Classic movies stay with people forever. So it makes sense for producers to try and capture that feeling in a TV series, right?
Sadly the results rarely measure up. Here’s the pick of those one-shot wonders…
You must remember this… or you probably don’t. David Soul left the hood-sliding of Starsky & Hutch (1975-79) behind and slipped into a dinner suit as a younger version of Humphrey Bogart’s iconic character Rick Blaine.
Scatman Crothers took over from Dooley Wilson as Sam, giving the prequel show some Shining vibes as he tickled the ivories. Hector Elizondo played Louis Renault. Believe it or not, a pre-Goodfellas Ray Liotta was cast as Sacha the bartender.
This wasn’t Crothers’ first brush with Casablanca. RogerEbert.com mentions he sat at the piano as a suspiciously similar character in Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective (1978), starring Peter Falk.
Viewers didn’t see Casablanca the series as the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And it wasn’t the first time the movie had been adapted for TV. A short-lived 1955 run starred Charles McGraw (The Narrow Margin) as Rick.
Beyond Westworld (1980)
Robot drama Westworld is a prestige production for HBO. Beyond Westworld, on the other hand, was deactivated after 3 episodes (5 were actually filmed).
Jim McMullan played the hero John Moore, with James Wainwright as evil genius Simon Quaid. It sounds pretty far removed from the nuanced creation of author Michael Crichton.
Ultimately, people weren’t ready for a weekly saga of man vs machine. At least, not this one.
Delta House (1979)
Putting the raucous humor of Animal House into a weekly sitcom? Great idea. Trying to air it on family-friendly network TV? Not such an educated move.
With the lewd and crude content removed, audiences didn’t feel like asking for another. Josh Mostel (son of comedy legend Zero) took the role of “Blotto” Blutarsky, brother of John Belushi’s Bluto.
It’s arguably best remembered these days for introducing audiences to young actress Michelle Pfeiffer. Her character was simply called “The Bombshell”. However, it was no shock when the show got canceled after 13 episodes.
Bates Motel (1987)
Bates Motel, starring Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga, ran for 5 seasons. But it wasn’t the first TV show of that name inspired by Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Rather than opting for shower botherer Norman Bates, it focused on Alex West (Bud Cort), who met Bates while undergoing treatment. West winds up running the notorious motel. Along the way, he encounters future Tank Girl Lori Petty, Moses Gunn (Little House on the Prairie) and even a young Jason Bateman!
Kurt Paul cropped up as Bates. This feature-length offering was a pilot. When critics checked out, the idea was ditched.
Shaft (1973 – 4)
Private dick John Shaft blazed his way through several blaxploitation flicks. The small screen proved a trickier case to crack. Richard Roundtree returned as Shaft for a single season of TV movies.
These didn’t exactly follow the winning formula of one badass mother going his own way. Publicity snaps appear to show a standard police drama, with the title character splashed across the front.
Shaft in league with the cops? Unthinkable! Roundtree reportedly wasn’t keen on the new direction and neither was the audience.
Wait, isn’t Fargo a long-running show now? It is. But back in the late nineties, TV types had different ideas about a series.
Whereas Noah Hawley went for a time-hopping anthology format, the original Fargo took a more predictable route. Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson had dazzled cinemagoers in the Coen Brothers’ low-budget classic. Why not bring her to the small screen?
McDormand was otherwise engaged. So Nurse Jackie and The Sopranos star Edie Falco stepped into the breach for a pilot. Bruce Paltrow, father of Gwyneth, co-wrote the script. Behind the camera was Oscar-winning actress-turned-director Kathy Bates (Misery).
Looking back on the one-shot production in 2017, entertainment.ie notes “the film managed to turn its overall cheapness into a part of its texture whereas the TV show just lived it with forcibly”.
Rambo: The Force Of Freedom (1986)
The exploits of Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo could be described as cartoon-like. Ruby-Spears Enterprises decided to fulfill that potential with an animated series.
Subtitled “The Force Of Freedom,” the show avoided the Vietnam war trauma and brutal violence, in favor of colorful adventures starring Rambo and his trusty team.
Neil Ross voiced the title character, with other stalwarts of the scene lending their vocals. These included Frank Welker (Scooby Doo, Transformers) and Peter Cullen (Transformers, Winnie the Pooh).
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1990 – 91)
Charlie Schlatter (Diagnosis: Murder) stepped into Matthew Broderick’s sneakers as teen hellraiser Bueller. Instead of a Day Off, viewers were “treated” to a whole 13 weeks of Ferris-fuelled fun.
It’s noted for dissing John Hughes’ classic film and presenting Schlatter as the “real” Bueller. A cardboard version of Broderick is promptly destroyed via chainsaw. Talk about making a point!
A future star named Jennifer Aniston played sister Jeannie, taking over from Jennifer Grey. Directors included British comedy notable Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) and the Hulk’s alter ego himself, Bill Bixby.
Unfortunately, showrunner John Masius (Touched By An Angel) and the team couldn’t meet the challenge and replace the original in the nation’s affections.
Be warned: the title sequence may make your toes curl.