In Hollywood, familiarity breeds content. That's been especially true in recent weeks as TV writers and executives raid film libraries, looking to adapt movies into primetime series.
Among projects now in development: CBS' take on the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker buddy-cop comedy Rush Hour (this time from Cougar Town's Bill Lawrence) and a comedy based on Paul Weitz's 2004 feature In Good Company. NBC is rebooting two comedies, Real Genius and Problem Child, as well as creating a sequel to Marley & Me.
Fox is adapting the 1988 Tom Hanks comedy-fantasy Big (from the duo behind the late and lamented Enlisted, Mike Royce and Kevin Biegel) and making a multicamera sitcom inspired by the 2005 Jennifer Lopez/Jane Fonda feature Monster-in-Law. Also at Fox: Stephen Spielberg's Amblin TV is reviving the filmmaker's 2002 Tom Cruise thriller Minority Report, and a show based on Will Smith's 2005 romantic comedy Hitch.
ABC has an adaptation of John Hughes's Uncle Buck, which starred the late John Candy (CBS already aired a failed adaptation in 1990), and a new take on another Hanks comedy, 1984's Bachelor Party. The CW is partnering with writer Mark Hudis (True Blood) to update The Illusionist, a 2006 movie about a man who uses magic to woo his true love at the turn of the 20th century.
HBO is working on Westworld, inspired by the 1973 sci-fi thriller, starring Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris.
Executives are also looking at film libraries as a way to squeeze new revenue out of existing properties, while some studios and producers not already in the TV business see them as a key to entry. Paramount Pictures recently launched a TV division (the original Paramount TV was merged into CBS TV Studios) partly for this reason and announced plans to develop a new version of The Terminator (a franchise it now has the rights to), as well as The Truman Show and Ghost.
The networks' remake mania also extends to old TV shows: Fox is revisiting the 1980s series The Greatest American Hero and working on a reboot of The Courtship of Eddie's Father — which itself was spun off from a 1963 film. NBC just secured rights to a new version of Bewitched. Warner Bros. TV has been kicking around a revival of Full House. And David Lynch and Mark Frost are already producing an update of their early-'90s cult series Twin Peaks, to debut on Showtime in 2016.
TV writers say it's tough right now to sell a completely original idea. Constantine executive producer David S. Goyer says he's bullish on his new NBC drama, which is based on a DC Comics title. But nonetheless, "It is frustrating," he says. "I was recently reading an interview with a filmmaker talking about how hard it was in features to push through something that isn't based on underlying intellectual property. The same holds true in TV."
Keep in mind that most of these movie remakes won't make it past the script stage. But what's fueling this trend? The origins of these projects vary. Some come from writers eager to place their spin on a favorite show or movie. Others come from studios combing their histories for titles that might resonate with a modern twist. And some come after networks identify a void in the market — like family dramas, which helped lead to NBC's Parenthood in 2010.
But the reason behind the frenzy from a network perspective is clear: They are fighting to get noticed in a competitive multi-channel universe, so a little bit of name recognition goes further. "It helps you cut through the clutter," says ABC Studios' Patrick Moran, who's turning the 2014 documentary Code Black into a medical drama at CBS.
Insiders also suggest that so many veteran writers are already busy executive producing shows that it's easier to trust less-seasoned writers with pre-existing titles.
"Writers are tasked every year to figure out a concept that's not being explored on a show elsewhere," Moran says. "If they can use any of these movie titles as a springboard, there's a willingness to try."
Familiar titles are easier to pitch to busy executives, says Kerry Ehrin, who, with partner Carlton Cuse, turned Psycho into A&E's Bates Motel. "It's [comforting] to the people at the studio and network to know what it is, what the end game is, and what the tone of it is," she says.
One of the most successful TV shows of all time, M*A*S*H, was based on a 1970 box-office smash, while Buffy the Vampire Slayer brought new life to a modestly successful 1992 cult horror-comedy. More recently, TV versions of Fargo and About a Boy have scored with viewers.
"There has to be something in the original material that just hits you in the gut and speaks to you on a very deep level," says Ehrin. "The comparison to a classic, iconic film is terrifying. Carlton and I had to think long and hard: Do we want to step into that? You want to honor [the source] and refer to it but not be beholden to it."
In adapting Minority Report, Amblin TV's Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey say writer Max Borenstein's idea, to pick up where the movie left off, was key to getting Spielberg to sign off on the project. "It's such a risk-adverse climate," Falvey says, "that any kind of extra confidence for the networks to have when they're making these decisions is going to help."
But, warns Frank, "Not every film property is right for television. Films tend to be more plot- and material-driven [while TV shows are usually character-driven]. You have to choose the right ones. Just because it's a great movie doesn't mean it's going to be able to sustain as a television series."
While a movie's fans may worry that a TV reboot may not do the film justice, reaction from the original creative team can help calm fears — or confirm them. Joel and Ethan Cohen gave their blessing to FX's Fargo and served as executive producers, even though their actual involvement was minimal.
Compare that to the fate of a potential Say Anything TV show. When news broke that NBC was developing a take on the 1989 romantic comedy, director Cameron Crowe and star John Cusack took to Twitter to trash the idea. "I have no involvement," Crowe wrote, "except in trying to stop it." By the next day, the show was dead.