Pop Culture — Embracing unoriginality


by Amy Diaz        adiaz@hippopress.com


Instead of shunning TV-spawned movies, learn to love ‘em 

Out of ideas, movie people?

We’re going through another spate of television shows translated into big screen money, er, I mean, magic.  The kind of magic that comes with a built-in audience willing to turn their nostalgia into ticket sales.

With the recent release of The Honeymooners (which translated the trademark “to the moon” line from a threat to a romantic promise) and the upcoming Bewitched (June 24) and Dukes of Hazzard (August 5), it’s clear that studio executives have decided to fall back on their Nick at Nite viewing habits for new film ideas. I could bemoan the lack of new ideas or I could just go with the potential for kitsch, especially with the Dukes, which can’t help but being a camp-filled romp.

My belief that the television-show-to-movie formula can be successful isn’t completely unfounded — after all, for every Sgt. Bilko or Beverly Hillbillies there are a few Brady Bunches and Adams Familys. Those movies worked because they knew just what the shows were — silly — and went after it. The Brady Bunch embraced every hokey aspect of the series and went with it — from the bad hair to Mike Brady’s nonsensical fatherly advice. The Adams Family used the television show’s premise and achieved in glorious color and with a big budget a sense of kooky adventure the black-and-white never quite conveyed.

So, since the television remake will get lots of play anyway, may I make a few suggestions on shows that might deserve a second look.

• Quincy, ME: You can have your CSI, I’ll take medical examiner Quincy (played on the show’s run from 1976 to 1983 by Jack Klugman) and his solutions to crime armed with nothing but a scalpel and instinct. Perhaps Klugman’s a bit old, but if ever a crime show deserved big-time treatment this was it — or perhaps we should save this for a Kojak-like series revival…

• Knight Rider: David Hasselhoff starred in the 1980s show as the detective who solves crimes with his talking car and may star in an upcoming movie, though there was some back and forth between Hasselhoff and the studios over whether or not the car should talk. (No talking K.I.T.T.? What’s the point?). One way or another, this is a show begging to be turned into the best movie ever to run at the dollar theater.

• I Dream of Jeannie: If you do Bewitched, you have to do its partner in the TBS line-up. I Dream of Jeannie, with its Coco Beach parties and midriff-baring outfits, is perfect for reviving a little of that 1965-1970 kitsch. I’m surprised no one’s thought of this befo…oh, wait, what’s that about Kate Hudson? Expect to see Goldie’s daughter listed as Jeannie and Gurinder Chadha (director of Bride & Prejudice and Bend It Like Beckham) is slated to direct the film that should surface in 2006.

• G vs. E: OK, so it’s not that old. Running pretty much only one year (1999) and on the Sci-Fi network to boot, this story of good guys fight bad guys (not-quite-angels fighting incompetent demons) was campy good fun and mixed a geeky mythology with a Shaft / Starsky & Hutch feel. Clayton Rohner and Richard Brooks played partners in demon-hunting as world-weary and I-just-want-to-get-my-pension oriented as any television cops (except, of course, that these peace officers were actually dead guys doing time for their sins and their “pension” was entry to heaven). Got campy August movie written all over it.

• Three’s Company: Think back and that show was pretty much all about Jack Ritter having two dates on the same night and having to change jackets between the fancy romantic date at his apartment and the casual date at the Regal Beagle. Oh, and not letting Mr. Roper find out that Jack’s dates were with women. How has a premise this shallow escaped the notice of a studio looking to turn a quick kitsch buck?

Forget syndication — I Love Lucy lives forever on DVD

Much of classic television has not only made it to the big screen but also made it onto DVD. So all you Sanford & Son fans or Bewitched obsessives don’t have to worry about setting the TiVo for 2 a.m. showings on obscure networks. Now you can bask in the glow of fulfilling your strange obsession with a never-ending supply of classic TV DVDs.

Defining “classic” as anything before the fall of communism (hey, listen to classic rock radio, they play plenty of mid-1980s), here are some of the best classic series hitting the store shelves now.

The Best of the Original Mickey Mouse Club (1955)

Buena Vista Home Video, $14.99

Before there was Britney and Justin, there was Annette and Cubby. Pre-evil empire-style omnipresence, Disney was merely a producer of widely popular children’s programming and pre-Nick Jr. this was what the short set watched while they were drinking their Ovaltine. Scheduled for release July 12.

The Outer Limits, The Original Series—Season 1 (1963)

MGM/UA Video, $54.96

The 32 episodes of the first season show off some surprisingly innovative and clever stories that take the Twilight Zone shtick (everybody else looks like a monster and the lead is the normal one—there’s a punchline used many a time) and expanded it into the realm of the truly creepy.

The Honeymooners, Classic 39 Episodes (1955)

Paramount Home Video, $38.99

OK, so it’s not exactly 2005 movie material (domestic violence, ho ho ho—how hilarious). But the original The Honeymooners set the model for sitcoms for almost half a century to come and did it better than most of its descendents. Relive the impressively high quality of a show that existed almost solely on reaction shots and pratfalls and was actually funny.

The Brady Bunch, The Complete Second Season (1969)

Paramount Home Video, $38.99

Is there any problem that can’t be solved in the half-hour? The second season features Greg’s brush with Don Drysdale and baseball fame, Cindy’s problems with a bully over her lisp, Greg’s pack of cigarettes that he’s holding “for a friend,” Jan’s crazy middle-child fro, one of Greg’s many heee-larious attempts to be “treated like a man” and one of Marcia’s equally lame attempts to catch the women’s liberation wave. Nobody does it cheesier

Hogan’s Heroes, The Complete First Season (1965)

Paramount Home Video, $38.99

Sure, a comedy in a POW camp doesn’t exactly sound like the perfect sitcom nor does Hogan’s Heroes exactly match the screwy sleaziness of Auto Focus (the movie about the life of Bob Crane). But the Great Escapeism makes for classic mid-1960s television lunacy.

I Love Lucy, The Complete First Season (1951)

Paramount Home Video, $54.99

When people talk about the three-camera set-up, the live studio audience providing a laugh track or the waist-up camera-framing, they are talking, indirectly, about I Love Lucy. Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball may have been a lousy couple but they were the Adam and Eve of situation comedy and of television as watercooler event (the birth of Little Ricky was the SuperBowl, the finale of American Idol and the last episode of Friends all wrapped together). This season sets the standard—the central couple, their wacky neighbors, the screwball situations and the hilarity that ensues.

Hunter, The Complete Second Season (1984)

Anchor Bay Entertainment, $39.98

For long-running UST (unresolved sexual tension) it doesn’t get any thicker than Detective Rick Hunter and his partner DeeDee McCall. They solved crimes and flirted in the lowest-key manner while driving the mean streets of Los Angeles. The DVD is scheduled for release July 12.

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