Next week, another TV remake hits the airways as ABC brings back the science fiction series “V.” Originally aired as a mini-series on NBC back in 1983, the show was based on the age old question, “What would happen if advanced aliens landed on earth?” During the first couple of hours, the audience found out that humans actually made a tasty main course to any meal and, as you might expect, people freaked.
Flash forward (no pun intended ABC TV fans) 25 years and they’re going to try it again. The special effects are fancier and the actors all recycled from various other cancelled – or soon to be discontinued – shows like Lost, Firefly, and the 90’s teen-angst drama Party of Five.
I was a fan of the original “V” series, or rather the mini-series. As it went from a kind of television movie into a weekly series the cartoonish plot sent the show reeling for point and jumping the shark early in its run.
What do I mean by, “jumping the shark?” It’s a phrase associated the episode of “Happy Days” when The Fonz water skied his way into television history by jumping over a shark. That was the show’s death knell – the end was soon to arrive.
Today, “jumping the shark” refers to any television show that has passed its creative edge. Still successful, but struggling for original stories and character dynamics. Then again, some shows could find their ski ramp right off the bat just by rehashing old ideas.
For example, Antioch College grad Rod Serling produced a 1962 episode of The Twilight Zone called, “To Serve Man.” The story was similar to “V” in that aliens landed, played up to our vanity, and offered to save us from ourselves; curing disease, advancing technology and so on.
As a first step towards friendship the visiting aliens presented a book to the leaders of the world. The title on the cover had been loosely translated from the alien language into English and read, “To Serve Man.”
Eventually we learn that people were being taken from the planet in herds, never to return. The book, as it turned out, was a cook book. People freaked. Sensing a trend here? The sci-fi concept of aliens descending on earth and using people as livestock is certainly nothing new, and neither is rehashing old television.
Hollywood is gambling daily on whether a remake will be a hit, like Ron Moore’s re-imagined version of “Battlestar Galactica.” Outliving its predecessor by four years, Galactica focused on the relationships between the characters and rarely focused on the science fiction. The series had a great run on the Sci-Fi Channel and made cult stars out of relatively unknown actors.
Whether lightning can strike twice, however, is doubtful. Television studios have tried many of these modern-day rebuilds on shows like Knight Rider, The Bionic Woman and Beverly Hills 90210. The latter has seen some success because of endless cameos by the original cast and the fact that the CW has nothing original to offer.
In the old days, Hollywood took blockbuster feature films to the small screen as series. Some became hit programs while others never made it past one season. That trend continued well into the late 1980’s with movie-to-TV shows like “9 to 5,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” and “Highlander.”
The best and probably most unique example of these off the wall hits was Robert Altman’s original version of “M*A*S*H.” The zany antics of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital might never have seen the lights of a studio if Altman hadn’t pushed it through. But after 11 seasons on television, Alan Alda’s “Hawkeye” is part of American pop culture.
Today, however, we do it the other way around. Moving old television shows to the big screen has been a fad for the last decade or so. From “Lost In Space” to “Transformers,” even the worst shows have become feature films but only a handful had anything close to box office success.
Now a feature film version of “Dallas” and “The A-Team” are both in production. Larry Hagman has been asked to return to Southfork as a retired JR Ewing but over in Los Angeles, Liam Neeson is taking over for the late George Peppard in his role as Hannibal Smith. Where will it end? How about, “My Mother the Car – The Movie!” Jerry Van Dyke is probably available. Go look that one up TV fans!
Independent journalist Gery L. Deer is based in Jamestown, Ohio. More at www.gerydeer.com