Weekend Viewing: CLUELESS

As mentioned in an earlier post, a TV version of Clueless (one of my favourite films of the ’90s) was part of ABC’s TGIF lineup in the 1996-7 season. Amy Heckerling, who wrote and directed the movie, created the series; she had originally conceived it as a TV show idea, so it wasn’t tough to transfer the premise to series form: a beautiful, smart but superficial rich girl striving in her own clueless way to become a better person. Alicia Silverstone didn’t do the series and I can’t blame her (yes, her movie career fizzled out after being doused with Batman & Robin, but she was a movie star at that time). Dan Hedaya also declined to reprise his role as Cher’s father, and was replaced by Michael Lerner. Paul Rudd and Brittany Murphy didn’t return as Josh and Tai; the parts were recast, but they both made guest appearances in the first season as other characters. But many other cast members from the movie played the same parts in the series: Stacey Dash, Elisa Donovan, Donald Faison, Twink Caplan, Julie Brown and, in the show’s biggest “get,” Wallace Shawn as Mr. Hall.

The TGIF lineup in 1996-7 may have been, creatively, the best ABC ever fielded on that night: the first season of Clueless, the splendid first season of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and a strong season (its fourth) of Boy Meets World. Oh, and Family Matters, but Urkel is always Urkel. But the following year, ABC shook up its lineup, in part (it seemed) because they wanted to favour shows produced by its new partner, Disney. So ABC lost interest in keeping Clueless on. Paramount, which produced the show — here we see the development of the vertical-integration model we’re stuck with today — picked it up for its UPN network, but with a big budget cut. To save money, Shawn and other regular teachers were dumped; Lerner was replaced by a cheaper actor, some of the characters from the movie were replaced with others. The biggest problems with the UPN re-tool, though, were simply that a) Heckerling was no longer involved, and b) On the lower budget it couldn’t replicate the candy-box, fairy-tale look of the original movie, which was a big part of its charm. It ran two more seasons on UPN, but the ABC season, while not as good as the movie, was the best of the series. At least all three seasons had the catchy theme song, a song so right for the show that when I first heard it, I thought it actually had been in the original movie.

This is the Clueless TV pilot, from the ABC airing — it starts with a plug for TGIF.

Pilot, part 1


Pilot, part 2


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