What TV Tie-In Movies Should There Be?

Just to add a little to my post the other day about TV tie-in movies: another type of show that frequently spawns tie-in movies with the orginal cast is a show aimed at kids, or with a large kid audience. Especially when that show is owned by a big studio that’s aggressive about cross-promotion, like Disney’s surprisingly hazardous Hannah Montana. But that kind of movie (and the Lizzie McGuire movie and so on) is different, because they tend to be relatively low-budget movies, and they’re not expected to perform at the level of the big blockbusters, the way the Simpsons and Sex and the City movies did.

But when it comes to those big, money-spinning original-cast movies, which shows are the best candidates for that kind of treatment? One thing I think is significant is that Simpsons and SATC are both comedies. You’d think that a drama, having more action and adventure and stuff, would be easier to adapt to the big screen, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. Partly because comedies are more character-based™ and therefore the characters are more equipped to carry a feature-film; plot is much less important to a comedy than characterization, so if you take the characters out of a half-hour format and put them into a 90-to-140 minute format, the differences are not huge. Whereas a lot of the Lost characters would seem very different if you tried to use them in a self-contained two-hour story.

But more importantly, one thing that pulls people into the theatres to see a movie based on a TV show is wide recognition of the characters, and that means that the show has to be a big success in syndication, something that people see not only every week but every day. Simpsons and SATC are both very successful in syndicated reruns, which was a huge help in finding audiences for the films (for one thing, there’s a perfect place to advertise the movie: advertise during reruns of the show). Dramas do not usually do as well in syndication as comedies, so they don’t have that advantage going into a tie-in movie. One of the few dramas that did have syndication success comparable to the biggest hit comedies was Star Trek, and that, of course, spawned some very successful original-cast movies. (And The Undiscovered Country too, but let’s not get into that.)

But once you get past Simpsons and SATC and probably Family Guy, it’s a little harder to guess which comedies could translate to that big-budget movie format. For one thing, most of the big hit sitcoms are multi-camera shows done in front of an audience, meaning that a movie would have to have a different comedic format from the original. It can be done; plays are made into films all the time, and multi-camera sitcoms have spawned feature films in Britain (remember the Are You Being Served movie?). But it is an added obstacle.

So what shows, comedies or otherwise, might actually make successful movies with the original cast? The two that seem like the most obvious candidates are the ’90s blockbusters, Seinfeld and Friends. They’re huge, they’re always in syndication, they lend themselves to New York location shooting, the cast members are still around and not outrageously old. I think that if it were written by Larry David and maybe directed by Larry Charles, a Seinfeld feature could be really interesting: think of the small problems and petty grievances of the show blown up to the 2.35:1 ‘Scope screen, with not just four plots intersecting and converging at the end, but dozens. Plus the original show ended unsatisfyingly, so people would go to a feature just hoping to get a better send-off for the characters. Plus Jerry Seinfeld may be desperate to redeem himself after Bee Movie.

Friends might actually be an even better prospect for big-screenery because it shares some characteristics with SATC: a good-looking cast, lots of relationship stuff to work through in a movie. I’m not really sure what they could do in a feature that they didn’t do on the show, but what Simpsons and SATC have proven is that a tie-in movie doesn’t really have to be that much different from the show; fans will go for the familiarity, and non-fans will just enjoy the story.

Other possibilities: Entourage, obviously. I guess The Office — either version — could be a feature, but the problem is that the mockumentary format is never, ever a big-budget blockbuster hit. I don’t even know if there would be any point in doing it on a feature budget. Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life are two cult flop teen shows that are so popular on DVD that a life-after-high-school movie might actually work. I think a lot of us would like to see a Deadwood movie, but I just don’t see a studio expressing that much interest in making a Western, particularly without a big Eastwood or Russell Crowe name behind it.

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