents of said film. One such sample bit during the opening mock trailers – specifically “Satan’s Alley” with Downey Jr. and Tobey Macquire as tortured homosexual monks:

Stiller: “Sort of an alternate universe for Spiderman and Iron Man.”
Downey Jr.: “I was trying to ride Tobey when we was shooting this thing but he wouldn’t have none of it. Talkin’ ’bout happily married.”

6. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) Haynes’ odd yet transfixing meditation on “the many lives of Bob Dylan” (one of my top 5 films of 2007) confused a lot of people, particularly those unfamiliar with the troubled troubadour’s background. Haynes delivers a commentary that should clear up that huge cloud of confusion as he sites references and breaks down various inspirations for every detail in every scene. Some sample quotage:

Haynes: “This is the entrance of Cate Blanchett in the film. The role of Jude was something that I’d always planned, from the very first concept of the film that I gave to Dylan in 2000, that it would be portrayed by an actress. And the reason for this was really for me to try to get to the core of what this next change really looked like and felt like to audiences at the time. How he became this sort of feline character offstage and this sort of bouncing marionette onstage. Full of all these extravagant androgynous gestures that we’d never seen before and we’d never see again after.

The commentary is filled with so many more elaborate descriptions, or justifications, for every aspect of Haynes’ challenging anti-biopic.


Every Judd Apatow production’s DVD commentary is entertaining, from Freaks ‘N Geeks to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but this group cast track with director Mottola, screenwriter Evan Goldberg, actors Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and producer Apatow is IMHO the best of the bunch. Largely because Apatow brought along his nine-year-old daughter Maude. Apatow tries to get the guys to keep it clean but it doesn’t last long. A sample exchange:

Hill: “This scene is fuckin’ hilarious, man.”
Apatow: “Jonah, Jonah…”
Hill: “Yeah?

Apatow: “Maude’s over there.”
Rogen: “You keep swearing, stop swearing Jonah!”

Hill: “Dude, what is this, bring your daughter to work day? I mean…”
Apatow: “Just be cool man, be cool! This is the only way I could do it…I don’t have a
babysitter, I’m in New York City here to do Conan and Colbert by the way…I don’t have a babysitter so what am I gonna do? Leave her like, uh, with the concierge?”
Hill: “I dunno, dude I’m not…”

Cera: “Like “Home Alone 2!”
Hill: “It’s “Superbad”! I curse the whole movie…the commentary, I mean, it’s like…whatever.”
Apatow: “You know, I’m not trying to ruin it…I’m not trying to ruin it…”
Hill: “Let’s just go back to the movie; let’s just go back to talking about the movie…”
Rogen: “It’s kinda ruining the commentary Judd, if Jonah can’t say
what the fuck he wants to say.
Hill: “Yeah! I can’t curse, why don’t you just…”
Apatow: “You know what? I’m not 15 years old and don’t have a kid – I’m an adult like Greg, I have a child. This is my reality.”
Hill: “If I had a kid I wouldn’t bring it to work with me.”

Whoa – some actual drama there mixed with the laughs. Let’s minus the laughs for this next one:

8. TAXI DRIVER (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Writer Paul Schrader sounds a bit hesitant upon first opening up (“whatever comments I have…are really not from inside the director’s vision”) about the film and his screenplay’s seminal 70’s statement about urban alienation but once he gets going it’s quite a cutting companion piece. Sample quotage:

Schrader: “What happens at the end happens at the beginning.”

“When Marty first told me that he cast Albert (Brooks) I was sort of surprised because, you know, it was a nothing character. Well, that’s the secret: cast the comic in a nothing character and you get somebody interesting.”

“I don’t believe the script should have any references to camera angles whatsoever. There’s only one camera angle in the script, and that’s the tracking shot at the very end, and I put that one in there because I thought that it was important we see this crime scene from the eye of God. And the only way we could make that point is if we put the camera on the ceiling and track.”

9. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Dir. Lou Adler, 1982) In the interest of space I’ll refer you back to this post (“Talking ‘Bout A Generation Gap” Oct. 3rd, 2008) in which I first babbled ’bout Diane Lane and Laura Dern’s very funny commentary.

10. NASHVILLE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1975)

Luckily before beloved “New Hollywood” auteur Altman died he recorded a number of worthwhile commentaries but this one is absolutely essential for his magnum opus. As rambunctious as Altman was infamous for being, his gruff ingratiating commentary makes you feel like you’re sitting on the couch with him as he rambles. Some random rambles:

“When this film first came out, they hated the music. They said this wasn’t real country music. But I wasn’t looking for good music, not that they make a lot of it there…”

“We cast these cars as carefully as we did the people who drove them.”

“Since we knew that I had no way I could control the palette of this film, the color of this film, because I knew I was going to be dealing in real situation for we were just invading an event. Even though if we created it, we had to deal with…we weren’t paying these people as extras we just had to go where they were.”

Special TV Series DVD Set Honorable Mention: Spaced (Dir. Edgar Wright, 1999-2001) This short lived but brilliant BBC series is outfitted in a nice 3 DVD set with multiple commentary tracks featuring guests like Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody, Patton Oswalt, Bill Hader, Matt Stone, and Quentin Tarantino sparring with Wright and various cast members including, of course, Simon Pegg and Jessica Haynes. Great stuff.

Okay! I hope that’ll point out some good commentaries out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts on essential bonus audio tracks so please send ’em on. You know where to find me.

More later…

Those Damn DirecTV Movie Tie-In Ads – Offensive To Film Buffs?

To cut to the chase – yes. Those commercials (most running for 30 seconds) that re-create a scene from a well known movie oft played on cable with an actor re-outfitted in their old characters duds and mugging to the camera about the better picture quality benefits of DirecTV have been irking me for some time now. Let’s take a look at a few of them shall we? :

The first of these that I have seen wasn’t too bad – it had Christopher Lloyd dressed and made up to look like his 1985 Doc Brown character from BACK TO THE FUTURE (Dir. Robert Zemeckis) in this ad designed to make you feel like you’re coming back from commercials to a movie you forgot you were watching. Lloyd hams it up saying “I forgot to tell Marty when he gets back to the future he needs to get DirecTV HD!” As Wikipedia notes “Marty would not actually be able to get DirecTV once he got back to the future as it did not exist in 1985 and the Doc of 1955 would obviously have no way of knowing about it. However, this blatant illogic can be regarded simply as a joke.” Uh – okay!

You can’t really fault Charlie Sheen for turning a fast buck revisiting his MAJOR LEAGUE (Dir. David S. Ward, 1989) role of Rick ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn. It’s a movie that seems to always playing on some cable channel (mostly TBS) and he was likable in it which is seriously unlike just about all of his other films so he and DirecTV are in the clear here. Major points would have been added if Dennis Haysbert (who played Voodoo practicing Cuban defector Pedro Cerrano in the 1989 film and its sequels) did some add-on shot (he’s probably too busy doing AllState ads) – but I’ll still put this in the acceptable pile.

Now those were somewhat cute – if you stick to mainstream movies and B or C-list celebrities popping up in mock scenes from their movies sure we can look the other way but Sigourney Weaver resurrecting her female-empowering alien-ass-kicking heroine Ellen Ripley in this ALIENS ad attrocity that just starting airing recently really gets my goat! To see this classic character who was named by the American Film Institute as the #8 greatest hero in American cinema history shilling for DirecTV is just depressing. Maybe we can tell ourselves that it’s one of Ripley’s clones from ALIEN RESURRECTION – no, it’s still sad.

I mean it makes some kind of marketing sense to have Jessica Simpson break the 4th wall from her role as Daisy Duke in the apocalypse-warning signpost that was THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (Dir. Jay Chandrasekhar, 2005) and chastize her leering viewers by taunting them by saying “Hey – 253 straight days at the gym to keep this body and you’re not going to watch me on DirecTV HD? You’re just not going to get the best picture out of some fancy big screen TV without DirecTV.” Though incredibly eye-rolling inducing it makes some kind of sense because it’s a completely disposable commercial movie and nobody will care if a character steps away from that kind of cinematic enterprise to do a sales pitch for a company. Speaking of stepping away from the Enterprise …

“Settling for cable would be illogical” Captain Kirk (William Shatner) says to Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) grimace. Shatner is surrounded from footage from STAR TREK VI mind you in this commercial. Not the first time he’s acted reacting to nothing and it won’t be the last. This one is understandable because Shatner with his pitches, MCI, and the UK Kellogg’s All-Bran cereal ads has been a commercial spokesman * almost more than he’s been an straight actor, no wait he’s never really been a straight actor. Still, I get a bit pissed off watching his laconic walk-through in this ad I’m reminded by comedian Patton Oswalt’s put down from Shatner’s Comedy Central Roast -when he held up a paper bag and dared Shatner – “Could you act your way out of this?”

* To see the hilarious origins of Shatner as a commercial spokesman checkout this hilarious Commodore Vic20 Ad.

I just feel like we’re one step away from having Ralph Fiennes popping up as his evil Nazi personage Amon Goeth in a mock scene from SCHINDLER’S LIST looking right at the camera and saying “don’t you want to see me personally execute masses of Jews in the crystal clear clarity of DirecTV? Don’t you?!!?”

Okay, maybe that was a bit over the top – none of the ads so far have been from serious dramas or Oscar-caliber prestige pictures but I think these ads are bad for the film community. Okay, maybe just the online film community. Okay, maybe just me. Now this one with Pamela Anderson playing her iconic character C.J. from the television show Baywatch is just about right – hear that DirecTV! Stick to TV shows and low-brow comedies that were cheesy to begin with and all is forgiven. Okay?

Postscript : I know I haven’t covered all of those damn ads – Leslie Nielsen revisited his 1980 Dr. Rumack performance in a AIRPLANE! one, Ben Stein again asked “Bueller? Bueller? …” for a FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF throw-back, Bill Paxton once again chased a tornado in a TWISTER take, and shortly before his death in Pat Morita brought back Miyagi from THE KARATE KID (’86). If there are any others that irk you or that you actually like – send ’em on in to :

Oh yeah – I read somewhere that Bill Murray was all set to re-Carlize himself for a spot from CADDYSHACK (’80) but he was either out of the country working on a film or he came down with a case of integrity…

More later…