published Monday, July 28th, 2014

Big time on the small screen: ‘Bates Motel,’ ‘Fargo’ lead the charge of TV series based on films

The television series "12 Monkeys" begins in January, 2015. It is based on the 1995 movie "12 Monkeys," starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt.
The television series "12 Monkeys" begins in January, 2015. It is based on the 1995 movie "12 Monkeys," starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Sometimes, two hours just isn’t enough.

At least, that’s the conclusion that can be drawn from the glut of movies this year that have traded 30-foot multiplex screens and feature-length runtimes for weekly TV time slots and commercial breaks. In 2014 alone, TV series adaptations have premiered for the cult vampire horror film “From Dusk Till Dawn,” the Nick Hornby comedy “About a Boy” and Midwestern crime thriller “Fargo.” They join ongoing adaptations for “Teen Wolf” and horror thrillers “Hannibal” and “Bates Motel,” A&E’s prequel to the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Psycho.”

The history of TV is rife with big-screen-to-small-screen flops, but fans say that, in some cases, presenting a plot episodically lets writers offer greater depth and explore different angles than are possible in a feature-length film.

“Personally, I like the TV series versions better because you don’t have to pack everything into two hours of film,” says Nathan Moore of Soddy-Daisy. “More details and more story is always better, in my opinion.”

Membership of TV’s Hollywood expat club is set to swell even more in the next six months.

In October, NBC will premiere “Constantine,” a show based on the 2005 supernatural thriller starring Keanu Reeves which was based, in turn, on the “Hellblazer” comic series. And in January, SyFy will premiere a new series based on the 1995 Academy Award- nominated sci-fi thriller “12 Monkeys” that starred Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt.

REMAKE, RETREAD

In some cases, these adaptations closely echo their cinematic source material, retreading the movie’s plot and reusing some of the same characters.

The first season of Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” is told mostly in lockstep with the 1996 original film, in which the family of a preacher must join forces with a pair of psychotic murderers to survive a night in a Mexican bar/brothel infested by vampires.

Chattanooga social worker Stephanie Gayle describes “From Dusk Till Dawn” as a “classic” film and watched the TV series earlier this year in a binge marathon. Even though the TV adaptation followed the film’s storyline, she says, it provided just enough insight to the characters’ backstories to keep her hooked.

“It’s like you’re watching the movie, but you get way more information about the whole thing,” she says, adding that she’s excited at not knowing what’s going to happen now that El Rey Network has renewed the series for a second season.

“I’m looking forward to it being a bigger surprise,” she explains. “[In the first season,] I knew who was going to live and who was going to die.”

TELLING NEW TALES

FX took a completely different tack in its TV conversion of “Fargo,” which is nominated for nine Primetime Emmy Awards this year.

Instead of retreading the same snowy murderscape of The Coen Brothers’ 1996 film — for which Frances McDormand won an Academy Award for Best Actress — the TV series is set in the same Minnesota town but focuses on new characters and plot lines. And, in an announcement made last week about its second season, the show is ditching its first season cast, which included Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, whose stock has risen since his role as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit” films and as Dr. John Watson in the BBC series “Sherlock.” For season two, Fargo will also be set in 1979, not the present.

Similarly, “Bates Motel” and “Hannibal,” despite being based on “Psycho” and “Silence of the Lambs,” respectively, offer new perspectives and back story on well-known horror icons Norman Bates and Dr. Hannibal Lector.

“‘Bates Motel’ gives you a behind-the-scenes look into the adolescence of Norman Bates,” says Casey Davis, of Ringgold, Ga. “This show really captures the essence of what made him the creepy motel clerk we have known him as for years.”

To some fans, the fact that these series stray far from the path beaten by the films is central to their appeal.

“Probably the best thing about ‘Fargo’ is how little it has to do with the film,” says Alexander Shumaker, a self-described “movie nut,” who grew up in Chattanooga but now lives in Knoxville. “The settings, themes and general attitude were similar, but they really took it in their own direction.

“[I] gotta hand it to the writers for [Billy Bob] Thornton’s character and to Thornton himself. He’s a real show-stealer, like Anton Chigurh from ‘No Country for Old Men.’”

ADAPTABLE SUCCESSES

“From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Hannibal,” “Fargo” and “Bates Motel” all have been renewed this year. In fact, every movie-to-TV adaptation to debut in the last two years has survived its first season. “About a Boy” will turn two in 2015, and MTV has renewed “Teen Wolf” for a fourth season.

That’s unusual for TV adaptations, many of which die on the vine. The list of single-season big-to-small screen runs is a long one, including TV treatments for “Planet of the Apes,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Casablanca,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Ferris Bueller Day’s Off.”

Although the history of such adaptations is littered with rotten tomates, the success of some far overshadows the film on which they were based.

Dixieland comedy “The Dukes of Hazzard,” enjoyed a seven-season run, but it was actually based on the 1975 film “Moonrunners,” which the series’ creator, Gy Waldron, also directed.

Robert Altman’s black comedy “MASH” earned a half-dozen Academy Award nominations in 1970, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay, but it ultimately paled in comparison to the monumentally successful TV adaptation that debuted two years later. A touchstone of pop culture, the “MASH” series continued for 11 seasons and set viewership records when 125 million people tuned in for the final episode on Feb. 28, 1983.

Although it is now considered a cult classic, lifetime ticket sales for the 1992 supernatural action comedy “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” were just $16.5 million, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com. When writer Joss Whedon brought the concept to the small screen in 1997, however, its seven-season run defined the career of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy and earned it a bevy of awards nods from the Emmys, the Golden Globes and the Television Critics Association.

Chattanooga Blake Haney points to “Buffy” as a prime example of how bringing a film to the small screen can help a concept reach its potential.

•••

MULTIPLEX TO LIVING ROOM

“12 MONKEYS”

* Release date: Currently slated for “January 2015”

* Based on: “Twelve Monkeys” (1995), starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt.

* Differences from the film: Although it shares the film’s basic premise of a man traveling back in time to save the world from a deadly future plague, co-writer Travis Fickett says the SyFy series will be a “complete … reimagining” of the original.

  • photo
    The television series "About A Boy," began Feb. 22, 2014. It is based on the 2002 movie "About A Boy," starring Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult and Toni Collette.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“ABOUT A BOY”

* Release date: Feb. 22, 2014

* Based on: “About a Boy” (2002), starring Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult and Toni Collette.

* Differences from the film: The series still focuses on the odd friendship with a lazy, carefree bachelor (David Walton) and an unpopular preteen (Benjamin Stockham) and his mother (Minnie Driver), but it has lost much of its dramatic overtones. NPR describes the series as “emotionally neutered.”

  • photo
    The television series "Bates Hotel" started March 18, 2013. It is based on the 1960 movie "Psycho," starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“BATES MOTEL”

* Release date: March 18, 2013

* Based on: “Psycho” (1960), starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh and Vera Miles.

* Differences from the film: The series is actually set before Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful original, exploring the relationship between murderous hotel manager Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga).

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    The television series "Constantine" begins Oct. 24, 2014. It is based on the 2005 movie "Constantine," starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz and Djimon Hounsou: which was based on the "Hellblazer" comic series.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“CONSTANTINE”

* Release date: Oct. 24, 2014

* Based on: “Constantine” (2005), starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz and Djimon Hounsou; which was based on the “Hellblazer” comic series.

* Differences from the film: The film is reportedly more true to the original comic series in that magician/detective/reluctant hero John Constantine will be portrayed by a British man (Matt Ryan) instead of an American (Keanu Reeves). For reasons of airability, however, Constantine will not be shown smoking, though it will be hinted at, nor will he be bisexual

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    The television series "Fargo" began April 15, 2014. It is based on the 1996 movie "Fargo," starring William H. Macy, Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“FARGO”

* Release date: April 15, 2014

* Based on: “Fargo” (1996), starring William H. Macy, Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi.

* Differences from the film: Other than being set in the same Minnesota town and being executive produced by original directors/writers Joel and Ethan Coen, the TV series is drastically different from the movie. It focuses on a new cast of characters and a new series of murders.

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    The television series "From Dusk Till Dawn" began March 11, 2014. It is based on the 1996 movie "From Dusk Till Dawn," starring Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo and Salma Hayek.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“FROM DUSK TILL DAWN”

* Release date: March 11, 2014

* Based on: “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996), starring Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, Quentin Tarantino, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo and Salma Hayek.

* Differences from the film: The TV series delves more deeply into the backstories of murderous brothers Seth and Richie Gecko (D.J. Cotrona and Zane Holtz), their hostages — the Fuller family — and vampire queen Esmeralda/Santanico Pandemonium (Eiza Gonzalez). Otherwise, it’s mostly unchanged.

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    The television series "Hannibal" began April 4, 2013. It is based on characters from the movies "Manhunter" (1986), "Silence of the Lambs" (1991), and "Hannibal" (2001).
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“HANNIBAL”

* Release date: April 4, 2013

* Based on: Characters from “Manhunter” (1986), “Silence of the Lambs” (1991), and “Hannibal” (2001).

* Differences from the film(s): Set before the events of the films, which were based on author Thomas Harris’ horror trilogy, “Hannibal” explores the developing relationship between FBI special investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and homicidal forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen).

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    The television series "Teen Wolf" began June 5, 2011. It is based on the 1985 movie "Teen Wolf," starring Michael J. Fox, James Hampton and Susan Ursitti.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

“TEEN WOLF”

* Release date: June 5, 2011

* Based on: “Teen Wolf” (1985), starring Michael J. Fox, James Hampton and Susan Ursitti.

* Differences from the film: The MTV series is still a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy, Scott McCall (Tyler Posey), who becomes a werewolf and features similar personalities of a few returning characters. Instead of being exposed to the town and beloved for his differences, however, the TV version forces Scott to hide his secret from all but a select few. The tone is also darker than the film, which was more of an out-and-out comedy.

MOST SUCCESSFUL ADAPTATIONS

The annals of TV history are packed with attempts to turn films into TV shows that disappeared in short order, but a rare few movies spawned long-running and beloved series that fans might not even realize were adaptations.

“MASH” (11 seasons, 1972-1983)

* “Stargate SG-1” (10 seasons, 1997-2007)

* “Alice” (based on “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”) (nine seasons, 1976-1985)

* “Nikita”/“La Femme Nikita” (based on French film “Nikita”) (nine seasons, 1997-2001, 2010-2013)

* “In the Heat of the Night” (eight seasons, 1988-1995)

* “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (seven seasons, 1997-2003)

* “The Dukes of Hazzard” (based on the film “Moonrunners”) (seven seasons, 1979-1985)

* “Highlander” (six seasons, 1992-1998)

* “The Dead Zone” (six seasons, 2002-2007)

* “Fame” (six seasons, 1982-1987)

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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