Nowadays, it's hard to remember a time when the TV schedules weren't filled with feature films. But the relationship between the big and the small screen hasn't always run smoothly. Their mutual dependence is perhaps greater than ever... So, as Joel and Ethan Coen win the Best Screenplay prize at the Venice Film Festival with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a Western anthology that was originally conceived for television, Cinema Paradiso feels it's time to recall some of those movies that have been spun-off from TV shows.
In the late 1940s, Hollywood saw television as a threat, as free entertainment in the comfort of one's own living room was likely to dissuade people from frequenting their local cinema to see the latest releases, as had been the norm during studio system's golden age. Consequently, the major players forbade their contract stars from appearing on the small screen and even rejected overtures to broadcast long-forgotten titles from their back catalogues.
However, a new breed of TV star began to emerge, with a box-office potential that the struggling studios couldn't resist. Moreover, sponsored drama series provided a showcase for such classic teleplays as Paddy Chayefsky's Marty and The Bachelor Party (both 1953), Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men (1954), Rod Serling's Patterns (1955) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956), and Alex Segal's All the Way Home (1960). As many of these were broadcast live, Hollywood couldn't resist making feature versions and the relationship between film and television was changed forever when Delbert Mann's take on Marty (1955) not only won the Palme d'Or at Cannes but also the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Actor (Ernest Borgnine).
Make 'Em Laugh - UK Style
Although few British households had television sets before the Queen's Coronation in June 1953, the country's film studios were quick to pick up on popular shows and repackage them for the cinema. The pioneering BBC soap, The Grove Family (1954-57), was among the first to be reworked, as John Warrington's It's a Great Day (1955), with Ruth Dunning and Edward Evans reprising their roles as an everyday housewife and her builder husband in a wry story about stolen materials. A pair of ITV comedy favourites followed, as The Army Game (1957-61) and The Larkins (1960-64) respectively resurfaced as Montgomery Tully's I Only Arsked! (1958) and C.M. Pennington-Richards's Inn for Trouble (1960), while the BBC's school sitcom, Whack-O! (1956-60), was revisited in Mario Zampi's Bottoms Up (1960).
Two of the biggest BBC comedy programmes of the period started out on the radio, with The Goon Show (1951-60) and Hancock's Half Hour (1954-61) being adapted for television as The Telegoons (1963-64) and Hancock (1956-61). Although none of the films made by Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe were direct Goon spin-offs, the show's zany humour was readily evident in Alan Cullimore's Let's Go Crazy, Tony Young's Penny Points to Paradise (both 1951), Maclean Rogers's Down Among the Z Men (1952), Joseph Sterling's The Case of the Mukkinese Battle-Horn (1956) and Dick Lester's The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1959), which features on the BFI compilation, The Lacey Rituals (2012). Similarly, Tony Hancock sought to break from his BBC persona in Robert Day's The Rebel (1961) and Jeremy Summers's The Punch and Judy Man (1963), although echoes of East Cheam could be heard in both.
Writer Johnny Speight brought a new edge to British TV comedy when he created the opinionated Alf Garnett for actor Warren Mitchell in Till Death Us Do Part (1965-75). Regulars Dandy Nichols, Una Stubbs and Anthony Booth joined Mitchell in Norman Cohen's 1969 feature version, although the latter pair were replaced by Adrienne Posta and Paul Angelis in Bob Kellett's follow-up, The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). Frankie Howerd also scored a small-screen hit by adding a little extra innuendo to Up Pompeii (1969-70). But, while he reprised the character of the Roman slave Lurcio in the 1971 film version, he took the dual roles of Lurkalot and Richard the Lionheart in Up the Chastity Belt (1971) and played household servant Lurk in Up the Front (1972), which were all directed by Bob Kellett, who also guided Ronnie Barker through the silent pastiche, Futtocks End (1970), and the staff of Grace Brothers through the 1977 big-screen version of the long-running BBC sitcom, Are You Being Served? (1972-85).
Another BBC perennial found its way on to the big screen in the form of Cliff Owen's Steptoe and Son (1972) and Peter Sykes's Steptoe and Son Rise Again (1973), which starred Harry H. Corbett and Wilfrid Brambell as the bickering rag-and-bone men and boasted scripts by Hancock's former writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Ronald Chesney and Wolfe provided the material for Reg Varney and the gang in three features spun off from an enduring ITV hit, Harry Booth's On the Buses (1971) and Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Bryan Izzard's Holiday on the Buses (1973). Another writing partnership who found a home on ITV were Harry Driver and Vince Powell, who saw films made of their shows Nearest and Dearest (John Robins, 1972), Bless This House (Gerald Thomas, 1972), Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width (Ronnie Baxter, 1973) and Love Thy Neighbour (John Robins, 1973), whose depiction of racial bigotry makes this one of the most contentious sitcoms in British TV history.
Among the other comedies to reach the screen during this period were Please Sir! (Mark Stuart, 1971), That's Your Funeral (John Robins, 1972), For the Love of Ada (Ronnie Baxter, 1972), Porridge (Dick Clement, 1979) and Rising Damp (Joseph McGrath, 1980), which are available to rent from Cinema Paradiso. With British cinema in the doldrums for much of the 1970s, sitcom spin-offs and softcore comedies helped keep many companies in business and actors in work. But, as the quality wasn't always great, the format became discredited and outings like Tom Bussmann's Whoops Apocalypse (1986) and Mel Smith's Bean: The Ultimate Disaster Movie (1997) were rather rare.
Since the Millennium, however, the comic spin-off has returned with a vengeance. Hailing from Harry Enfield's Television Programme (1990-92) and Harry Enfield and Chums (1994-98), Ed Bye's Kevin & Perry Go Large (2000) was followed by Peter Richardson's Stella Street (2004), Steve Bendelack's The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse (2005) and Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007), Jim Hickey's Dirty Sanchez: The Movie (2006), Ben Palmer's The Inbetweeners Movie (2011), Damon Beesley and Iain Morris's The Inbetweeners 2 (2014), Elliot Hegarty's The Bad Education Movie (2015) and Mandie Fletcher's Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016), which revived the characters of Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), who had made Ab Fab essential viewing between 1992-2012.
Steve Coogan has been playing Alan Partridge since 1991, but only brought Norfolk's most infamous broadcaster to the big screen in Declan Lowney's Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (2013). Partridge first appeared on the BBC radio satire On the Hour (1991) and co-creator Armando Iannucci also came up with the character of spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, who began life in the BBC sitcom The Thick of It (2004-12) before crossing the pond in Iannucci's rapier feature, In the Loop (2009).
Two more comic creations who have migrated to the big screen are Leigh Francis's Keith Lemon, who went from Bo' Selecta! (2002-09) to Paul Angunawela's Keith Lemon: The Film (2012), and Ricky Gervais's David Brent, who left Wernham Hogg in The Office (2001-03) for David Brent: Life on the Road (2016). But no one has devised more crossover characters in recent times than Sacha Baron Cohen, whose characters from The 11 O'Clock Show (1998-2000) and Da Ali G Show (2000-04) have headlined Mark Mylod's Ali G: Indahouse (2002) and Larry Charles's Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) and Brüno (2009).
Make 'Em Laugh - US Style
Moving Stateside, one show stands out above all others for spawning movies. About to mark its 43rd anniversary on 11 October, Saturday Night Live has gifted Dan Aykroyd such vehicles as John Landis's The Blues Brothers (1980) and Blues Brothers 2000 (1998) and Steve Barron's The Coneheads (1993), while Mike Myers owes his start to Penelope Spheeris's Wayne's World (1992) and Stephen Surjik's Wayne's World 2 (1993). Completing the SNL roster are Adam Bernstein's It's Pat (1994), Harold Ramis's Stuart Saves His Family (1995), John Fortenberry's A Night At the Roxbury (1998), Bruce McCullough's Superstar (1999), Reginald Hudlin's The Ladies Man (2000) and Jorma Taccone's MacGruber (2010).
Harking back to the 1960s, a handful of successful sitcoms graduated to the big screen in features like Edward Montagne's McHale's Navy (1964) and Earl Bellamy's Munster, Go Home! (1966). But, while the former resurfaced in Montagne's McHales' Navy Joins the Air Force (1965) and Bryan Spicer's McHale's Navy (1997), the majority remained in the half-hour format until the surviving cast members reunited in a TV-movie special or the entire concept was rebooted for an audience who would have had little memory of the original show. Thus, a clutch of characters from Gilligan's Island (1964-67) reassembled for Leslie H. Martinson's Rescue From Gilligan's Island (1978), while the leads from the Mel Brooks-scripted espionage spoof, Get Smart (1965-70) returned to duty in Clive Donner's The Nude Bomb (1980) before Steve Carell stepped into Don Adams's shoes as bungling agent Maxwell Smart for Peter Segal's Get Smart (2008).
Numerous other 60s staples have revived with varying degrees of success, including The Beverly Hillbillies (Penelope Spheeris, 1993), Car 54, Where Are You? (Bill Fishman, 1994), Sgt. Bilko (Jonathan Lynn, 1996), Leave It to Beaver (Andy Cadiff, 1997), My Favorite Martian (Donald Petrie, 1999), Dudley Do-Right (Hugh Wilson, 1999), I Spy (Betty Thomas, 2002), The Honeymooners (John Schultz, 2005) and Bewitched (Nora Ephron, 2005), which saw Nicole Kidman take on the nose-wrinkling duties as Samantha the suburban witch from Elizabeth Montgomery, while Will Ferrell and Shirley MacLaine, assumed the roles of Darrin and Endora. However, the most revisited series is The Brady Bunch (1969-74), which pitched Robert Reed and Florence Henderson's brood into the spin-off series The Brady Girls Get Married (1981) and The Bradys (1990), as well as Peter Baldwin's TV-movie, A Very Brady Christmas (1988), before Gary Cole and Shelley Long became the heads of the household in Betty Thomas's The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), Arlene Sanford's A Very Brady Sequel (1996) and Neal Israel's The Brady Bunch in the White House (2002).
The most spun-off Anglo-American co-production is easily The Muppet Show (1974-81). Since James Frawley's The Muppet Movie (1979), Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy and their pals have graced Jim Henson's The Great Muppet Caper (1981), Frank Oz's The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), Brian Henson's The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Tim Hill's Muppets From Space (1999), and James Bobin's The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014). Moreover, several feature-length specials, including Ken Kwapis's Follow That Bird (1985) and Gary Halvorson's Elmo in Grouchland (1999), have been based on characters from Sesame Street, which will celebrate it's 50th anniversary next year.
Limited access to the original shows has resulted in some movies meaning more to American than British audiences. But Cinema Paradiso gives you the opportunity to reappraise Scott Silver's The Mod Squad, David Kellogg's Inspector Gadget (both 1999), Jeff Tremaine's Jackass: The Movie (2002), Peter Baldwin's Sabrina the Teenage Witch (2003), Peter Dinello's Strangers With Candy (2005), Robert Ben Garant's Reno 911: Miami (2007), Tim Heidecker's Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012), Phil Lord's 21 Jump Street (2012) and 22 Jump Street (2014), and Doug Ellin's Entourage (2015).
Completing the comic roll call are a bunch of movies that started out as cartoon series. Created by the estimable team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, The Flintstones (1960-66) has the distinction of spawning both animated and live-action features, among them Joanna Romersa's A Flintstones Christmas Carol (1995), Brian Levant's The Flintstones (1994) and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000), and Spike Brandt's The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age SmackDown (2015).
Equally prolific, albeit only in the animated form, is Simpsons creator Matt Groening's Futurama (1999-2013), which has inspired Dwayne Carey-Hill's Bender's Big Score (2007) and Bender's Game (2008) and Peter Avanzino's The Beast With a Billion Backs (2008) and Into the Wild Green Yonder (2009). In common with David Silverman's The Simpsons Movie (2007), however, the following have been limited (to date) to a single feature outing: Joseph Barbera's The Jetsons: The Movie (1985); Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996); Trey Parker's South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999); Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders's Lilo and Stitch (2002); and Pete Michels's Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story (2005).
A Touch of the Dramatics
While a number of early American teleplays transferred to the big screen, comparatively few British dramas followed the lead of Nell Dunn's Up the Junction, which Ken Loach directed for the BBC's The Wednesday Play slot in 1965 before he made the feature version three years later. Three sagas penned by Dennis Potter did make the transition, however, with Brimstone and Treacle appearing under the Play for Today banner in 1976 before Richard Loncraine teamed Denholm Elliott, Joan Plowright and Sting in his 1982 film adaptation. By contrast, Herbert Ross's Pennies from Heaven (1981) and Keith Gordon's The Singing Detective (2003) were based on BBC series broadcast in 1978 and 1986, with Bob Hoskins and Michael Gambon in the roles inherited by Steve Martin and Robert Downey, Jr.
Steven Soderbergh's Traffic (2000) was inspired by the Channel 4 mini-series, Traffik (1989). In addition, a mixed bag of British film dramas derived from small-screen originals, including Mike Vardy's Man at the Top (1973), Alan Clarke's Scum (1979), Richard Attenborough's Shadowlands (1985), Nick Love's The Firm, Kevin Macdonald's State of Play (both 2009) and Bharat Nalluri's Spooks: The Greater Good (2015). Moreover, three Ingmar Bergman features had small-screen connections: Scenes From a Marriage (1974); Face to Face (1976); and Bille August's The Best Intentions (1992).
Surprisingly few American drama series have made the step up to the cinema screen. A couple of notable exceptions are Michael Patrick King's Sex and the City: The Movie (2008) and Sex and the City 2 (2010), while David Lynch expanded upon Twin Peaks (1990-91) in Fire Walk With Me (1992) before he reworked a 1999 pilot episode into the teasing neo-noir, Mulholland Drive (2001).
Cops, Crooks, Sleuths and Troubleshooters
Crime has long kept television audiences gripped and several high-profile series have been promoted to the big screen. Few will have seen the now lost series, Inspector Morley, Late of Scotland Yard, Investigates, from which a trio of Victor M. Gover features co-starring Patrick Barr and Tod Slaughter was culled: King of the Underworld; Murder At the Grange (both 1952); and Murder At Scotland Yard (1953). A couple of decades passed, however, before Edward Woodward took the title role in Don Sharp's Callan (1974) and John Thaw and Dennis Waterman were paired as D.I. Jack Regan and D.S. George Carter in David Wickes's Sweeney (1977) and Tom Clegg's Sweeney 2 (1978), which were adapted from writer Ian Kennedy Martin's pugnacious ITV series, The Sweeney (1974-78).
This was revived with Ray Winstone and Plan B in the Regan and Carter roles in Nick Love's The Sweeney (2012) and remade with Jean Reno and Alban Lenoir in Benjamin Rocher's The Sweeney: Paris (2015). A couple of cult 60s shows also received makeovers in the 1990s, although crime novelist Leslie Charteris's suave troubleshooter, Simon Templar, had been played on the big screen long before Roger Moore put his distinctive stamp on the role in ITV's The Saint (1962-69). Val Kilmer did well enough following in the footsteps of Louis Hayward, George Sanders and Hugh Sinclair in Philip Noyce's The Saint (1997), but Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman were always up against it in Jeremiah S. Chechik's The Avengers (1998) in inheriting the iconic roles of John Steed and Emma Peel, which had been created by Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg.
Martin Campbell's conspiracy thriller, Edge of Darkness (2010), had its roots in a tense series scripted by Troy Kennedy Martin for the BBC about the shadowy world of nuclear politics. Danny Boyle's Trance (2013) was also drawn from a 2001 teleplay of the same name directed by Joe Ahearne, although a number of hit American shows had to be content with expanding into TV-movies rather than moving on to the big screen. Among them were A Man Called Ironside (1967-75), The Streets of San Francisco (1972-77) and Knight Rider (1982-86), which were respectively revisited in Gary Nelson's The Return of Ironside (1993), Mel Damski's Back to the Streets of San Francisco (1992), and Alan J. Levi's Knight Rider 2000 (1991) and Sam Pillsbury's Knight Rider 2010 (1994).
By contrast, Brian De Palma's 1987 retooling of The Untouchables (1959-63) was nominated for four Oscars, with Sean Connery winning the Best Supporting Actor award for his performance as Irish cop Jimmy Malone. In spite of the presence of Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, the critics were less kind to Tom Mankiewicz's remake of Dragnet (1987), which paid parodic tribute to the long-running radio and TV series that Jack Webb had already brought to the cinema screen in hard-boiled form in 1954. This is also available to rent from Cinema Paradiso, along with Peter Gunn (1989), which writer-director Blake Edwards hoped would revive his 1958-61 private eye series that had spawned the 1967 feature, Gunn, which Edwards had co-scripted with a pre-Exorcist William Peter Blatty.
American crime shows tend to fall into the 'brain' or 'brawn' categories and the little grey cells are certainly taxed in Jean de Segonzac's Exiled: A Law & Order Movie (1998) and Homicide: The Movie (2000), Michael Schultz's L.A. Law: The Movie (2002) and Rob Thomas's Veronica Mars (2014). However, there are plenty of bangs for your buck in McQ's Charlie's Angels (2000) and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003). Clark Johnson's S.W.A.T. (2003), Michael Mann's Miami Vice (2006), Joe Carnahan's The A-Team (2010) and Antoine Fuqua's The Equalizer (2014), the sequel to which is currently in cinemas and sees former Marine and Defense Intelligence agent Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) on a revenge mission.
As the movie Western rode into the sunset in the late 1950s, the frontier found a new home on television. However, shows like Gunsmoke, Have Gun - Will Travel, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, Rawhide, Bonanza, The Big Valley, The High Chaparral and Alias Smith and Jones achieved a cinematic presence by fashioning features out of linked episodes. But, such was the genre's declining appeal with younger audiences that refits like Richard Donner's Maverick (1994) and Barry Sonnenfeld's Wild Wild West (1999) have been rare, as have military-themed spin-offs like Stephen Sommers's G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra (2009) and Jon M. Chu's G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013).
Few shows produced as many expanded episode movies as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68). At a time when most people had black-and-white sets, the producers enticed fans into cinemas by advertising the fact the films were in colour and contained footage unseen on the small screen. In all, eight features about United Network Command for Law and Enforcement agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Ilya Kuryakin (David McCallum) were released between To Trap a Spy (1964) and How to Steal the World (1968). The newest addition to the franchise is Guy Ritchie's The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015), which cast Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill as Solo and Kuryakin and saw Hugh Grant take over the role of controller Mr Waverley from Leo G. Carroll. However, it failed to emulate Brian De Palma's Mission: Impossible (1996) in sparking a franchise, which, to date contains John Woo's Mission: Impossible II (2000), J.J. Abrams's Mission: Impossible III (2006), Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011), Christopher McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) and Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018).
Created by Roy Huggins, The Fugitive (1963-67) starred David Janssen as a doctor who goes on the run after being wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife. Harrison Ford assumed the role of Richard Kimble in Andrew Davis's feature adaptation. But it was Tommy Lee Jones who benefited the most from The Fugitive (1993), as he not only won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as police lieutenant Samuel Gerard, but he also got to star in Stuart Baird's sequel, U.S. Marshals (1998). Not every popular show made such a successful transition, however, with The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-85) and Baywatch (1989-99) spawning lacklustre offerings by Jay Chandrasekhar and Seth Gordon in 2005 and 2017 respectively.
Much was expected of the 1983 take on Rod Serling's hugely influential show, The Twilight Zone (1959-64), as John Landis, Joe Dante, Steven Spielberg and George Miller had signed up to direct the individual vignettes. However, tragedy struck Twilight Zone: The Movie when Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen were killed while filming a stunt involving a crashing helicopter. Subsequently, two attempts were made to revive the TV series (1985-89 & 2002-03), but hopes are high for a third reboot that is currently being prepared by Jordan Peele, who made such an impressive feature bow with the satirical horror, Get Out (2017).