Hollywood is prone to taking its hits and squeezing them to fit on the small screen. Saturday morning classics like The Real Ghostbusters and hit sitcoms like Alice are examples of this, but even prestigious movies like Traffic have found another life on cable. Even today, there are numerous movie-to-TV projects in the works. Just take a look at all the Star Wars and Marvel shows Disney is making for Disney Plus. Meanwhile, HBO is producing a limited series based on the Oscar-winning film Parasite.
In today’s world, “TV series based on a movie” is no longer a dirty phrase, but that wasn’t always the case. With rare exceptions, TV adaptations of movies, when not straight-up cartoons, ranged from “terrible cash grabs” to “poorly thought-out productions.” If you need convincing, just take a look at these forgotten shows based on popular movies.
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What Was The Premise? The 1990 sitcom Working Girl was a workplace comedy that loosely followed the 1988 movie. An independent secretary named Tess McGill is thrust into the role of junior executive after charming the owner of the company. She learns how to deal with her new responsibilities while surviving the wrath of the "company witch," Mrs. Bryn Newhouse, who is now her boss.
How Did It Connect To The Movie? While the feisty dynamic between the two female leads was the same in the show, the predicament they were in was different from the movie. In the 1988 movie, Tess is substituting for her wicked boss (who has broken her leg on a ski trip) and uses her connections to rise to the top of the corporate ladder. The TV show, for serialized purposes, positions the two women as rivals working in the same company. Tess is also the only main character from the movie to survive the TV transition. Sandra Bullock took over the role of Tess from actress Melanie Griffith.
How Long Did It Last? 12 episodes
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What Was The Premise? Like the 1955 Casablanca series, this show focuses on the adventures of nightclub owner Rick Blaine in a North African city teeming with intrigue and skullduggery. However, the action is now set back in WWII, rather than the Cold War setting of the '50s show.
How Did It Connect To The Movie? Most of the characters from the film are back, with the notable exceptions of Ilsa Lund and Victor Laszlo, who presumably made it to Lisbon and never looked back. David Soul (Hutch from Starsky and Hutch) took on the impossible-to-fill shoes of Humphrey Bogart in the lead role of Rick, while an impressive roster of actors rounds out the supporting roles - including Hector Elizondo as corrupt-yet-lovable Captain Louis Renault, Scatman Crothers as pianist/singer Sam, and a young Ray Liotta as Sacha the bartender. Not to worry, Ray - Goodfellas is only 7 years away.
How Long Did It Last? 5 episodes
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What Was The Premise? The 1988 Dirty Dancing show was essentially a TV retelling of the 1987 movie. It shared the basic plotline of the film: a young woman falling in love with a handsome yet rebellious dance instructor.
How Did It Connect To The Movie? While the show stayed mostly true to the movie’s story, no one from the original cast and crew was involved in its production. Minimal changes to the show included changing the name of Frances "Baby" Houseman (originally played by Jennifer Grey) to Frances "Baby" Kellerman (played by Melora Hardin). Johnny Castle, played in the movie by Patrick Swayze, was played by Patrick Cassidy in the show. While the romance between the two stars was still spicy, it came about more slowly, as befits a weekly series.
How Long Did It Last? 11 episodes
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What Was The Premise? Based on the 1978 comedy National Lampoon's Animal House, Delta House was about the raucous exploits of Faber College's Delta House fraternity. While the TV series tried to emulate the risqué humor of the movie, Standards and Practices forced the show to water down its edgy humor.
How Did It Connect To The Movie? Surprisingly, Delta House had a good number of movie actors reprising their roles for show. John Vernon (Dean Wormer), Stephen Furst (Flounder), Bruce McGill (D-Day), James Widdoes (Hoover), and Priscilla Lauris (who was finally given a name, "Miss Leonard") all came back for the show. John Belushi, however, didn’t return as John "Bluto" Blutarsky. Instead, the series focused on his brother, Jim "Blotto" Blutarsky, who was played by Josh Mostel. Bluto’s absence was explained by the US Army drafting him.
How Long Did It Last? 13 episodes
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What Was The Premise? Serpico was a 1976 crime drama about an unorthodox New York City cop named Frank Serpico who went after crooks and unlawful policemen in the city.
How Did It Connect To The Movie? Drawing inspiration from the 1973 movie and the biography by Peter Maas, the Serpico TV show focused on Serpico’s life as an NYPD detective, before he resigned after being shot in the face during a bust. Replacing Al Pacino in the title role was American actor/director David Birney.
How Long Did It Last? 15 episodes
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What Was The Premise? Created for ABC under the Warner Bros. Presents label, the 1955 Casablanca TV series was an hour-long drama set during the Cold War. Reflecting its new post-WWII setting, the Casablanca TV series was structured as a traditional spy show filled with intrigue.
How Did It Connect To The Movie? The TV series was based on the classic movie, as well as the play Everybody Comes to Rick's, on which the film was based. Rick Blaine, famously played by Humphrey Bogart in the movie, was played by Charles McGraw for the TV series and had his last name changed to “Jason.” Ilsa Lund and Victor Laszlo were not present; however, a replacement love interest, Trina, was introduced in the pilot episode "Who Holds Tomorrow?" Rick and Trina’s romantic relationship mirrored Rick and Ilsa’s from the movie, though updated with Cold War elements.
How Long Did It Last? 10 episodes