Just recently, FX began airing Fargo, a television adaptation of the classic Coen brothers’ film of the same name. By and large, the program is well-received by viewers and critics, but one still wonders: why is anyone adapting award-winning films for television? Isn’t that a downgrade? Isn’t that sort of sacrilege? And this show is not alone. Lately, several classic films such as Rocky, Rosemary’s Baby, Hannibal, Bates Motel and The Bridges of Madison County are finding their way to TV screens and Broadway stages, begging the question: Is anything sacred, or is just about every story in line to be retold?
It’s true, we live in the golden age of television. We live among monstrous protagonists like Tony Soprano, Walter White and Frank Underwood. Television is currently the final word in engrossing characterization and exacting narrative depth. TV is where the action is. And yet, coinciding with this exciting renaissance is the systematic strip-mining of classic films to develop TV programs that run the gambit between piss-poor and fairly-proficient storytelling.
So why aren’t TV producers looking for the next Don Draper instead of remaking our favorite movies?
Any smart investor will tell that proven products have more to offer than a brand new concept. This is why we are on our fourth (of six) Transformers film, our seventh (of reportedly twelve) Star Wars film, and our fifth Ninja Turtles film, which is due for another reboot. This is also why Battleship the board game became Battleship the ungodly dreadful action dud (and Rihanna’s performance in that flick definitely did not help matters). People like ideas and characters they are familiar with because it takes less convincing. But it’s never a guarantee of success.
The same appears for be the case for the stage. Several films we all know and love are getting musical scores and big budgets. People apparently will pay (a lot) to see Spider-Man in a musical.
I’m going to play devil’s advocate (God, please don’t let them turn that into a series!) and concede that some film-to-TV transformations have yielded artistically-sound endeavors. As mentioned before, Fargo is off to a good start, Hannibal continues to win over viewers, and Bates Motel is humming right along. I suppose I’m-old fashioned, but the quest for incredible new ideas holds more water for me than the quest to renew old ideas. Familiarity is a powerful thing, for both viewers and investors. But leaps of faith are vastly more rewarding.
For those in doubt, consider Game of Thrones, a book series so popular that the HBO show is quickly running out of material to adapt. Consider True Detective, a high watermark for any medium in the realm of high-minded drama. And then there’s Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, which started out as an exceptional musical, and has since been adapted by Clint Eastwood into a feature film. See?! We have other wells to draw from! We can give the poor silver screen a break, can’t we?
Hollywood bigwigs and production companies, hear my plea! Let a great film be the summation of a good idea, not fodder to build upon, over and over again.