Parenthood is a well-made, well-acted show that doesn’t fully grab me, at least not yet. One thing that interests me about NBC’s decision to do a second TV remake of the movie is that it reflects the changing relationship of TV to feature films: it seems like there are fewer new shows that remake, or rip off, recent Hollywood features.
For a long time, a lot of studios and networks would respond to the success of a feature film by putting a similar television show into production, hoping to cash in on the fad. Sometimes this was a remake: M*A*S*H was a hit in 1970, and the studio had a TV version ready to go two years later. Uncle Buck, Parenthood and other 1989 movies became flop TV shows in 1990.
And sometimes a studio would produce a show that, while not a remake, was obviously an attempt to ape the success of a recent film. So Paramount had a big hit with Saturday Night Fever in 1977, and in 1979, the same studio unveiled Makin’ It, a TV show from their top producing team (the four-headed hydra of Garry Marshall, Tom Miller, Eddie Milkis and Bob Boyett) that had absolutely nothing in common with Saturday Night Fever except that it’s about young blue-collar guys who live out their dreams by going to a disco at night. Oh, and there’s a Travolta in it. The show starred and had a theme song sung by David Naughton, who later moved to London and became a werewolf.
But now, TV remakes of recent movies are rarer than they used to be, which is why the biggest new film-to-TV transition is an adaptation of a movie that’s over 20 years old. And there are some shows that are trying to cash in on the success of recent films — like the lame Apatow-influenced hijinks of Accidentally On Purpose — but not that many. Looking at the top-grossing movies of 2007, I don’t think a lot of them had obvious TV equivalents by 2009. Of course, a lot of this is because the big movies are mostly interchangeable blockbusters, or based on already-familiar properties that wouldn’t lend themselves to TV adaptation (or were imitated by all of popular culture, including TV, before they even became movies). But I certainly think there seems to be a trend away from networks looking at the latest big movie and saying “get me something like that.”
There are some exceptions, of course, particularly on basic cable, which operates in a more old-fashioned way than the broadcast networks. ABC Family was obviously thinking of Juno when they greenlit The Secret Life of the American Teenager — and it worked. Just like it worked for the parent network, ABC, when they responded to American Graffiti by dusting off a two year-old unsold pilot about the ’50s (Happy Days) and rushing it into production.