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TV not always a Marvelous idea

Mads Mikkelsen stars in new Sky Living drama series Hannibal
Mads Mikkelsen stars in new Sky Living drama series Hannibal

I’ve mentioned Marvel’s hotly anticipated TV show Agents Of SHIELD in the past, flip-flopping between excitement and fear that it’s going to tarnish the movie and ruin the reputation of Marvel films to come.

It could all be fine though, because the pilot episode (directed by Avengers helmer and all-round nerdgod Joss Whedon) impressed execs so much, US network ABC has ordered a full series.

An official logo and a group shot of the SHIELD team have also been released, with the spies headed up by Agent Coulson, who was last seen being killed in The Avengers. That’s right, ‘killed’. Mysterious...

For a long time, the road between TV and movies was strictly one-way, and we’ve all shaken our heads at hearing the news of the latest TV series being adapted for cinema by creatively bankrupt Hollywood studios, so this trend of movies becoming TV shows is an interesting development.

Anthony Perkins in Psycho
Anthony Perkins in Psycho

And it is a trend. Viewers are already being treated to Hannibal, a prequel to Red Dragon which explores Hannibal Lecter’s relationship with a criminal profiler. It’s got a big-name cast, too, including Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishburne and Hugh Dancy.

Then there’s Zombieland, a TV series of the 2009 zombie splatter comedy. Curiously, Zombieland was originally planned as a TV show. Horror series Scream is also being turned into a TV show, this time by MTV.

Even long-dead franchises and characters are being resurrected for the small screen. The 1960s comic strip Barbarella which was turned into a cult film starring Jane Fonda is being developed for TV by Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn.

Lawrence of Arabia is the subject of two TV series, with the BBC and Fremantle facing off with dramas about the British army officer TE Lawrence, while Psycho’s Norman Bates is being revisited too, with the US series Bates Motel, which focuses on a teenage Norman and his mother.

It’s not an entirely new phenomenon, older readers will remember Robert Altman’s Korean war movie MASH being adapted for TV more than 40 years ago, and a great many kids’ movies are later given new life as TV series, but there are definitely more happening now.

I guess it’s about time for the television industry to take something back from Hollywood, which has stolen so much from TV in recent years, but the cynical part of me just sees as it another sign that creativity is gradually ebbing away and new ideas aren’t being given a chance.

However, is it even a good idea at all? On the surface, it seems like one – taking something that has been proved successful and has a built-in audience – but, unlike a movie adaptation of a TV show which has one big chance to screw up a franchise, a TV series has a number of them, spread over 24 weeks.

Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

A (good) movie is perfectly crafted, fine-tuned, has a beginning, middle and end. Why then take that and turn it into something that potentially has no end and can spoil the legacy of a well-regarded film (I’m thinking more about Lawrence of Arabia here than Zombieland)?

On the other side of the coin, a movie that has a strong central idea but only 90 minutes to explore it, would benefit from a TV series, where the universe can be expanded, characters’ lives opened out, and valuable additional players introduced. The excellent 2005 Italian crime movie Romanzo Criminale has since spawned an excellent TV series, which takes the film’s foundations and builds upon it a mighty castello.

Of course, coming full-circle, there’s one of the most successful examples out there: Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The 1992 film didn’t turn out the way writer Joss Whedon (yep, that guy) wanted so, five years later, when he was given another bite of the cherry, the result was ever-so-slightly more popular.

Whedon’s Agents of SHIELD will probably be a good TV show, but I’m not so sure I can say the same about all the other series under way. But if they make money, will quality matter to the TV networks?

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