The first regular TV broadcasts were transmitted by General Electric's experimental station in Schenectady, New York in January 1928. Seven months later, W3XK went live in Wheaton, Maryland and made television history by sponsoring the first live drama, The Queen's Messenger, on 11 September 1928. Based in New York, W2XCR became the first station to show films in 1931. But, while big players like CBS and NBC had entered the fray by the end of the decade, it wasn't until after the Second World War that television sets became a must-have consumer item and the Hollywood studios started to fear the threat posed by the blinking box offering free entertainment in the comfort of one's own living room.
Television learned a lot from the movies. It recognised the value of centring shows around recurring characters, as the studios had done with the likes of Andy Hardy, Maisie and Blondie, as well as such crime fighters as Charlie Chan, The Saint and The Falcon. Moreover, it continued the literary tradition that had underpinned the classic movie serials of telling stories over several episodes and ending each one on a cliffhanger. Yet the networks were viewed with such suspicion by the studios that they were denied access to contracted players and had to make do with stars on the slide, Broadway stalwarts and their own promising newcomers. However, as box-office takings began to decline after the peak year of 1947, executives around Hollywood started selling the rights to hit pictures in order to boost their revenue streams.
Playing It Straight
Among the first spin-off shows to settle into a long run was Mama (1949-57), which was based on I Remember Mama, George Stevens's 1948 adaptation of John Van Druten's play about a Norwegian immigrant family in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Irene Dunne had earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as Marta Hanson, as had co-stars Barbara Bel Geddes, Ellen Corby and Oscar Homolka. Peggy Wood inherited the title role for a series that was almost cancelled as soon as it started when coffee makers Maxwell House withdrew their sponsorship. However, in an early flexing of viewer power, CBS received over 175,000 letters of complaint and the show became a Friday night institution for the next eight years.
Having an Oscar pedigree was no guarantee of a show's success, however. Sam Wood's 1942 take on Henry Bellamann's novel, Kings Row, was nominated for Best Picture. But the ABC version, with Jack Kelly, Nan Leslie and Robert Horton in the roles made famous by Robert Cummings, Ann Sheridan and Ronald Reagan was cancelled after only seven episodes. Assuming the role of Fr Chuck O'Malley that had earned Bing Crosby an Oscar in Leo McCarey's Going My Way (1944), Gene Kelly quickly realised that his first and only stab at small-screen drama was a misfire and he quit the show after the 1962-63 season. The network had more luck with The Farmer's Daughter (1963-66), which saw Inger Stevens take over the role of Katy Holstrum that had brought Loretta Young the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance as a Swedish-American farmgirl who is elected to Congress.
Don Murray received a Best Supporting nomination for his work as Beauregard Decker opposite Marilyn Monroe in Joshua Logan's adaptation of William Inge's play, Bus Stop (1956). But, despite Robert Altman directing eight episodes, the ABC spin-off series starring Marilyn Maxwell (1961-62) failed to spark the audience imagination.
By contrast, NBC's Dr Kildare (1961-66) easily surpassed the 15 pictures in the MGM series based on the novels by Max Brand that had run between Young Dr Kildare (1938) and Dark Delusion (1947). With Richard Chamberlain and Raymond Massey taking over the roles of James Kildare and Leonard Gillespie that had been played by Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore, this hospital soap educated and entertained America during 191 episodes that set the standards for all future medical melodramas.
Several other programmes went down the soap opera route, including Alice (1976-85), which saw Linda Lavin assume Ellen Burstyn's Oscar-winning role in Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974); The Paper Chase (1978-83), in which John Houseman reprised his Oscar-winning role as Harvard law professor Charles W. Kingsfield in James Bridges's 1973 drama; Executive Suite (1976-77), which echoed the boardroom bickering of Robert Wise's 1954 saga (which Houseman had produced); and Hotel (1983-88), which gave producer Aaron Spelling the chance to out-glitz Richard Quine's 1967 take on Arthur Haley's bestselling novel.
Whereas costume dramas have always gone down well with British audiences, they haven't always struck a chord with their American counterparts. But, while spin-offs from Stanley Donen's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954; 1982-83) and Nicholas Meyer's Time After Time (1979; 2017) were perhaps odd choices, one would have expected Anna and the King (1972) to last for more than one season, as Samantha Eggar was teamed so engagingly with Yul Brynner reprising his Oscar-winning role from Walter Lang's The King and I (1956).
Numerous drama shows have slipped under the standards set by their cinematic predecessors, but, while Bates Motel (2013-17) could never hope to better Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), this slick prequel darkly sketches in the mounting tensions between Norma Louise Bates (Vera Farmiga) and her teenage son, Norman (Freddie Highmore), at the Seafarer motel in White Pine Bay, Oregon.
Make 'Em Laugh
Everyone in show business agrees that there's nothing more difficult than comedy. But some of the sitcoms spun off from hit movies in the 1960s had the odds stacked against them, as the stars simply couldn't hold a candle to their precursors. Hope Lange might have won two Emmys for The Ghost & Mrs Muir (1968-70), but her partnership with Edward Mulhare fell short of the intensity generated by Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1947 adaptation of R.A. Dick's source novel. Similarly, Ken Howard and Blythe Danner hadn't a hope of besting Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in the 1973 reboot of the classic George Cukor screwball, Adam's Rib (1949).
Spare a thought for Elaine Stritch and Shirley Bonne in My Sister Eileen (1960-61), however, as they had to compete with two previous movie pairings in Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair (1942) and Betty Garrett and Janet Leigh (1955). But John Daly and Mark Roberts had a tougher time in the newsroom comedy, The Front Page (1949-50), as they took on the roles of Walter Burns and Hildy Johnson that have been played down the years by Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien (1931), Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell (in His Girl Friday, 1940) and Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon (1974).
In Mr Belvedere (1985-90), Christopher Hewett had the equally unenviable task of taking over the part of Lynn Aloysius Belvedere that Clifton Webb had made his own in Walter Lang's Sitting Pretty (1948). But, he did a decent job, as did Sally Field, in following in the footsteps of Sandra Dee in Gidget (1959; 1965-66), and Whoopi Goldberg and Jean Stapleton in succeeding CCH Pounder and Marianne Sägebrecht in Bagdad Cafe (1987; 1990-91). But, sometimes, not even inspired casting can make a show click, as Jodie Foster and Sandra Bullock discovered in respectively replacing the Oscar-winning Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon (1973; 1974) and Melanie Griffith in Working Girl (1987; 1990). The producers of 9 to 5 (1982-88) came closer to pulling off the feat, however, by hiring Dolly Parton's sister, Rachel Dennison, to play Doralee Rhodes alongside Rita Moreno and Valerie Curtin, who were tasked with replacing Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda as Violet Newstead and Judy Bernly.
It also proved a shrewd move to rehire Eileen Brennan to play Captain Doreen Lewis in the CBS refit of Private Benjamin (1981-83), as she won an Emmy and a Golden Globe after resuming the character she had created opposite Goldie Hawn in Howard Zieff's 1980 film. But lightning didn't strike twice for Nia Vardalos, as My Big Fat Greek Life (2003) proved a disappointing follow-up to the sleeper hit, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).
Director Amy Heckerling also found it tricky to convert the success of Look Who's Talking (1989) into Baby Talk (1991-92), while two teams (in 1990 and 2015-16) failed to recapture the appeal of John Hughes's Uncle Buck (1989). The Bad News Bears (1976; 1979-80), Harry and the Hendersons (1987; 1991-93) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989; 1997-2000) went the same way, as did the British sitcom, Mike Bassett: Manager (2005), despite affording Ricky Tomlinson the opportunity to revisit the character he had created in Steve Barron's Mike Bassett: England Manager (2001). ITV had better luck in hiring such writers as Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Barry Cryer for Doctor in the House (1969-70), which derived from the Richard Gordon novels that had been filmed to such amusing effect between Doctor in the House (1954) and Doctor in Trouble (1970) by director Ralph Thomas and producer Betty Box, who were the brother and wife of the Carry On duo of Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers.
Not As Bad As They're Painted
Dozens of animated shows have been produced by the makers of the original features. Much more interesting are those live-action movies that have been reinvented in cartoon form, among them the Jim Carrey triptych of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994; 1995-97), The Mask (1994; 1995-97) and Dumb and Dumber (1994; 1995). Other series spun off from cult comedies include Spaceballs (1987; 2008), Clerks (1994; 2000-02) and Napoleon Dynamite (2004; 2012), while Back to the Future (1991-92) advanced the action of Robert Zemeckis's Back to the Future Part III (1990) and saw Christopher Lloyd reprise the role of Doc Brown in the live-action bookends.
There was also little need to hide behind the sofa with such genre items as Beetlejuice (1988; 1989-91), Men in Black (1997; 1997-2001) and The Mummy (1999; 2001-03), or the Ghostbusters (1984) derivatives, The Real Ghostbusters (1986-91) and Extreme Ghostbusters (1997). Equally mild was Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1990-91), which took its cues from John DeBello's Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) and Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988), which afforded George Clooney an early movie role. But the pick of these animated revisions is David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng's The Pink Panther Show (1969-78), which is a rare hybrid, as its origins lay in the cartoon opening sequence for Blake Edwards's The Pink Panther (1963), which gave the world Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and Henry Mancini's enduringly cool theme (from an Oscar-nominated score) featuring Plas Johnson on tenor saxophone.
The curious thing about the longest-serving copper in screen history is that he was shot dead by Dirk Bogarde in Basil Dearden's The Blue Lamp (1950). But the BBC resurrected PC George Dixon and Jack Warner went on to appear in all 432 episodes of Dixon of Dock Green between July 1955 and May 1976. Warner was 80 when the series ended and the landscape of TV policing had changed dramatically, thanks largely to imported American crime shows like Madigan (1968; 1972-73); Shaft (1971; 1973-74) and Serpico (1973; 1976-77). The first two saw Richards Widmark and Roundtree reprise the roles of Dan Madigan and John Shaft, but David Birney took over from Al Pacino in the latter, while Dennis Weaver landed the title role in McCloud (1970-77), which was based on Don Siegel's Clint Eastwood vehicle, Coogan's Bluff (1968).
Although the American networks favoured the urban settings of The Naked City (1958-63) and The Asphalt Jungle (1950; 1961), which were based on noirs by Jules Dassin and John Huston, they also found room for shows centred on sleuths who had graduated to the cinema screen from the pages of hard-boiled pulp literature. Among them were Dashiell Hammett's Nick and Nora Charles, who had been played by William Powell and Myrna Loy in six films (1934-47) before Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk took over for NBC's The Thin Man (1957-59).
Back in Blighty, the BBC brought another character back to life in The Third Man (1959-65), which saw the ruthlessly charismatic black marketeer essayed by Orson Welles in Carol Reed and Graham Greene's classic 1949 British noir transform into a globetrotting, crime-solving art lover played by Michael Rennie. Programme makers were more respectful in their approach to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, who had been played on the big screen by Austin Trevor and Albert Finney and by Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury and Helen Hayes before David Suchet (1989-2013) and Joan Hickson (1984-92), Geraldine McEwan (2004-09) and Julia McKenzie (2009-13) imparted their inimitable spin on the roles.
A favourite format for American crime shows saw mismatched cops overcome their fundamental differences to get the job done. Taking over from James Caan and Alan Arkin, Tom Mason and Hector Elizondo helped set the template in Freebie and the Bean (1974; 1980-81), which was followed by Cameron Daddo and Kevin Dobson assuming the roles of the special effects artist and the NYPD detective taken by Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy in F/X: Murder By Illusion (1986; 1996-98). Racial tension has often been key to the success of this odd couple scenario, with Howard Rollins and Carroll O'Connor taking over from Sidney Poitier and the Oscar-winning Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night (1967; 1988-92), Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford replacing Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon (2016-), and Justin Hires and Jon Foo doing duty for Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Rush Hour (2016; 1998-2006).
Although set 15 years after the 2001 movie with the Oscar-winning Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, Training Day (2017) similarly pitched Bill Paxton and Justin Cornwell as a good cop/bad cop combination in a series that put as much emphasis on action as character, as was also the case with Nikita (1997; 1997-2001), Lock, Stock (1998; 2000) and The Transporter (2002-08; 2012-14).
It's often said that crime stories are Westerns with an urban setting and shows like Lethal Weapon and Rush Hour contain unmistakable echoes of The Lone Ranger (1949-57), which teamed Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as John Reid and Tonto, who had featured in the serials The Lone Ranger (1938) and The Lone Ranger Rides Again (1939), in which Lee Powell and Robert Livingston were respectively paired with Victor 'Chief Thundercloud' Daniels. However, few of the best-known TV sagebrush sagas owed their origins to the cinema and those that did have been long forgotten, including Hondo (1953; 1967), How the West Was Won (1962; 1976-79), The Magnificent Seven (1960; 1998-2000) and Sugarfoot (1957-61), which was based on Michael Curtiz's The Boy From Oklahoma (1954) rather Edwin L. Marin's Sugarfoot (1951), which had starred Randolph Scott.
A number of comic-book heroes also figured in serials before reaching the small screen. Kirk Alyn had headlined Superman (1948), but he was replaced by George Reeves for Adventures of Superman (1952-58), while Dean Cain was teamed with Teri Hatcher in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-97). But the Man of Steel had first appeared in cartoon form with the voice of Bud Collyer in Superman (1941), which earned Max and Dave Fleischer an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short. They produced 16 further titles and they can be enjoyed on disc from Cinema Paradiso.
Animal instincts served the heroes of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997-98) and The Crow: Stairway to Heaven (1998-99). Set in the aftermath of Stuard Gillard's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993), the former saw the introduction of a female Turtle, in the form of Nicole Parker's Venus de Milo. The latter saw Mark Dacascos take over the role of avenging rocker Eric Draven that Brandon Lee had been playing in Alex Proyas's The Crow (1994) when he died during surgery after being accidentally hit by a defective blank.
A touch of the supernatural also underpinned the series spun-off from Russell Mulcahy's Highlander (1986), as the fortunes of the Clan MacLeod unfolded in Highlander: The Series (1992-98), Highlander: The Animated Series (1994-96) and Highlander: The Raven (1998-99). The forces of dark magic shaped the action in the animated Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm (1996) and Mortal Kombat: Conquest (1998-99), which riffed on the adventures started in Paul W.S. Anderson's video game actioner, Mortal Kombat (1995). Blasts from the past were also key to The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones (1992-93), which saw Corey Carner and Sean Patrick Flannery play the youthful Indy, while George Hall took the role of the 93-year-old Dr Henry Jones looking back over his eventful life. However, Harrison Ford guested in the bookend sequences of the 1993 episode, 'Young Indiana Jones and the Mystery of the Blues'.
Planet Earth and Beyond
Few science fiction movies in the pre-blockbuster era could boast a cast with such big names as Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine, Peter Lorre, Robert Sterling, Barbara Eden and Frankie Avalon, who also sang the theme to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), which director Irwin Allen brought to the small screen for a 110-episode run between 1964-68. But, while he reused sets, props, costumes and special effects models, Allen couldn't persuade any of his original stars to sign up for another stint aboard the nuclear submarine SSRN Seaview and command passed to Richard Basehart and David Hedison.
Some time during the 1970s, producer George Pal had attempted to bring Byron Haskin's 1953 adaptation of HG Wells's The War of the Worlds to television. But almost two decades passed before Greg Strangis realised Pal's dream with a spin-off that ran for two series on CBS between 1988-90. A post-apocalyptic planet provided the setting for Dominion (2014-15), which moved the action on 25 years from Scott Stewart's 2010 fantasy feature, Legion. But the backdrop was prehistoric in Conan the Adventurer (1997-98), which saw two-time Mr Universe Ralf Moeller step into the loincloth vacated by Arnold Schwarzenegger after Conan the Barbarian, John Milius's 1982 reimagining of the stories of Robert E. Howard, and Richard Fleischer's 1984 follow-up, Conan the Destroyer.
Things That Go Bump
It's hard to think of a bigger casting contrast than that of Anthony Michael Hall following Christopher Walken into the role of psychic schoolteacher Johnny Smith. But that's what happened when Lionsgate and CBS Paramount teamed up on The Dead Zone (2002-07), which followed on from David Cronenberg's 1983 feature adaptation of a bestseller by Stephen King. Two more literary sensations spawned hit movies in the 1970s. But neither The Exorcist (2016-18) nor Damien (2016) found a following, despite seeking to advance the action depicted in William Friedkin and Richard Donner's 1973 and 1976 adaptations of David Seltzer's The Omen and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist.
Bruce Campbell rocked up when director Sam Raimi asked him to reprise the role of Ash Williams that he had played in the Evil Dead franchise (1981-92) in Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015-18), while John Jarrott was back for Wolf Creek (2016-17) to reprise the role of sinister Aussie Mick Taylor that he had taken in Greg McLean's Wolf Creek (2005) and Wolf Creek 2 (2013). But, while Robert Rodriguez was happy to helm From Dusk Till Dawn (2014-16), there was no sign of George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino, who has played Seth and Richie Gecko in the 1996 movie.
None of the survivors of writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven's 1996 slasher classic, Scream, felt compelled to revisit Lakewood in MTV's anthology reboot (2015-), while Wesley Snipes was content to pass the baton (and all his other weapons) to rapper Kirk 'Sticky Fingaz' Jones in Blade, the 2006 small-screen version of the movie trilogy (1998-2004) that had been inspired by a Marvel Comics character. But you simply couldn't keep the Graboids away from the 2002 Sci-Fi Channel series based on the six-strong Tremors franchise (1990-2018).