Can a TV show ever become a successful film?

There are very few good films that were originally television shows. It’s not because it’s a bad idea. For many tv shows it is their last attempt at continuing, squeezing just a little bit more life out of a cancelled or failing show. For others, it’s the next logical step when they seem to have done everything they can with the medium they began with. It’s also become a new Hollywood trend, taking older tv shows and trying to relaunch them into a new film franchise. I don’t think any of these ever really work.

There are a handful of shows I can name that tried to launch a film series out of a cancelled or dying show. Firefly became Serenity, The X-Files had two attempts and Sex and the City also managed to get two more features before they gave up too. These are films that have the same actors playing the same characters, after the show has called time or been cancelled. Unfortunately, they are hit and miss.

The success of the first Sex and the City film was undone by the average second movie.

The X-Files and Sex and the City had some success but that was because they took what made the tv show such a success and amplified it, building it bigger and making it worth a movie. This makes sense but only as a one-off and only with a drama show. Both tried sequels, trying to keep the show going, but these were nothing more than extended, average episodes. They tried to feel big, but when it is your only opportunity to see a new “episode” of an old favourite, they need to be special.

This is the trouble these shows face because they are dramas that need time to build stories. They have the benefit of at least six episodes to create a story which will have a huge impact on characters we have known for a while. A film offers no time to build that story, or at least not a huge story that feels big and important to our characters. What you are left with is a shallow tale that doesn’t really have the impact or punch that a story developed over six hours worth of television would.

Alan Partridge’s movie may just change what makes the character so funny in the first place…

What’s worst is that it ruins the show that it’s trying to keep alive. Sex and the City’s first movie was (supposedly, according to my girlfriend) very good and a great end to the four girls stories. The second film was a damp end to that story. The same with X-Files. “I Want to Believe” was not the end of the Mulder and Scully story that I wanted, it didn’t feel big or important enough.

This post comes off the back of seeing the latest trailer for a film version of one of my favourite characters, Alan Partridge. Steve Coogan’s mid-life crisis suffering, radio DJ is someone rooted in the real world. He is funny because of his views and reactions to events and situations many of us encounter everyday. Placing his character in a situation bigger than average and much more “blockbuster” will ruin the comedy element that makes him so watchable. From the trailer, I think the idea is that his radio-station is held under-siege in a Die Hard style situation. This is an awful idea because it’s not what Alan Partridge should be dealing with.

Ali G was actually worst for being made into a movie.

We’d already seen it with Sacha Baron Cohen and Ali G. To transfer the very funny, very clever character of Ali G to the big screen, Cohen was forced to create a huge story that didn’t focus on the clever parody comedy of Ali G but instead made him a buffoon style character, losing what made him funny. Luckily he learnt this lesson with Borat and Bruno, keeping their films very close to the source material and making the “journey” bigger, rather than the story happening around them.

It’s not just TV shows making the leap to the big screen with their original cast which struggles to work. Reviving old television shows and trying to create a new franchise will very rarely work either. Other than Mission Impossible, which now resembles the original show in theme tune alone, very few have actually made the successful transfer.

The Starsky and Hutch movie felt like it was mocking the original show rather than trying to recreate it.

You either have a film which pays homage to the tv show for ninety minutes, not really doing the original justice, or you have a movie which has to change the show in such a way that it works for the movie format. The A-Team is a very good action film but never really feels like the tv show its based on. Starsky and Hutch became a comedy movie rather, playing up and almost parodying the tv show that inspired it. Charlie’s Angels became too big and too silly and again lost the original shows magic and the less said about films like Thunderbirds and Masters of the Universe, the better.

It’s not all bad, some do work. I loved 21 Jump Street, but was never a fan or ever saw the original tv show so can’t really comment. Both The Simpsons and South Park movies manage to make their respective cartoons feel bigger and better for being on the big screen. Even some more random films, like The Flinstones and Bean manage to do their original shows justice. You look at a list of tv shows that became films though and you’ll see a very tragic trend.

Overall, most tv shows need the week by week, serialised format to really work. They need to slowly build and pose longer lasting situations and stories for the characters we know and love to experience and react to. Most of the time, a movie waters down or misses what made the tv show so good in the first place. Sometimes bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better and it can be best to leave the show either cancelled, finished or in distant memory.

I just hope this character can transfer to the big screen.
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9 thoughts on “Can a TV show ever become a successful film?

  1. I have high hopes for the Alan Partridge movie. I think the fact that Coogan chose to set it in Norfolk (as opposed to giving us a ‘Partridge takes America’ or ‘Partridge goes on Safari’ kind of movie) is a good indication that he will stay true to the character’s roots and use the ‘big movie’ aspects (such as car chases) to amplify the absurd nature of Partridge’s world.

    1. That is a positive, that we have kept the relevant and very “Partridge” location but I don’t even think adding “big movie” aspects is a good idea. The simpler it is the better, just give me more Mid Morning Matters.

  2. The genre matters a lot on whether or not a TV series can successfully transition to the big screen. The most obvious example of a success is “Star Trek,” mainly because it’s science fiction and can tell various types of stories, from action to special effects extravaganza to comedy. Sitcoms are harder to do simply because by definition the show is a situation, not a plot. So a story has to be forced onto the situation. “The Fugitive” worked so well because the original TV series had a plot that could work in one sitting. It’s very hard to capture what made a TV show work, especially if you’re recasting and doing a big-screen remake. The problem is too many times, these adaptations are cash grabs that just want to make money off the name and don’t care about the source material.

    1. Completely agree with you. Sitcoms very rarely work, if ever. I actually forgot about Star Trek because the tv show and films feel like such different entities. It is probably the most successful TV to film example though because Sci-Fi makes the transition so easily.

  3. Not sure about another Alan Partridge movie, not least because it has been milked for decades.

    The X-Files wasn’t great, but they’re still pushing for a (hopefully redemptive) third. Aside from the fact that the show itself ran for at least two seasons too many, it changed the fundamental structure in that they aren’t actually FBI agents anymore so getting them involved in any investigation is tricky.

    Firefly/Serenity is the shining star of TV to film adaptations. Whilst it wasn’t commercially successful, it provided a fantastic ending to the show and was an excellent film in its own right. It was helped that it had a couple of seasons worth of unexplored storylines to use/adapt into one final shiny hit.

    Hopefully, the Veronica Mars movie will also be able to do something similar, though that ran for three whole seasons. The problem then, as with The X-Files, is that everything has changed so the story will have to be showhorned in to a new and unfamiliar setting.

    1. X-Files mixes together two of my pet hates; TV to Film and a show that went on for too long. I haven’t actually seen some of the later seasons (part way through rewatching them all now) but as I stopped watching (around Season 5) it was starting to run out of momentum then.

      I still have some faith in Partridge. I loved the latest series, Mid Morning Matters, but I just don;t know if it’ll transfer to the big screen well enough.

  4. The first x-files movie was released while the show was still being made. It was the second movie that was made after the show ended

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