Hollywood Turning Mediocre TV Shows into Hit Movies

June 12, 1994|By MILTON KENT

This just in: The next big-budget film out of Hollywood is the story of four young people, a good looking, blond guy, a frumpy girl with glasses, a none-too-bright bombshell and a supremely dimwitted slob, who traverse the country in a beat-up van solving mysteries with a Great Dane who talks and finds clues.

Anyone under 35 will recognize the set-up as the premise to the Saturday morning cartoon series "Scooby-Doo," and if the prospect of turning a television show -- and an animated program at that -- into a big ticket movie sounds far-fetched, just check the box office grosses.

Universal Studios raked in a record $37.1 million for the opening weekend of "The Flintstones," based on the antics of "a modern Stone Age family." "Flintstones" has now grossed more than $62 million in a little over two weeks. "Maverick," the life and times of a Western hustler and confidence man, pulled in more than $55 million in three weeks.

There are just the latest in a rather unsettling Hollywood trend of turning the familiar small screen shows of our collective childhoods into giant screen multimillion-dollar flicks, bucking the usual practice of turning hit movies ("M*A*S*H*," "The Odd Couple") into TV shows.

Not so long ago, the more distinguished film actors shunned television roles, judging them to be inconsequential. Now, all those roles are turning up in the movies.

In the not-too-distant past, these former series have found their way into the local multiplex: "Star Trek" (seven times), "The Addams Family," "Dennis the Menace," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Dragnet," "Car 54, Where Are You?" and "The Fugitive."

Reported or rumored to be in the works

are paeans to "The Brady Bunch," "Gilligan's Island," "The Honeymooners," "The Love Boat" and "Gomer Pyle, USMC," as well as a movie based on the recently concluded "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

In addition, "Saturday Night Live" alone has spawned "Coneheads," and two "Wayne's World" movies, based not on full series, but on sketches that barely sustained themselves for five minutes. There are reports that the "SNL" tree is about to yield two more pieces of overexposed fruit in films based on "Pat," an androgenous character, and self-help expert Stuart Smalley.

At a time when movie attendance is declining and blockbuster films are few and far between, the reason for making movies out of TV shows is simple.

an unnamed producer told TV Guide recently, the old shows have a ready-made familiarity level at a director or scriptwriter's disposal.

Who needs to waste time on such things as character development or the intricacies of a plot when well-worn, cozy television characters bring those things with them?

In addition, these television-based movies have, for the most part, the same audiences: young people who grew up watching these shows on television and are generally favorably disposed to see them either with or without their parents.

It would be easy to say that the run of TV shows as movies is evidence of a dearth of new ideas in Tinsel Town. It would be easy to say that, but it would also be wrong.

There are plenty of vibrant new pictures being made all the time in Hollywood that never get wide exposure, or hardly get off the ground, because the big studios, like Paramount, which has turned out all of the "Star Trek" and "Saturday Night Live" movies, are cluttered with remake tripe.

Thank goodness for independent distributors who take a chance on low-budget films like "El Mariachi," an amusing Mexican film about a musician who gets mistaken for a crook because he carries a guitar case, and "Hollywood Shuffle," a devastingly funny send-up of roles and projects that available for black actors.

Both were made for less than $1 million by filmmakers who expended personal energy and time in raising money for their films, while also producing challenging and entertaining projects.

Of course, the moviegoer assumes no small share of the blame for this trend as well. After all, a culture that aspires to nothing better than "Scooby-Doo: The Movie," deserves nothing more.

Milton Kent is a sportswriter for The Baltimore Sun.

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