My favorite word to describe network television – "predictable". Network execs are tasked with catering to a mass audience that apparently limits the amount of "niche" programming you can do. For every Twin Peaks or LOST, there are countless titles with exclamation points at the end and quick shelf lives.
A go-to move for any network is greenlighting a new show based on a popular film. The logic is simple – millions paid to see this in theaters, so if we can grab the rights and maybe even land an actor or two from the movie, it's a built-in audience without an aggressive marketing campaign.
How could this fail? Let me count the ways. For every M*A*S*H, Buffy and Parenthood, there are many more turning out like Delta House, Clueless or Ferris Bueller.
The only differences between movies and TV shows aren't the screen size and star power. It's all about expectations. Going to see a movie is a unique storytelling experience as you're immersed in that world for the first time – even if you've read a review. The challenge of the TV program is to build upon that initial experience and maintaining interest for more than two hours. Not an easy task.
Fargo is an excellent recent example of doing this the right way. It has the advantage of airing on cable providing much needed leeway for creativity. Noah Hawley took the Coen brothers universe and created unique storylines that made sense there. Having Billy Bob Thornton star the first season didn't hurt either.
CBS, having previously come up short with gems like Fast Times and Dirty Dancing, is trying a new recently successful streaming tactic. Take an enormously popular film and create an entire series based on another character!
I don't shy away from my affection for Cobra Kai which is currently airing on Netflix. The main story is based on Johnny Lawrence, the bad guy in the original film. Ralph Macchio is a big part of the current story, but this is Johnny's tale and the mix of nostalgia is just right. This isn't the karate kid's story...it's the other guy's turn.
Thomas Harris' novel The Silence of the Lambs is fertile territory. Many movies have been based on his characters. NBC had a winner in Hannibal which followed the early relationship of the terrifying doctor and FBI profiler Will Graham. This time around, the story revolves around the female FBI investigator made famous by Jodie Foster one year after the Silence took place.
Dr. Lecter was the breakout star of the Oscar winning film, and now it's Ms. Starling's turn on the small screen. Clarice delves back into the world of serial murderers, sexual predators and federal politics in an adjusted mental state. It has been a long time since we've seen Clarice, but CBS has plenty of shows that have thrived in this creepy world involving the FBI.
Hannibal succeeded without Anthony Hopkins. Rebecca Breeds has her work cut out playing a most memorable agent within the confines of network television. The odds are against Clarice, but she has overcome tougher ones before.