Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ask JKM #45: TV Show Remakes...

A reader named Christopher writes:

“I have a question concerning the Blue Thunder TV series. Something that just came to mind after I read your article on the 1983 film.

Over the years, various films have spawned TV series adaptations of said films. For example: Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, M*A*S*H, Logan's Run, Blue Thunder, and (to the best of knowledge - twice in the history of movies and television) Parenthood. Some of these programs have met with huge success, while others have not.

It wasn't until the remake express had gone full steam that a thought occurred to me. It may sound far-fetched, but after a careful analysis of the information, I've been wondering if television series in general, based on successful films, are technically remakes of said films.
Do you think that the series that I have mentioned are remakes of those successful films?

Speaking of Blue Thunder, another question I had concerns its 'rival', Airwolf. Like the 2001 and Space:1999 controversy, as well as the Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica controversy, do you think that the controversy between Blue Thunder and Airwolf is along those same lines, or somewhat different?”

Christopher, I love this question, and I think it brings us to a very interesting discussion.

First, the TV series you mention – namely Logan’s Run, Blue Thunder, M*A*S*H and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea -- are indeed remakes of the movies that carried those names. 

They are so because, in large part, they take the same characters and situations to begin with, but then spin-them-out in a new way.  Logan’s Run begins again with Jessica and Logan’s escape from the City of Domes, for instance, but then goes off in new TV territory, a week-by-week search for Sanctuary. 

I suppose we could call these TV remakes “television adaptations” but that euphemism doesn’t make the point as directly does it? 

The second part of your question involves series that simply capitalize on the success of popular films, but aren’t strict adaptations or remakes.  They are, as you said, “rivals.”

This is something we have seen again and again in TV history.   

The success of Star Wars (1977) permitted Battlestar Galactica (1978) to get made. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) made the market ripe for Bring ‘Em Back Alive (1982) and Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982). 

Blue Thunder’s (1983) success gave us Airwolf (1984). 

And much more recently, Twilight’s success assured that The Vampire Diaries and True Blood would come to television.

What we can understand from this equation is that because television programming is expensive, networks generally seek not new efforts that are “original” or totally different from popular movies, but rather programs that carry similarities to properties that have already proven themselves in the marketplace.

In this case, however, an interesting dynamic complicates the matter.  By their very nature, films can’t tell an on-going story or delve deeply into characters over a long span of time.  But TV series can indeed accomplish those things. 

So in many cases -- from Battlestar Galactica to Airwolf to The Vampire Diaries -- the so-called “imitator” actually improves on the original template in some powerful way.  After watching twenty hours, for instance, it’s undeniable that we know more about Captain Apollo than we do about Luke Skywalker…merely because we have spent more time with him. 

That’s why I always say that Star Wars opened the door for Battlestar Galactica, but that Battlestar Galactica walked through that door on its own two feet. 

The same is true, I think, for Airwolf, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries.   

They all may have been green-lit initially as knock-offs of popular movies, but they eventually became independent of that origin and featured original and innovative creative material.   All these programs developed in new and unforeseen ways, and thus established a new, “original” identity, as it were.

Airwolf is a strange example.  It is undeniably superior to the Blue Thunder TV series, and audiences agreed. Airwolf lasted for four years, and Blue Thunder tanked after half-a-season.  I’m not sure there’s ever been another example of a “knock-off” running circles around the original property, and so thoroughly vanquishing it, head-to-head. 

But again, it proves that audiences are driven (in terms of TV watching) to well-developed characters over merely a familiar concept.  What Airwolf had was the intriguing Stringfellow Hawke (Jan Michael-Vincent) back-story.  Blue Thunder (on TV) had nothing comparable.

Great question!

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:11 PM

    Airwolf was definitely a much more engaging series than the ill-fated Blue Thunder series. Airwolf was a superior sci-fi helicopter than Blue Thunder too.