Some of the greatest (or at least heavily favored) American television shows got the big screen treatment when they were selected to have their small screen following turn into a cinematic experience. Unfortunately, for every beloved nostalgic television show that translated successfully in movie theaters (The Brady Bunch Movie, Star Trek, Batman, etc.) there are boob tube stinkers that overtake the good crop. Sure, there are middle-of-the-road movie adaptations of television programs that have a mixed bag reception (1997’s Leave It To Beaver, 1987’s Dragnet, 2012’s Dark Shadows, etc.). Nevertheless, it is always the unflattering fare that receive the bulk of the attention (do you register, 1999’s The Wild, Wild West ?).
In Boob on the Tube: Top Ten Worst Movie Adaptations of TV Shows we will take a look at the top ten televised offenders that dared to venture into cinema’s stratosphere only to end up floating down shamefully to earth in a shadow of embarrassment. These much maligned misfires of living room entertainment deserve to be in a cruel comedian’s monologue. The scary realization, however, is that the trend of movie adaptations of TV shows will not let up in the future. In conclusion, one needs to just pray for more pros (say The Fugitive) than cons (say I Spy).
The selections for Boob on the Tube: Top Ten Worst Movie Adaptations of TV Shows are (in alphabetical order):
1.) The Beverly Hillbillies (1993)
Actually, the casting for the movie version of The Beverly Hillbillies seemed spot-on for their TV counterparts. The late television pitchman-turned-actor Jim Varney (as Jed Clampett), Oscar winner Cloris Leachman (as Daisy “Granny” Moses), Diedrich Bader (as Jethro Bodine), Erika Elaniak (as Ellie May Clampett) and supporting cast members Dabney Coleman and Lily Tomlin as banker Milburn Drysdale and Jane Hathaway were all eerily connected to the actors from The Beverly Hillbillies television series (1962-1971). It is too bad that director Penelope Spheeris’s movie update was woefully generic and offered no stimulating silliness or inspired satire that the TV series was known for in its nine-year network run. The cinema Clampetts were nothing more than hollow representatives of the revered rednecks we have come to adore in rerun heaven (or in its original run for those old enough to have watched the Bugtussle bunch first hand).
2.) Bewitched (2005)
It is hard to believe that it has been a decade since the flaccid film version of Bewitched put a hackneyed hex on movie audiences with Oscar winner Nicole Kidman at the helm as one of pop culture’s favorite witches in Samantha. The iconic TV show Bewitched (1964-1972) was a sophisticated fantasy that had charm, cheekiness and escapist exuberance during a radical period in prime time when the turbulent 1960’s reflected such realistic social and political discourse. Bewitched in the living rooms across the nation gave a sense of magical mischievousness to offset the societal strife perpetuated in real-life 60’s turmoil. The big screen Bewitched in the mid-90’s was just another fluffy excuse to exploit the nostalgia of baby-boomer memories. We absolutely loved the late Elizabeth Montgomery as our treasured suburban sorceress on the small screen. We barely tolerated Nicole Kidman as the shapely whimsical wonder on the big screen.
3.) The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
Another television throwback from yesteryear in the highly popular CBS series The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985) made it to the big screen ten years ago with an established cast of pop cultural somebodies in Jackass star Johnny Knoxville, American Pie’s Seann William Scott (a.k.a. “Stifler”) and the pretty but puzzled “Chicken-of-the-Sea” singing tart Jessica Simpson rounding out the trio as the adventurous Duke cousins. Granted the TV version of The Dukes of Hazzard was not exactly giving PBS programming a run for its money from an intellectual point of view. Still, it was a celebrated and high-rated guilty pleasure with loving law-enforcing lunkheads such as Boss Hogg, Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane and Deputy Enos Strait serving as the comical antagonists out to nab the Dukes as it was a high-flying hoot every week for seven seasons. Unfortunately, the Warner Bros.-backed action-adventure comedy had all the synthetic drive of a disabled General Lee with four flat tires. Even with the inclusion of film and TV vet Burt Reynolds’s graying and slimmed down Boss Hogg and legendary singer Willie Nelson as the Dukes’ Uncle Jessie the whole big screen brouhaha in Hazzard County was just plain…eh, hazardous!
4.) The Honeymooners (2005)
The John Schultz-directed The Honeymooners tried to give its fresh-faced approach by way of promoting a primarily urban African-American cast in an homage to the 1950’s classic TV show headed up by legendary comics Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. This time Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps are the delirious duo trying to fill the shoes in lasting laughs. The 2005 edition of The Honeymooners with an ebony-induced touch felt rather strained and only managed to sell cheap chuckles. Cedric the Entertainer, a capable and charismatic comedian, seemed quite labored in bringing whatever bombastic funny bits to the forefront as the exasperating bus driver Ralph Kramden with big schemes in pursuit of golden dreams. The 39-episode The Honeymooners from the golden age of television had its moments of wackiness but it also had traceable elements of heart, reflection and fun-loving frustration. Gleason’s Kramden was a blustery soul whose weekly defeats and disappointments we felt immensely in 30-minute segments. The only defeating and disappointing factors about Cedric the Entertainer’s Kramden is his missteps in conveying the crafty outlandishness of TV’s bouncy-bellied, blue-collar worker. And The Honeymooners as a whole was simply a dud…period!
5.) I Spy (2002)
In the turbulent mid-60’s the ground-breaking espionage series I Spy (1965-1968) was appointment television for so many reasons as the international salt-and-pepper Ivy League-educated spies Kelly Robinson (the late Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (multi-Emmy winner Bill Cosby) traveled the world on top secret missions posing as a professional tennis tandem. However, the frenetic and foolish Betty Thomas-directed (formerly of TV’s “Hill Street Blues”) movie version of I Spy starring Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson seemed so arbitrary, nonsensical and forced as the pairing of these comic minds got lost in the shuffle of this erratic spy stinker. Exhausting and tediously gimmicky, I Spy the film was just wasted noise with the feeble attempt at trying to resurrect Murphy’s once box office dominance and capture the essence of another TV treasure of the past and bring it into early millennium madcap sensibilities. In either case, the aimless and rambunctious big screen I Spy accomplished neither task competently. And simply put…no one particularly cared at the box office.
6.) Lost in Space (1998)
In the immortal words of that dastardly and devious Dr. Zachary Smith: “Oh the pain…the pain!” Well, that is what ardent fans of the old 60’s TV space drama Lost in Space felt like when they were exposed to this updated, polished version of the campy CBS space fantasy that ran from 1965-1968. For the most part, the casting was fine (okay, maybe the verdict is still out on William Hurt’s John Robinson and Mimi Rogers’s June Robinson) but director Stephen Hopkins’s techno-trance of visual special effects opulence did not capture the off-kilter spirit or cheeky aura of its televised blueprint from yesteryear. Sure, 1998’s Lost in Space had a nicely spruced-up soundtrack and there were even cherished cameos from some of the TV show’s original cast. Still, the stiff big screen version of Lost in Space left us yearning for the old television reruns where the Robot’s “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” warnings were catchy and supreme. As Smith would label us as he did the Robot in quipping “You bubble-headed boobie!” he would be correct because we fell for what we thought could have been the second coming of greatness witnessing the Robinson clan in cinema on the verge of the millennium. For this deception we all were lost and not just in space for that matter.
7.) McHale’s Navy (1997)
The original TV series McHale’s Navy (1962-1966) starred Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine as the eponymous Lt. Commander and his crew of cocky cohorts. Skip three decades later and Quinton McHale is now reinvented by Tom Arnold. Enough said. Do we really have to go into details as to why the Bryan Spicer-directed movie of the old ABC-TV military comedy was such a dismissive dud? Unfocused, unfunny and unconscionably daffy, the big screen McHale’s Navy with Arnold at the helm proved that the one can never go back (or go forward for that matter) in trying to breathe life into an old-time boob tube favorite from past prime time programming of long ago. In the long run, McHale’s Navy was deemed witless and wasteful even with the good sport Borgnine making a cameo to revisit the TV role that he spent four seasons (along with a couple of McHale flicks of his own) perfecting to comical confection.
8.) The Mod Squad (1999)
Nearly three decades after the immensely popular hippie undercover cop show The Mod Squad (1968-1973) left the airwaves during the Nixon Administration, the powers-that-be decided to bring back the adventures of counterculture law enforcers Pete Cochran, Linc Hayes and Julie Barnes (Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III and Peggy Lipton) and place them in current-day crisis in the echos of a Clinton presidency. So now the late 90’s boasted a new trio of young hip undercover cops on the big screen this time with Giovanni Ribisi, Omar Epps and Claire Danes getting under the angst-ridden youthful skin of Pete, Linc and Julie with Captain Adam Greer (the late Dennis Farina taking on the role previous played by the late Tige Andrews) overseeing their cases. Quite frankly, the big screen version of The Mod Squad seemed tired, disjointed and uninspired and did not have the urgency in reflecting the rocky social times that the television counterpart did for the uproar of late 60’s/early 70’s political transgressions. Undoubtedly, Epps, Danes and Ribisi were adequate stand-ins for the iconic shoes filled by the aforementioned Williams, Lipton and Cole from the TV program. However, a sluggish story and no sense of subversive pulse leaves 1999’s The Mod Squad as one of the most disappointing, flat and dour movie adaptations for a TV series ever to come into conception. As the ever cool-as-ice Linc Hayes would say, “Solid!”
9.) The Saint (1997)
Before taking on the suave role of novelist Ian Fleming’s superspy creation James Bond in a successful worldwide film franchise that just keeps on rolling, the dapper Roger Moore took on another literary smooth operator in Leslie Charteris’s Simon Templar from UK’s TV spy drama The Saint (1962-1967). Well, female eye candy Val Kilmer got the call to bring the mischievous Simon Templar to the big screen in director Phillip Noyce’s 1997 espionage thriller The Saint. The result was less than thrilling as the cinematic The Saint was a bore. It received mixed reviews at the time of its release and even Kilmer’s Templar/Saint was mentioned in the same breath as Agent 007 in terms of an impish daredevil of intrigue. Nevertheless, The Saint’s Kilmer never captured the naughty or quirky essence of Moore’s roguish Templar and the movie’s exotic locales was the only element to sweep away the imaginative mind. In the consciousness of mishandled movie adaptations of TV shows, The Saint turned out to be a sinner.
10.) Sgt. Bilko (1996)
It was a valiant effort in trying to bring the laugh-out-loud antics of the delightfully shifty Phil Silvers and his Sgt. Bilko (sometimes known as either “The Phil Silvers Show” or “You’ll Never Get Rich”) to the big screen in the mid-90s. The 1955-1959 TV program with Silvers as the unctuous military misfit with his band of schemers made for favorable irreverent shenanigans in the disciplined atmosphere of an Eisenhower-era America. If any comic could bring some off-balance hilarity to Silvers’s beloved persona of Sgt. Ernie Bilko it would be the outlandish Steve Martin. Unfortunately, Martin and his Sgt. Bilko interpretation was grating on the nerves. In all fairness, the flimsy material failed Martin and restricted him to serviceable goofiness that was not enough to elevate this staid comedy. Indeed, we still admire the legendary lunacy of Martin despite him botching up pop cultural mainstays as Silvers’s Sgt. Bilko or Peter Sellers’s Inspector Jacques Clouseau (yes…we recall your well-meaning but forgettable stint as Inspector Clouseau in 2006’s dreadful The Pink Panther).
The Wild, Wild West (1999)
Dennis the Menace (1993)