Coming soon to a theater near you: stories seen on TV

April 25, 1993|By Ron Miller | Ron Miller,Knight-Ridder News Service

LOS ANGELES -- Hollywood's rush to revive old TV shows as big-screen blockbusters hasn't run out of gas yet. In fact, it may be shifting into overdrive.

Warner Brothers this week announced that Mel Gibson, one of the movies' top box-office stars, will play reluctant western hero Bret Maverick in a studio version of "Maverick." The film may feature the original Bret, actor James Garner, in a major supporting role. Richard Donner, who directed Mr. Gibson in the three highly successful "Lethal Weapon" movies, will direct the picture.

Already before the cameras is "The Fugitive," starring another top box-office star, Harrison Ford, as Dr. Richard Kimble, the character played by David Janssen on the ABC series from 1963-1967.

Also filming currently is "The Beverly Hillbillies," a big-budget version of the old CBS Buddy Ebsen sitcom. An all-new cast is playing the roles from the 1962-1971 TV show.

Due for release later this year are sequels to "The Addams Family" and "Wayne's World," two late-1991 TV-derived features that became box-office dynamite for Paramount. The studio also is expected to continue its "Star Trek" series of movies with a big-screen version of its syndicated smash, "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Both "Maverick" and "The Fugitive" were created by writer-producer Roy Huggins. Both series have enjoyed almost continuous release in syndication, and episodes of both are available on video cassette.

"Maverick" has been revived three times by television: in a 1978 made-for-TV movie called "The New Maverick," starring Charles Frank and Mr. Garner; in a 1979-1980 ABC series called "Young Maverick," starring Mr. Frank, and in NBC's 1981-1982 "Bret Maverick" series, starring Mr. Garner.

In contrast, "The Fugitive" never has been revisited, mainly because original star Janssen died and because the story was resolved in the legendary Aug. 29, 1967, series finale in which the wrongly accused Kimble corners the real killer of his wife, the so-called "one-armed man."

At a recent seminar saluting his TV career, "Fugitive" creator Huggins amazed the crowd by explaining that his proposed show was rejected by every network on the grounds that it was a "dumb" idea, but finally was picked up by ABC when network founder Leonard Goldenson heard about it, hailed it as brilliant and insisted it go on the air.

When it did, "The Fugitive" became an enormous hit, and the final episode became the most-watched TV show in broadcasting history. It held that record for nine years. The show's re-emergence as a major motion picture may be the ultimate proof that Mr. Goldenson's faith in Mr. Huggins' concept was inspired.

The resurrection of "The Beverly Hillbillies" as a feature film also may seem like some form of vindication to its supporters, who were antagonized when CBS took it off the air in 1971 while its ratings were still respectable. It was canceled during a purge of several "rural" shows that was intended to shift the network's demographic appeal to a more urban audience.

Scorned by critics from the beginning, "Hillbillies" shot to No. 1 in the ratings and stayed there for its first two seasons. To this date, the eight highest-rated half-hour TV episodes of all time are episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies."

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