Despite the Golden Age, the film-to-TV-to-series pipeline keeps going

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Back on the case: Justin Hires (left) and Jon Foo as reluctant police partners in “Rush Hour” on CBS. (Nei Jacobs/CBS)

ABC did it in the 1950s with The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, a children's program based on the silent films of the 1920s.

Bogie and Bergman's 1942 classic, Casablanca, was done over not once but twice, first in 1955 with Charles McGraw in Humphrey Bogart's role, and NBC's ill-fated 1983 version featured singer and TV cop David Soul as Rick and Scatman Crothers as Sam.

Though it may seem the small screen today is virtually clogged with film adaptations, from Fargo on FX to MTV's Teen Wolf (starting its fifth season Monday) and Syfy's 12 Monkeys, using hit movies to generate TV shows is as old as the medium itself.

After all, everyone knows there are no new ideas in Hollywood.

What about the renaissance?

But the trend seems especially surprising during an era that's been trumpeted by network execs and critics alike for its fresh, creative ideas. We're supposed to be going through a TV renaissance, our TiVos and Netflix queues bursting with selections such as True Detective, Orange is the New Black, Aquarius, Game of Thrones, and Orphan Black.

Filmmakers from M. Night Shyamalan (Wayward Pines) and Martin Scorsese (Boardwalk Empire) to Steven Spielberg (Fox's forthcoming Minority Report revamp) are leaping at the chance to showcase original ideas on networks and cable.

Blame open-market capitalism, blame competition, blame cable companies and satellite providers that offer you 100-plus channels: TV execs have to fill all that time somehow.

But not every small-screen adaptation of a film is suspect. One of last season's best dramas, Fargo, was a remake of the 1996 Coen brothers classic, and one of the summer's most-hyped shows is Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, a prequel to the 2001 satire Wet Hot American Summer, due July 31.

The buzz isn't entirely unwarranted: The show reunites original cowriters David Wain and Michael Showalter with all of the stars who helped make the movie a cult favorite, including Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, and Paul Rudd.

To be sure, not every hit movie has spawned a successful series: NBC's supernatural phantasmagoria Constantine, adapted from the 2005 comic-book pic, lasted only one season last year, hampered as it was by the ham-fisted attempts of its otherwise perfectly good star, Matt Ryan (Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior), to mimic the acerbic wit that helped Keanu Reeves rise above the film's choppy script.

Though, as failures go, few adaptations quite reached the nadir of the live-action version of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures from 1992, which featured Christopher G. Kennedy in the role made famous by Reeves. (Christopher G. who? Exactly.)

Failure isn't always a dirty word: Set to debut this fall on CBS, Supergirl, starring Glee late-comer Melissa Benoist in the title role, will try to improve on Helen Slater's 1984 dud.

Bring out the big guns

This fall and winter's prime-time slate will include adaptations of quite a few high-octane franchises that will hope to cash in on brand recognition.

Writer-producer Betsy Thomas (TBS's My Boys) will bring Brett Ratner's action dramedy Rush Hour to CBS this year with two newbies, Jon Foo and Justin Hires, in the roles made famous by Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. It's billed as a total revamp of the film franchise.

On the other hand, the network's Limitless, due Sept. 22, will build on the storyline established in Bradley Cooper's trippy 2011 thriller about a man who takes a drug that makes him smarter than Einstein. Jake McDorman will star as a new character who is coerced by the FBI to get dosed up so he can help solve crimes. Cooper, one of the exec producers, will guest-star on an undisclosed number of episodes.

Before, after, and during

Like Limitless and Fargo, Fox's Philip K. Dick adaptation, Minority Report, due sometime this fall, will present an original story set in the world created by its source film (Spielberg's brilliant sci-fi thriller from 2002). The series, starring Laura Regan (Mad Men) in Samantha Morton's role as the soulful precog Agatha, is set 15 years after the movie. It retains its main character but moves in a different direction, with Tom Cruise's investigator long gone.

Most revamps, however stay with the same basic story line and characters.

A&E's Psycho prequel, Bates Motel, recently renewed for a fourth and fifth season, is an origin story of sorts. It follows the special relationship the teenage Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) had with his mom (Vera Farmiga) before he took up the mantle of a full-blown psycho.

But sequels predominate. Wes Craven's Scream, coming to MTV on Tuesday, is set sometime after the events of the director's four films, adding future mayhem to the past mayhem that has gripped the lovely town of Lakewood, AnyState.

The same goes for Syfy's apocalyptic angels-versus-humans thriller, Dominion, which kicks off its second season July 9. Christopher Egan (Kings) stars as a savior-warrior destined to help humans defeat an infernal host of killer angels. Last we saw the character in the 2010 film Legion, he was a newborn.

A&E's Damien (no premiere date yet) is set sometime between the second and third parts of the Omen trilogy and follows the satanic career of Damien Thorn (Merlin's Bradley James) as a young adult.

Try, try, try again

There is one worrisome trend in the film-to-TV-series pipeline: Various producers' attempts to recycle the same movies even after they've graced the small screen several times.

Oh, it wasn't so bad with Nikita, a reboot of the 1997 series La Femme Nikita (itself based on an American remake of a French film) that starred the dreamy team of Maggie Q and Shane West as spies.

But consider Uncle Buck: John Hughes' 1989 hit was riotous largely because of the genius of its late star, John Candy. CBS's sitcom a year later fell flat on its face despite Kevin Meaney's best attempts.

Mike Epps might have more luck with his version on ABC, which will feature a primarily African American cast, and which is set for a midseason bow.

HBO's forthcoming Westworld, an adaptation of the Michael Crichton story from Person of Interest creator Jonathan Nolan, is sure to improve on the cheesy special effects that plagued 1980's TV sequel Beyond Westworld. But will the stories be more interesting?

Yet, you really can have too much of a good thing. CBS's The Odd Couple, returning in the spring for its sophomore season, is the fourth TV adaptation of film director Gene Saks' Neil Simon adaptation from 1968.

For my money, you can't beat Garry Marshall's 1970 TV sitcom starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. Five years later, ABC gave us the cartoon The Oddball Couple, and in 1982 it tried the nation's patience with another live-action version, featuring Ron Glass and Demond Wilson.

Stop already!


tirdad@phillynews.com

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