The Truth Is Out There: TV Adaptations Don’t Always Succeed

This Friday, writer-director Chris Carter, creator of the Emmy Award-winning series “The X-Files,” is reuniting FBI agents Mulder and Scully (David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, respectively) in the long-awaited feature film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe.

While this is the first time the adored, truth-seeking duo has been paired since the series finale in 2002, it is actually their second rendezvous with the big screen. At the peak of their show’s popularity in 1998, Carter’s special agents filmed The X-Files: The Movie, which received only lukewarm reviews by both critics and fans.

This latest installment of “The X-Files’” saga is far from being a trendsetter in Hollywood. For years, studio executives have followed a simple formula to cash in on certain franchises: Take a widely acclaimed television show, modernize and condense it into a 90-minute script and out comes an instant crowd-pleaser. Though a handful of TV adaptations have triumphed and achieved critical acclaim, many television-to-film adaptations fail miserably, ultimately revealing that oftentimes the jokes, drama and supernatural should be left to the small screen.

Here then are 10 TV-to-film adaptations—most recent one first—that rendered mixed results, plus three television shows that bucked the trend when they were adapted for the small screen after success as feature films.

Sex and the City (2008)
Initially praised as “the” show for modern women, Sex and the City: The Movie is now being hailed as a cinematic “phenomenon” as Sarah Jessica Parker and co. raked in more than $56 million in its opening weekend. While the award-winning HBO series was revolutionary in proving that women do not have to be limited to the Lifetime Channel, the film showed that women are interesting and captivating enough to carry a film, a notion that left Hollywood moguls shocked.

Get Smart (2008)
Comedian Mel Brooks has no problem selling out his earlier creations these days, but his fans sure do. When the remake was announced, many worried that the subdued comedy of the legendary Don Adams could not be surpassed. While Steve Carell is the current master of deadpan, it’s the film’s writing that does not match up to Buck Henry and Mel Brooks’ dry wit and unfortunately resorts to slapstick, pedestrian humor that hardly does Maxwell Smart any justice.

Borat

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
Many comedy sketches have attempted to bring their act to the big screen and failed (see the “Saturday Night Live” Coneheads and Mary Katherine Gallagher characters). The exception is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, the blissfully ignorant Kazakhstan citizen just trying to find his footing in America. Adapted from the series of sketches on “Da Ali G Show,” Cohen manages to unearth new characters and situations to keep his humor fresh throughout the Academy Award-nominated film and as a result, turns Borat into everyone’s favorite Kazakhstan citizen despite his unintentional vulgarity.

Bewitched (2005)
The television show won Emmys; the film won Razzies. The new, yet much less-improved, Bewitched tried to be cute and clever by creating a post-modern set-up of a film within a film and unfortunately turned into an excruciatingly painful romantic comedy, where the two leads (Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman) share zero chemistry. Maybe its just hard to follow in the footsteps of such classic acting, for as much as she tried, Kidman completely floundered trying to imitate Elizabeth Montgomery’s effortless grace.

Scooby-Doo (2002)
Hollywood loves to bring childhood classics to the big screen, this time in a live-action remake of the classic cartoon about an intelligent dog and his mystery-solving crew. The film’s first mistake was the horrific CGI dog as Scooby-Doo; the second, casting Freddie Prinze Jr. Sure, the kids may like it, but there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Scooby gang looks—not to mention acts—a lot better in 2D.

Charlie's Angels

Charlie’s Angels (2000)
When this Golden Globe-nominated series debuted in the 1970s, it was one of the first to star women as not only sex symbols but crime fighters. When the 2000 film resurrected the intriguing trio by replacing ’70s icon Farrah Fawcett with the hottest women of the new millennium (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu), and added some fresh hairdos, high-tech gadgets and kick-ass moves into the mix, the result was a whole new girl-power movement that was just as fierce and fun as it was 30 years ago.

Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible (1996)
Praised as one of the greatest drama series of all-time, it seems almost impossible to top this electrifying, Emmy-winning show. In true Mission: Impossible fashion, the audience goes down a road full of twists and turns, flooded with adrenaline. Yet even when equipped with a handsome Tom Cruise, dozens of special effects and a whole new set of tricks, director Brian De Palma still can’t match the depth of the original series.

The Fugitive (1993)
This popular, Golden Globe-winning series was the inspiration for numerous crime-thriller television shows to come and fortunately, the film version did not disappoint. The Fugitive remake was able to mold the story into a style all its own and boasted terrific performances by Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones (the latter won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance).

The Beverly Hillbillies (1993)
After the cringe-worthy remake of the hit 1960s series, it’s evident that some things should remain in the past. It’s uncertain where The Beverly Hillbillies got lost in translation; perhaps the neighborhood has evolved too much to preserve the original series’ ironic humor. However, the film does have one redeeming quality found in its casting of Lily Tomlin as Miss Jane Hathaway.

The Addams Family (1991)
Family dysfunction at its finest, “The Addams Family” was one of the freshest and most exciting television shows to air during the 1960s. Though possessing an updated look that earned costume designer Ruth Myers an Academy Award nomination, the film manages to preserve the show’s eccentric nature while also weaving in a bit of its own style and originality. Complete with a superb cast that includes Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci, one never finds themselves wishing they were watching the original series.

And the others…

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights (2004)
A best-selling novel, a respectable film and now a critically acclaimed series on NBC, “Friday Night Lights” continues to tests its creative limits. The series takes a new approach to television drama, utilizing shaky, handheld camera movements and a loosely woven script to give the viewer an illusion of a reality show unraveling before your eyes. Despite all its Emmy and WGA nominations, “Friday Night Lights” continues to have poor ratings, an indication that this story line may have been stretched too far.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
While the film was pure Valley girl fun, creator Joss Whedon channeled his inner dark side when he brought Buffy to Sunnyvale. Starring the captivating Sarah Michelle Gellar in the title role, the show became an instant cult classic among teens and lovers of the paranormal, winning numerous Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films awards and stemming the equally satisfying spin-off, “Angel.” Though he was awarded only one Emmy nomination for his writing, Whedon made viewers believe the unimaginable: That demons can have feelings, too.

M*A*S*H (1970)
Though Robert Altman’s Oscar-winning film is still considered a rather unconventional movie, with its episodic structure and ensemble of colorful characters, the feature’s well-crafted idiosyncrasies transcribed perfectly to the small screen. The beloved series ran for 11 seasons and swept up tanks-full of Emmys and Golden Globe awards in all categories—acting, directing, writing and overall series. To this day, “M*A*S*H” has the highest-rated series finale of any American television show, with 106 million viewers tuning in to say goodbye to the slightly absurd Army doctors who taught the world how to smile in trying times.

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