Why Do They Turn Movies Into TV Shows and Not The Other Way Around?

I originally wasn’t going to pass much comment on the practice, at least not now, but recent days have brought multiple stories to my attention that deal with the subject. Namely the fact that FOX has picked up the Napoleon Dynamite series I mentioned a while back and Cartoon Network (?) has picked up the How to Train Your Dragon series that has been mooted since the film became a hit.

For the record, I’m not a huge fan of the practice. If done right, it has the potential to be great, however as we all know, films are made on a different level than TV shows and it’s extremely rare to find commonality between the two.

It seems that people are willing to put up huge sums for a feature film but can be notoriously tight when it comes to TV. The reasons may extend all the way back to when William Hanna and Joe Barbera were forced to cut every conceivable corner in order to get their animation on the tube. Things are much better nowadays but on a per minute basis, features far outstrip shows in terms of cost.

Disney is perhaps the finest artisan of the craft as they have turned their feature films into series fairly frequently in the past. The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules and Lilo and Stitch are just a few off the top of my head.

All of these TV shows had the original film to give them a legup when it came to their TV debut and I suppose that’s the core of the issue. While you need a huge amount of publicity to get a feature film launched, it generally only faces direct competition from other films. TV shows on the other hand, must compete with all the other TV shows on all the other channels out there for attention. Granted, things are slightly simpler for children’s programming, but it seems that the chance of hitting the jackpot with a TV show is much harder than a feature film.

Another aspect is viewer expectation. TV shows generally develop their characters over time, whereas a film needs to do it fairly quickly. For some reason, people seem have rather different expectations of how a character should appear in a film if they have already appeared on TV. It doesn’t help matters that there may be a completely different set of writers behind the film who may not have been involved in the production of the TV show. I want to put his down to simply the amount of time we, as the viewer, can tolerate certain characters. Sure, someone like Billy may be funny for 22 minutes, but could you watch him for an hour and a half? That might be a tough one.

Having said all that, it is possible and it can be repeated, provided that the right factors are in place.

The best example ever is SpongeBob Squarepants, who ruled the airwaves long before is appearance on the silver screen. How did he manage this? His success is partly the result of being an intensely complex yet likeable character but also the result of a production process that rewarded creativity and the creator. It also helped that the overall parent company of Nickelodeon also owned the film studio Paramount Pictures.

There is a stark contrast to The PowerPuff Girls Movie. The characters are equally complex and likeable and I feel that Craig McCracken created a genuinely decent show on a par with Ren & Stimpy. It’s journey to the big screen was much more tortuous than the yellow square and the particular parent conglomerate of the studio is notorious for the infighting within its divisions. Long story short, the film did not get the attention it so badly deserved from either the studio of the public.

In the end, it ll comes down to attention. Box office films get tons of free publicity as a result of their premieres, screenings and so forth. TV shows seem to whimper into existence without much fanfare beyond the channel itself, relying instead on fans of the show to sing the praises. Entertainment folks love attention and from what I can tell, fans count for zilch in Hollywood.

I firmly believe that a good TV show can be a great success at the box office and that it is a practice that is not done often enough. Regardless, I would much rather see creator-driven shows than shows based off movies on my TV.


3 thoughts on “Why Do They Turn Movies Into TV Shows and Not The Other Way Around?

  1. Toei Co. has done exactly the opposite with their animation division. The feature department of Toei Animation has devolved to the point where the movies are all just spin offs of their mostly cash-in television series.

    There really are plenty of movies based off of television series, but they’re generally based on older series to cash in on nostalgia. The Flinstones or Wild, Wild West for example.

    1. You make a good point GW. Older series generally tend to be turned into films precisely because of the nostalgia factor. Basically the kids who watched the shows as a kid are now (hopefully) affluent grown-up adults who will jump at any opportunity to re-connect with their childhood. There’s nothing wrong with that (aside from the sometimes sketchy quality of the product in question).

      My point is that we rarely see a contemporary TV show, in other words one that is currently or recently broadcast being turned into a theatrical film. SpongeBob and PPG are the two examples I’ve outlined but others include The Simpsons and The Jetsons, who had a film released back in the late 80s when a new series of the show was broadcast.

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