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Television Movies
 "Fifty seven channels and nothing on” declared Springsteen back in ‘92. If the Boss rewrote the song today he’d have to call it "Nine hundred and fifty seven channels and still shit all on”. I made the jump from terrestrial television to cable in 2003 when I clawed my way onto the property ladder and at first it was a real novelty. But it slowly dawned on me that finding out what channels we had was infinitely more entertaining than watching any of them. The Travel Channel, Granada Men & Motors, the God Channel, Sumo TV, the Beer Drinking Serial Killers Masturbatory Network, you could spend an entertaining half an hour skipping through them all. Yet your total viewing time of any one channel would be ten seconds tops. Any more and your brain would start to seep out of your ear-holes or you’d take the quick way out and bludgeon yourself to death with the remote. Jump back twenty odd years though and our paltry four channels were a banquet of televisual delights. Airtime was scarce so there was no room for crap. Kids programs had humour and heart with the likes of Dogtanian, The Lost City of Gold, Around the World With Willy Fog and The Magic Roundabout. During the late afternoon slot we were charmed by high action serials from across the pond, The A-Team, Street Hawk, Airwolf, Knightrider. Early evening brought further delights both foreign and domestic with Auf Weidersen Pet, Dallas, Twin Peaks, Only Fools & Horses to name just a few. It’s little wonder then that when Hollywood decides to bring the small screen to the big screen they mine the archives and give recent broadcasts a wide birth; don’t expect to see TOWIE: The Movie anytime soon. Still, it hasn’t all been plain sailing as the likes of Popeye (1980). Masters of the Universe (1987), Lost In Space (1998), The Avengers (1998), The X-Files (1998), Inspector Gadget (1999), Wild Wild West (1999), Scooby Doo (2002), Thunderbirds (2004), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), The Land of the Lost (2009) and The Sweeney (2012) will attest to. However, here are ten films that prove that blowing the dust off a TV classic isn’t always a bad idea.
It’s been scientifically proven, probably, that there isn’t a person on this Earth that doesn’t like The Muppets. You might find Kermit a bit whiney or Miss Piggy too overbearing, but with such a huge range of characters there’s a Muppet for everyone. First created way back in 1955 by Jim Henson for the Sam and Friends show in the US, they gradually realised greater fame appearing in television commercials and performing skits on late night talk shows. Sesame Street gave a number of the Muppets a leg up before they finally landed their own show in 1976, The Muppet Show. It was a smash hit and celebs lined up to be lampooned by the now seemingly sentient cast of felt creatures. A late seventies Muppet boom gave rise to the idea of a big screen outing to capitalise on their popularity. And so the obviously named The Muppet Movie (1979) arrived at the end of the decade. A clever, self-referential script followed Kermit on a cross country trek as he attempts to make it to Hollywood and find success in show-business. Muppet Show writers Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns were on hand to pepper proceedings with the usual cheeky one lines, and they had fun twisting the conventions of modern cinema, breaking the "fourth wall” on a number of occasions and even having Kermit hand Dr. Teeth a copy of the screenplay itself so that he would know where to find them later on in the film. Fans also got to see their favourite Muppet characters in full form for the first time ever, with the Muppet puppeteers and animators pulling off an, at the time, minor miracle by having Kermit and co perform seemingly without any supports at all. Director Jim Frawley was rumoured to have had an unhappy time on set, coming from outside the "Henson” family, but he didn’t let it affect the warmth on screen, that bizarre emotional depth that these mechanical combos of material and puppet sticks somehow manage to conjure up. Clever cameos from the likes of Mel Brooks, Elliott Gould, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin and a healthy box office take ensured that this wouldn’t be the last time the Muppets found themselves on the big screen, with numerous further movie episodes arriving over the years.
Tasty Morsel - The term "Muppet” was coined by Henson after combining the words "marionette” and "puppet”.
- DRAGNET (1987)
The televisual relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom hasn’t always been a popular two way street. While our Yankee cousins lap up the likes of Doctor Who and Sherlock, other British phenomena such as Eastenders and Emmerdale remain exclusively on British teleboxes. Likewise, while we can’t get enough of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, some American institutions never made it across the Atlantic. One such series was Dragnet, an American cop serial that stretched across both radio and television for four decades. A straight shooting police procedural drama, it influenced just about every police movie and television show that followed afterwards. In an era where the birth of television was trying to heighten the unreality of high action of police work, Dragnet was determined to focus on the truth of it; sometimes that would be heroic deeds, but more often than not it would be the drudgery of a detailed investigation. Central to the series was the LA police detective Joe Friday, the ultimate straight laced copper whose attitude was summed up by his well known catchphrase "Just the facts ma’am”. It was something of a risk then that this American icon was placed in the hands of renowned Hollywood script doctor Jim Mankiewicz. But what the first time director manage to deliver was both a mischievous parody and a warm homage rolled into one. Dragnet (1987) would always live or die by its casting, but it managed to ensure success early on by nabbing two of the decades best comedy performers. Dan Aykroyd had already written the script for the movie so was a shoe-in for the uptight Joe Friday, and a wonderful job he makes of ensuring that the stiff detective isn’t a complete bust as a relatable central character. The ying to his yang would be his young, free-spirited new partner, Pep Streebek, for whom Aykroyd was pushing for the brother of his departed Blues Brother, Jim Belushi. But with Belushi Jnr. unavailable Tom Hanks stepped into the role as his replacement. In hindsight it was the better move, doing away with any Blues Brothers (1980) comparisons. Hanks also has a ball winding up the staid Friday, goading him into twisting the rules in order to solve the case of a new LA cult calling themselves the People Against Goodness And Normalcy (PAGAN). Most eighties cop movies had a free-wheeling attitude, playing out more like a fun night on the town than a perilous battle against crime. Dragnet embodies the best elements of this spirit, but balanced them with Aykroyd’s traditional take on the Dragnet values of old. Whilst this did no favours for his onscreen relationship with "the virgin Connie Swail”, in the form of future Baywatch star Alexandra Paul, it made for some tremendous back and forth between Aykroyd and Hanks who were clearly having the time of their lives playing the chalk and cheese police detectives.
Tasty Morsel - Actor Harry Morgan returned to the Dragnet franchise to reprise the role of Bill Gannon, which he had played twice before, the made-for-TV movie The Big Dragnet (1969) and the TV series Dragnet (1967).
The late and truly great Leslie Nielsen once recalled the story of when he first read the script for The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988). He was on a plane home when he sat convulsing with laughter from take-off to landing. As the plane approached its destination the man in the seat next to Nielsen turned and pronounced that the script he was reading couldn’t be that funny. Nielsen showed him the front cover which read "Police Squad: The Movie”. "Oh, it just might be” the man smiled and replied. A forerunner for the likes of Reno 911 and Brooklyn Nine Nine, the original Police Squad TV show was the brainchild of David and Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams. The writing, producing and directing trio had recently hit the Hollywood big time with the likes of The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) and Airplane! (1980). Looking to take their success on to the small screen, they wrote a half hour police show that lampooned the swathe of police crime dramas that were filling up television schedules. Their first port of call for the lead role was Leslie Nielsen, the Canadian actor who had shown a genius streak for deadpan humour in Airplane!. But despite receiving critical acclaim Police Squad! was pulled by ABC after just six episodes, the station claiming that the jokes in the show were too quick and subtle for most TV viewers to pick up; as a comedy concept it was just too far ahead of its time. But it was also comedy dynamite, so six years later Zucker, Zucker and Abrahams conspired to bring Lieutenant Frank Drebin back to life, this time on the big screen. The trio’s trademark thousand joke approach delivered the goods again, and though some of the cornier jokes haven’t aged so well, there’s still a goldmine of mirth to discover. Slapstick is inherently funny no matter what the era, and Nielsen got some surprisingly good support from former American footballer OJ Simpson in that department. The script also remains as sharp today as it ever was, thanks to some of the best ever cinematic comedy writing and some world class delivery from Nielsen and his more than game sparring partners George Kennedy and Priscilla Presley. Two further Drebin outings followed with The Naked Gun 2 ½ : The Smell Of Fear (1991) and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994), each delivering another huge helping of laughs. The Zuckers and Nielsen also pushed for a fourth instalment, with Nielsen proposing a title of The Naked Gun 4: The Second Final Insult, before his passing in 2010.
Tasty Morsel - Oscar winner George Kennedy campaigned for the part of Ed Hocken for months after missing out on the chance to send up his previous Airport performances in Airplane!.
Though most television series didn’t seem to last too long in the first golden age of TV, they at least gave rise to some great story premises. In 1964 ABC commissioned a new comedy show based on Charles Addams’ New Yorker comic strip, The Addams Family, a satirical jab at the notion of the ideal American family unit. Timing was key, as ABC pipped its rival station CBS to the comedy horror family post by six days, when it debuted its own offering with The Munsters on 24th September 1964. While The Munsters had the immediate appeal of a family built around Universal’s biggest horror villains (Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, etc), The Addams Family was in the long run the better viewing experience. Its droll, witty sense of humour gave it longer lasting appeal, so when talk of a leap to the big screen stirred in the late eighties Hollywood began to circle. Orion Pictures nabbed the original rights and courted Tim Burton to direct. But when the studio fell on hard times Paramount Pictures purchased the rights and installed Barry Sonnenfeld in the big chair, his first directorial job following some inspired work as a cinematographer for the Coens Brothers among others. It proved to be a good choice as Sonnenfeld delivered a movie entirely faithful to the original show. Key to any television to big screen project is casting and Sonnefeld put forward a great cast with Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christoper Lloyd and Christina Ricci providing note perfect imaginings of Addams original comic strip. The story was fairly predictable, with con artists trying to pry the Addams family fortune away from them with the help of "long lost” Uncle Fester, but the script was sharp and, though pitched as a family friendly movie, there were some deliciously dark moments sprinkled throughout. Surprisingly, given the fact that the TV show made no impact on this side of the pond, the film was a big hit in the UK, standing as one of the big blockbusters of 1991. Box office receipts called for further outings so two years later the original cast returned for Addams Family Values (1993) a sequel that went even further in recapturing the quirky feel of the original show.
Tasty Morsel - Cher lobbied for the part of Morticia Addams, but was beaten out by Anjelica Huston.
Another show that made big waves in America but failed to make it to UK shores was the ABC drama The Fugitive. Kicking off in 1963, the show dragged the fate of the wrongly convicted Dr. Richard Kimble out for four seasons before he was acquitted in the final episode in 1967, the crime of murdering his wife pegged on the infamous "One Armed Man”. Condensing 120 episodes into one film must have seemed like a herculean task in 1993, but condense Anne and Arnold Kopelson did, handing one of the best thriller scripts of the decade to Andrew Davis to direct. To say that Davis overachieved would be an understatement, as The Fugitive (1993) became the first television adaptation to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. A tag team of A-list talent helped, with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones on board to trade blows as Dr. Richard Kimble and Deputy US Marshall Samuel Gerard respectively. Some sterling support from journeymen performers such as Joe Pantoliano and Andreas Katsulas also sold what in essence was a fairly by the numbers plot. What really helped elevate the movie though was its set pieces. With Kimble straining to retain his half-a-step-in-front advantage at all times, even something as mundane as a sneaky wander into a hospital for a shave and some new clothes became ultra tense. And with Ford being able to act the part of worriedly reluctant hero in his sleep, each scene grows more tense than the last. Davis took the bold task of filming an actual train and bus crash for his opening escape salvo (parts of the wreck can still be seen today by trains pulling out of Dillsboro depot). The Cheoah Dam Kimble leap was also a highlight. Somehow, out of it all, Lee Jones managed to secure a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his know-it-all US Marshall, and such was the characters popularity he got his own sequel five years later with U.S.Marshalls (1998). The Kopelsons returned for script writing duties while Stuart Baird was tasked with directing. Lee Jones returned as did his full support cast of fellow Marshalls. Wesley Snipes strapped on the fugitive running shoes, with Robert Downey Jnr. also joining to help track the supposed criminal down. Another fast moving script ensured boredom was never an issue, and a neat final twist made for a satisfying sequel all round.
Tasty Morsel - Jon Voight and Gene Hackman were both offered the role of Sam Gerard before Lee Jones nabbed it, while Kevin Costner, Alec Baldwin and Andy Garcia were all in line for the Kimble role.
- STARSKY & HUTCH (2004)
The champion of the chunky cardigan, Starsky & Hutch was just one of a raft of 1970’s cop shows that tried to reinvent police work as the sexist profession on the planet. The likes of Hawaii Five-O, The Streets Of San Franciso, The Rookies, S.W.A.T, Barney Miller, Charlie’s Angels, Baretta, Mannix and countless others did their best to portray life on the force as a never ending run of car chase escapades, appreciative babes and risk free shoot-outs. With the exception of The Sweeney UK police dramas just couldn’t compete and British viewers lapped up every sun soaked American cop drama that came their way. The adventures of David Michael Starsky and Kenneth "Hutch” Hutchinson led the way. David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser became household names, funky snitch Huggy Bear became the last word in cool, and wannabe racers up and down the land started painting white Gran Torino-esque stripes up the side of their Ford Capris. The show lasted four seasons from 1975 to 1979. Twenty five years later Hollywood decided it was time to reinvent the smooth California cop duo for the new century, and with the film industry enjoying a new golden age of comedy stars, the timing was perfect. Road Trip (2000) and Old School (2003) director Todd Phillips was able to call on the talents of this prime selection of comedy talent to fill his main roles, with the titular tag team played by Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, and support provided by the likes of Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Will Ferrell. The script wasn’t a classic but at the time this group of comedic allstars could turn even a relatively mundane screenplay into something special. The mid-seventies setting was lovingly sent up, the Starsky cardigan far from the only item of garish wardrobe on display, while the semi-ridiculous set pieces and script provided a generous helping of stand out moments, "Two dragons”, "Do it!”. Fine support is lent by Snoop Dogg as the only man who could possibly fill Huggy Bear’s shoes, whilst former blaxploitation legend and NFL star Fred Williamson, Terry Crews, Juliette Lewis, Chris Penn and Carmen Electra all crop up for scene stealing moments. We even get an unlikely cameo from the original duo themselves. All told, a blueprint on how not to screw up the adaptation of a classic television show.
Tasty Morsel - Phillips was struggling to find the right colour 1976 Lincoln for the Huggy Bear character, Snoop Dogg revealed that he owned the exact car in the exact colour himself. Its Snoop’s motor that appears in the final film.
By 2007 the time for The Simpsons to make a move to the big screen had long passed. Over twenty seasons and close to five hundred episodes, the bright yellow quintet had already passed their peak, the continued success of the show now attributed mostly to the extended cast of Springfield residents. Rival animated comedy South Park had wisely struck while the iron was hot eight years prior with the well received South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999). But by 2007 the weight of expectation for The Simpsons Movie (2007) all but crushed any hopes of a classic before the first animation cel had been generated. It also didn’t help that a number of the best Simpsons writers such as Brad Bird and Sam Simon had moved on. No sooner had the lights come up on the movies premiere showing in the competition winning town of Springfield, Vermont, the critics were hailing the film a failure. The truth was though the movie was simply a victim of its own success, the bar having been set so high by the shows previous all-time-classic episodes. There were failings, no doubt, such as the lack of screen time for the shows standout support characters, a criminal lack of dark comedy legend Mr. Burns, and a story that relied on yet another marital breakdown between Homer and Marge. But outside of these niggles there was still a landslide of laughs to be enjoyed and with seven years hindsight the film stands clearer as the comedy great it deserves to be. The most noticeable improvement from the television show was the long overdue animation upgrade; Springfield looked stunning on the big screen. Boundaries were also pushed, with a number gags taking advantage of the lack televisual censor constraints, including Homer flipping the bird and Bart whipping out little Bart for an impromptu naked skateboarding session. Surprisingly, some of the best moments were reserved for new character Russ Cargill, the head of the EPA who decides to cover Springfield with a massive glass dome to trap its environment ruining occupants forever more, "It takes real leadership to pick something you’re clueless about”. The movie also had pleasing knock-on effects for the small screen Simpsons with a terrestrial revamp for the shows animation style and a drive to right some of the wrongs from the film, most noticeably a greater willingness for the shows satirical arrows to finally be pointed at some fresher, more riskier targets than the usual suspects relied upon for the first twenty season.
Tasty Morsel - Kelsey Grammer, Minnie Driver, Isla Fisher, and Erin Brockovich-Ellis all recorded lines for the film but their scenes were cut from the final movie.
- STATE OF PLAY (2009)
When it comes to gritty television the US has produced some fine shows over the years from M.A.S.H to The Wire. But try as they might, our American cousins always fail to go the whole hog. No matter how hard they strive they can’t shake the Hollywood sheen that provides a fine layer of gloss on just about every American dramatic production. For true, penniless, salt of the earth grit you have to journey to British shores where Hollywood glamour and high production values don’t exist. The likes of Boys From The Black Stuff, Our Friends In The North, Prime Suspect, and Life On Mars couldn’t have been made in the States, and in 1996 director David Yates and writer Paul Abbott added another stellar entry into the already chock-full pantheon of top notch British dramas with State of Play. The story followed the death of a young woman, the newspaper reporter who investigates and the political conspiracy he uncovers as a result. That the show featured a feast of up-and-coming acting talent with David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, James McAvoy, Bill Nighy and Philip Glenister, was just one of its many bright points. Unusually for a lauded British drama Hollywood came sniffing and twelve years later a script which had condensed the six part drama into a workable screenplay was handed to Scottish director Kevin Macdonald, hot off the success of his own critically championed The Last King Of Scotland (2006). Considering how much there was to cram into a reasonable film adaptation, the writers did a wonderful job ensuring none of the original drama’s intricacies were lost in translation. An equally impressive cast featuring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman and Jeff Daniels helped shoulder the weight of the story as Crowe’s old school reporter Cal McAffrey starts digging into the death of Congressman Ben Affleck’s mistress. The essential questions raised by the original show, the dilemma of whether a single wrong can be offset by a greater number of rights, is slightly less subtly presented with that Hollywood sheen creeping in to turn up the contrast on those moments that were oh-so grey when shown on the Beeb. But as a straight forward Tinsel Town thriller State of Play (2009) is one of the finest outings of the last twenty five years.
Tasty Morsel - The original headlining stars were Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, reuniting them exactly ten years after Fight Club (1999). Both pulled out of the project following writer’s strike delays.
- THE A-TEAM (2010)
Boys like me who grew up in the eighties dreaming of muscle cars and frantic shoot-outs in widescreen American landscapes had a feast of Stateside programming to gorge ourselves on. We had the slick style of Knightrider and Street Hawk, the high-tech fun of Airwolf, the one man army of MacGyver, the fun and cut off denim shorts of The Dukes of Hazzard, and the neon-infused naughtiness of Miami Vice. But the top spot for most pre-adolescents was reserved for the one show that packed more muscle, more panache and more explosions into a forty eight minute running time than any TV show before or since, The A-Team. Summed up by the shows Mohawk-haired talisman, the show was quite simply bad ass. It was impossible to resist the "In 1972 a crack commando unit...” and toe-tapping theme tune, and audiences around the world delighted as the show powered its way across five TNT infused seasons from 1983 to 1987. The A-Team was never truly wrapped up though, a concluding episode never penned or aired, leaving most fans to wonder what happened to the industrious quartet once their GMC van had driven off into the distance for the last time. The answer was a movie to continue the gang’s tales, but it was a long time coming. Development first started in the mid-90s, but chances of a reunion for the original foursome were shattered when the group’s cigar chomping leader George Peppard passed away in 1994. Numerous rewrites and stalls later, the project ended up in the lap of Narc (2002) and Smokin’ Aces (2006) director Joe Carnahan. The script wasn’t an issue; it could be as corny and as far-fetched as it cared to be in tribute to the shows original spirit. Casting would be key though, and after much hemming and hawing the production settled on their four leads; all four were inspired choices. Liam Neeson, hot from his recent Taken (2008) action-star reinvention, made for a perfect Hannibal Smith, Quinton "Rampage” Jackson brought all of his MMA charisma to bear on B.A. Baracus, Bradley Cooper was the ideal ladies man Templeton "Faceman” Peck, and Sharlto Copley set about stealing the entire movie with his insanity tinged turn as Howling Mad Murdock. Most importantly the chemistry between the four actors was undeniable; it was tremendous fun to be in their presence. Brian Bloom and Patrick Wilson were just as on-form as the boo-hiss bad guys, while the double crossing plot and chase for stolen printing press plates allowed for a wonderfully entertaining set-pieces. Laughs and explosions featured aplenty, along with neat nods to the original series. Why it was then that critics and the box office were unmoved by the offering remains a mystery. Those that enjoyed it for the wild ride that it was meant to be were vocal and clamoured for a sequel. But dollars, or lack thereof, won out and the decision to return for a sequel was scraped in early 2012.
Tasty Morsel - Woody Harrelson and Ryan Reynolds were both considered for the role of Murdock, while Bruce Willis was in the running for the Hannibal Smith part.
- 21 JUMP STREET (2012)
Here at FilmsFilmsFilms we have a strict rule that if a movie has already featured in one of our library entries, it can’t then reappear on another article later on. Hence why Night of the Living Dead (1968) didn’t feature in the Zombie Movies list; a sure-fire entry it would have been but for its inclusion in the Black and White Movies article already. But we can bend the rules slightly for a film that featured in the Best of 2012 article, especially for a movie that stands as one of the smartest comedies of recent years. 21 Jump Street was a police drama that ran from 1987 to 1991, following two baby faced cops who were tasked with uncovering crimes in high schools, colleges, and other youth orientated venues. The show did fairly well in the States, attracting enough viewers to ensure a spin-off series for Richard Grieco and his Detective Dennis Booker character. Its biggest legacy though was the injection it gave to Johnny Depp’s career, eventually bagging him the lead role in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990). It was an unlikely candidate for a twenty first century reinvention, so much so preview articles had to remind most film fans exactly what the original show was all about. Jonah Hill was keen for the movie to succeed though and could see the comedic potential in landing two grown men back in the high school environment for a second bite at school life. 21 Jump Street (2012), co-directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, thus focused on the fish out of water laughs of Channing Tatum and Hill returning to school to find that all the tropes that were so familiar during their own high schools years have been turned on their heads. The nerds are the cool ones, the jocks are shunned, Hill is with the in-crowd and Tatum can no longer win an argument by swinging a fist into someone’s face. The rookie cop duo encounter just as many problems trying to traverse this new social landscape as they do cracking new synthetic drug ring. A hilarious and genuinely surprising cameo from the original duo Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise should steal the show, but there are just as many standout moments away from this brilliant set-piece. 22 Jump Street (2014) stuffs Morton and Greg in the even trickier college locale two years later and continued the series fine form.
Tasty Morsel - The original show featured early television roles for a number of future movie stars, including Brad Pitt, Vince Vaughn, Christina Applegate, and Josh Brolin.
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