The remake business is still big business, no matter that this last year at the movies had a good share of original and independent film that will stand the test of time. The Hollywood idea machine is just too dry and overly safe today to have anything dramatically shift them away from doing remakes for the umpteenth time. And with remake properties being nearly endless (including remakes of the remakes being brought back again), Hollywood may be in a perpetual recycle purgatory for the foreseeable future.
What about television, though, and their constant striving to bring original content to viewers? The TV movie and miniseries business has long had a strong relationship with creating fresh adaptations from book or original stories made exclusively for the small screen. There’s still a strong market for innocuous cable TV movies through the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Network, and occasional TV movie forays on commercial TV. Many of those are family-friendly programming that would have been shunned on the big screen. But what happens when the networks start getting into the movie remake business?
NBC’s “Rosemary Baby” remake with Zoe Saldana isn’t the first time networks attempted to remake theatrical movies as a one-shot TV movie or miniseries. Somehow, some of those worked very well without causing any sense of blasphemy and proving how well TV works for certain media projects. After “Rosemary’s Baby”, though, commercial TV might start playing it safer by going on a tear remaking classic movies for the small screen to get the TV movie genre away from by-the-numbers writing.
Which TV Remakes of Movies Worked, and Which Didn’t?
One of the best TV movie remakes in recent memory was the two-part miniseries of “The Shining” on ABC in 1997 that managed to give the vision Stephen King initially wanted. While Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” stands alone in its own elevated universe, the TV re-do of the Overlook Hotel story expanded on a lot of territory that took it in different psychological directions. It took the time to develop the characters so we knew them more than we really wanted to by the second night.
The above might not have pleased everyone, and it certainly didn’t get any awards for attempting to override Kubrick’s cinematic vision. Most attempts to remake true movie classics have fallen desperately on their faces, including an ill-fated attempt to remake “Harvey” that was virtually stripped from any network airing. Over on cable, it’s been a different story where a “12 Angry Men” remake from 1997 was almost equally good as the famous movie. “Mildred Pierce” on HBO with Kate Winslet might be the greatest example to date in being able to tap 70-year-old classics and shape them into something more for a cable audience.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the musical remake where there seems to be more respect in bringing elements of the original stage production to television. Remaking classic musicals that happened to be classic movies is one of the most lucrative markets now and where NBC has and will be tapping Broadway resources in coming years. Even Fox may get unusually into that fray once their live “Grease” remake manages hefty Nielsen numbers later this year.
Regardless, what will NBC do after airing their “Rosemary’s Baby” remake? Will remaking classic movie dramas become the next trend on TV where they’re expanded into deeper character studies? It’s an idea that necessarily can’t be denied when you consider insights can be brought out in some classic characters that are as insightful as new musical numbers taken from the above Broadway shows.
The worst that can happen is when there’s an expansion of plot after the original movie managed to bring a cohesion and brevity in a mere 90 to 120 minutes. With reports that “Rosemary’s Baby” expands more than necessary, the new network foray into movie remakes is going to have to consider the one-off rather than miniseries. As the networks are starting to learn about the limited-run series, fitting in as much substance in a smaller running time is going to benefit any project, no matter if it’s for an inevitably new remake industry.