From 'Big' to 'Marley & Me': We weigh in on TV's remake fad
I generally pay as much attention to the broadcast network development season as I do to the baseball draft. Though the shows that actually survive development are much closer to airing chronologically than most baseball draftees are to the majors, the winnowing process is just as brutal in both cases. On average, a given network will hear 3-400 pitches a year, order scripts for 60-70 of them, make 8-12 pilots and put roughly between a half dozen and a dozen of them on the air. So I’ve usually found development not worth worrying about until shows are actually ordered to series and scheduled.
That said, it’s been tough to ignore this fall’s development season, where it seems like every day for the past few weeks, my Twitter feed has blown up a few times an afternoon with news of a familiar movie or TV property being adapted as a contender for next season. The Tom Hanks catalog alone seems enough to fill every available timeslot for next fall, assuming the business has enough Young Tom Hanks types to play the equivalent roles in “Big,” “Bachelor Party,” “The Money Pit” and (it hasn’t been announced yet, but you know it’s coming) “Joe Versus the Volcano.”
I would guess that very few of these will ever actually see the light of day, given the odds against any show at this stage of development being ordered to series, but the sheer number of catalog titles in contention suggests at least some of them will. And the trend has been so unrelenting so far this fall that Fienberg and I couldn’t resist talking, and talking... and then talking a lot more, about some of these adaptation ideas, what we might like to see of them in an ideal world, or why we’re baffled anyone thinks a particular title needs to be exhumed and put on television.
We were GChatting about this back and forth over a few days, and I spent only half that time trying to come up with parts that would be appropriate for Katharine McPhee, in the event “Scorpion” (which has since gotten a full-season order) got canceled and Dan lost his McPheever fix.
Remember: these are all actual instant messages, sent between two TV critics with beards. (Think of it as a podcast segment in written form, if you want.)
Alan Sepinwall: Dan, you know what I think we should do?
Dan Fienberg: What, Alan? What should we do?
Alan Sepinwall: We should walk into Paul Lee's office and pitch him on a remake of "Soul Man." The time is right, in this alleged post-racial America, to tell a new version of the story of a white college student who gets in blackface to get into law school. And the network that was once home to "Work It!" is the place to do it!
Dan Fienberg: Paul Lee finds that kind of comedy scrumptious. And C. Thomas Howell is totally available to play Soul Man's father. Or grandfather if it's The CW.
Alan Sepinwall: But if ever there was a year to pitch such a thing — or a TV remake of "Stakeout," or "While You Were Sleeping" — it is this year.
Dan Fienberg: I'm no longer even sure if those are real remakes or hypothetical remakes, because this year, what's old is new, or at least slightly reheated.
Alan Sepinwall: I've lost track of the number of remakes that have been greenlit — at least at the pilot script stage — at this point. Especially since the "Say Anything" one was killed due to Cameron Crowe's moral indignation.
Dan Fienberg: Though so far the mutual indignation of the John Candy/John Hughes estates hasn't been enough to steer ABC from trying again with "Uncle Buck."
Alan Sepinwall: This makes me sad, especially since I still remember the Kevin Meaney version of "Uncle Buck" from the '90s, and how that press tour session turned into a referendum on whether "sucks" was appropriate language for a family sitcom.
Dan Fienberg: Jean Stapleton voice: "THOSE WERE THE DAYS!" At least an "Uncle Buck" pilot would be one generation/attempted-copy removed from the movie, which worked OK for "Parenthood."
Alan Sepinwall: This is true. And, certainly, the world didn't really have a need for another "Parenthood," but Jason Katims made it work — even if "About a Boy" has been pleasant but forgettable.
Dan Fienberg: So if this one happens, who you got for Mr. Buck?
Alan Sepinwall: Hmm... who is the 2014 John Candy? Or, rather, the 2014 Kevin Meaney? I hate to say it, but this feels like Tyler Labine territory.
Dan Fienberg: That's what "Sons of Tucson" already was. No thanks. I say this should be retailored to Alec Baldwin's sensibility and then he can be allowed to go Full Husky Baldwin.
Alan Sepinwall: For a second, I read that as "Adam Baldwin," and that would be a much scarier "Uncle Buck."
Dan Fienberg: Oy. Instead of Buck being a loveably husky uncle with a love for disorder and anarchy, Adam Baldwin's Uncle Buck would show up to teach an already slovenly and excessively liberal family how to toe the conservative line. I'M THERE!
Alan Sepinwall: And guns! Don't forget the guns!
Dan Fienberg: Went without saying.