Fab Films, Terrible TV: When “Based On The Movie” Goes Wrong

Published on July 30th, 2011 in: Cartoons, Issues, Movies, My Dream Is On The Screen, TV |

By Cait Brennan

Nothing succeeds like success, especially in Hollywood, California, USA. The vast echo chamber that is the Hollywood establishment loves nothing more than to recycle some easily packaged, cloyingly familiar property into remakes, reboots, reimaginings, musicals, ancillary merchandise, and Spider-Man Ham Sandwiches. Although the practice has faded in recent years, for much of TV’s life, enterprising producers have been adapting hit films into television shows—shows that were often less than successful. Here’s a small sampling of the worst film-to-TV adaptations.

ferris bueller tv show

Ferris Bueller

This 1990 TV series starring Charlie Schlatter debuted an alarming four years after the classic John Hughes film, and attempted to fight off the staleness with an interesting (if terrible) twist: The film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, TV’s Ferris claimed, was a shoddy ripoff of his “real” story. TV Ferris went so far as to take a chainsaw to a cardboard cutout of Matthew Broderick’s Ferris. The series is notable for starring a pre-nosejob Jennifer Aniston as Bueller’s sister Jeannie (played in the film by pre-nosejob Jennifer Grey.) A vastly better and ironically more original “appropriation” of the Hughes movie, Fox’s sharp and funny Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, debuted in the same season, and Ferris Bueller‘s threadbare NBC sitcom shtick definitely paled by comparison. When it was pulled off the schedule it was replaced by a very special series indeed: Blossom, which ran for five years.

delta house

Delta House

1979’s Animal House essentially invented the raunchy college-guy comedy that now strides the cinematic earth like Beer-Bong Godzilla. Packed with profanity, nudity, scads of drug references and riotously R-rated humor, the John Landis film broke new ground in what a comedy could get away with. The logical, sensible thing was to make a sequel, a Hangover 2 for the ’70s, to bring back the original cast and push the raunchy humor as far as it would go.

Instead, they made a sitcom. A 30-minute family-hour sitcom. On ABC. The show did feature some of the film’s original cast (notably John Vernon as Dean Wormer, James Widdoes as Hoover, and Stephen Furst as Flounder), and featured writing contributions from National Lampoon vet John Hughes. Producers Ivan Reitman and Matty Simmons pushed hard to raise the humor level, but with every sex and drug reference excised by parsimonious, lemon-sucking ABC standards and practices officers—and with nudity and profanity an impossibility from the start—the result was a sort of Bible Belt high school play version of the original. The show’s theme song had a longer life; written by Jim Steinman, mastermind of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell (and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” for that matter), part of the song was reworked into the Meat Loaf/Cher duet “Dead Ringer For Love;” still another portion of the theme found its way into the 1984 “Rock & Roll Fable” Streets Of Fire.

Honorable Mention: The 1986 series Fast Times, a reboot of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, which, while more inspired and less strangulated than Delta House, still suffered the same problem, and the same fate.

uncle buck tv show

Uncle Buck

Another attempt to adapt a John Hughes movie to television, Uncle Buck debuted in the fall of 1990—yes, at the exact same time as Ferris Bueller. The timing could not have helped anything. John Candy’s likeable larger-than-life persona was a tough act to follow; comedian Kevin Meaney gave it his best shot, but the network ratcheted up the crass quotient and surgically extracted the gentle moments that made the original film special, and Uncle Buck was brutalized by critics and quickly rejected by the viewing audience. The Uncle Buck theme song (performed by Ronnie Milsap and featuring lyrics like “Who’s going crazy takin’ everybody with him? It’s Uncle Buck!! He’s the one your neighbors call you up complainin’ about! Who’s slidin’ by on jive and a whole lotta shuck? It’s UNCLE BUCK!!!”) probably plays on the elevator ride down to hell; it alone probably drove viewers in en masse to the competition, NBC’s new show The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.

dirty dancing tv show

Dirty Dancing

CBS moved quickly to capitalize on the success of the 1988 Patrick Swayze/Jennifer Grey film. Patrick Cassidy, Shawn Cassidy’s brother (and David Cassidy’s half-brother, if we’re getting technical) starred as Johnny, while Melora Hardin (daughter of noted character actor Jerry Hardin, and known to contemporary audiences as Jan Levenson on NBC’s The Office) played “Baby.” The show essentially ignored the movie and started over, rejiggering various plot elements and setting Johnny and “Baby”—ugh, how I hate typing that—on a slow-burn journey towards what one can only assume would have been a romance. But an audience willing to see that play out over 90 minutes of screen time was less inclined to see it drag out over a year of television like a particularly challenging bowel movement. The show debuted at the end of October and was off the air by January, putting TV’s Baby in the corner once and for all. Notable appearance: Paul Feig, the creator of Freaks and Geeks and director of 2011’s monster hit Bridesmaids, was a series regular as an actor.

rambo force of freedom

Rambo: The Force Of Freedom

While terrible animated remakes of successful films really deserve their own circle of hell, Rambo: The Force Of Freedom (from 1986) deserves special attention for introducing Saturday morning children’s audiences to one of most violently psychotic characters in cinematic history. The hippy-hating, cop-fighting, mass-slaughtering Rambo is presented here as a benevolent member of a G.I. Joe-style organization (the “Forces Of Freedom”) fighting an extremely Cobra-esque group called “S.A.V.A.G.E.” (“Secret Administrators of Vengeance, Anarchy and Global Extortion”—who knew anarchy had administrators?). Rambo spends most of his time teaching kids outdoor safety skills and looking after adorable animals, though periodically he would fight (though never injure) various swarthy foreigners. Tragically, Stallone himself was unavailable to essay the role, but the fine voice cast included Neil Ross, Michael Ansara, Alan Oppenheimer, Don LaFontaine, and Frank Welker.

working girl tv show

Working Girl

Sandra Bullock starred in this gritty drama about the perils of corporate prostitution . . . no, no. Alas, Sandra Bullock starred in this undistinguished 1990 remake of the only slightly better Melanie Griffith vehicle about an ambitious secretary that manages to work her way up the corporate food chain with her big ideas and a heart of gold, bagging the boss in the process. The role was originally intended for Nancy McKeon (Jo from The Facts Of Life), but Bullock is very likeable in the lead—probably more so than Melanie Griffith in the feature film.


The middling 2010 NBC comedy about an American manager sent to supervise an Indian call center was based on a 2006 film written and directed by John Jeffcoat. Fatiguingly similar to every other NBC workplace comedy, the televised Outsourced lost the focus and nuance of its feature film counterpart and devolved into the usual weird-coworker gags. While the television series was criticized early on for presenting what detractors called racist Indian stereotypes, the show’s writing staff and main cast featured numerous Indian-Americans who defended the show as authentic. Authentic, perhaps. Funny, not as much.

outsourced movie

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