From ‘Big’ to ‘Marley & Me’: We weigh in on TV’s remake fad

Senior Television Writer
10.29.14 44 Comments

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.

Dan Fienberg: What other remakes are you “looking forward to”?

Alan Sepinwall: Thank you for the use of quote marks. I'm interested in “Hitch” only if Aziz Ansari gets to star – as Tom Haverford.

Dan Fienberg: I'd almost watch that. Almost. But I probably wouldn't. Because I really hate “Hitch” and whatever appeal “Hitch” had hinged so entirely on Will Smith's ability to elevate an embarrassingly bad script and I'm somehow suspecting Will Smith hasn't reached the “FOX sitcom” stage of his career yet.

Alan Sepinwall: But surely there is a FOX sitcom-level actor you have always found likable, and who could in theory make it work? Maybe? Possibly? Or what if they flipped the genders and hired your girl Kat McPhee?

Dan Fienberg: My girl Kat McPhee is too busy wrangling nerds. And as much as I like her, I'm not watching her in a show that would, best case scenario, be “Cupid” without the whimsy. But with the right casting, I could get my mind around another FOX remake, namely “Big”…

Alan Sepinwall: So who is the 2014 equivalent of Tom Hanks? Tom Everett Scott's window came and went. Adam Brody? (Assuming “The Cosmopolitans” doesn't consume all of his time.)

Dan Fienberg: Sorry, but if “Cosmopolitans” doesn't consume all of his time, I've already cast Adam Brody in a totally different remake that we'll get to in a bit. Stick with “Big,” which has the advantage of coming from Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce, who are, you know, talented. And as a result of those “Enlisted” veterans, Parker Young might be a good pick.

Alan Sepinwall: Oooh, I like that! Young's only 26, and plays younger, so I don't know that he'd seem quite adult enough for Josh Baskin's wish. But he'd definitely be able to play the boy-in-a-man's-body aspect of the character. And I trust Biegel and Royce a lot more than I do the people involved with many of these other remakes, where it feels like all the networks/studios care about is the brand itself.

Dan Fienberg: Sticking in the Biegel family, Brian Van Holt could be a candidate, but I'm sure FOX will be looking for somebody with a bit more “upside.” Chris Pratt would have been the no-brainer choice except that he's now Movie Star Chris Pratt.

Alan Sepinwall: Van Holt's probably too old, and Movie Star Chris Pratt is definitely unavailable for such a thing now.

Dan Fienberg: I think we agree, though, that with “Big,” casting will be nearly everything as FOX will want to balance the star-power of the brand with a potential breakout star. Maybe “Big” could bring Donald Glover back to TV? Or maybe Donald Glover and the aforementioned Adam Brody should be competing for the lead in another FOX remake… “The Greatest American Hero.”

Alan Sepinwall: Given that they say “Greatest American Hero” is going to be “urban,” that puts Glover out in front of Brody, which in turn leaves Brody free-ish for “Big.” And why is the entire Tom Hanks catalog being raided? A couple of “New Girl” writers are doing “Bachelor Party,” and some poor fool thinks it's a good idea to make a “Money Pit” series. Can “The Man With One Red Shoe” be far behind? “Splash,” with Kat McPhee as the mermaid!

Dan Fienberg: At least we know that there really could never be a 2015 version of Hooch. They broke the freaking mold. But honestly, I'm OK with remaking “Greatest American Hero.” The time for that one actually has probably come.

Alan Sepinwall: Though “Chuck” was basically “Greatest American Hero Redux,” but it could surely be done. And since you bring up dogs, we have to talk about “Marley & Me.” Why, Dan? Why? And why make it a sequel? That didn't work out so well for “The Firm,” did it?

Dan Fienberg: As I said on Twitter, “Marley & Me” should be done anthology-style, “American Pet Story,” with a different pet dying each season. Or… not.

Alan Sepinwall: NOBODY wants that, Dan. Nobody. Also, I don't think Kat McPhee could play the dog.

Dan Fienberg: But she could cry dewy, luminescent tears over the death of the dog. And sing to it.

Alan Sepinwall: I'm just looking out for you, buddy, and trying to ensure Kat will be in at least one show next year, though things are looking good for “Scorpion” thus far.

Dan Fienberg: But yeah. I don't get the need for a “Marley and Me” TV series. Because what would it be, anyway? Sequel or prequel or remake, it's essentially just a story of a boring couple with a doomed dog. How is that good TV?

Alan Sepinwall: Well, take out the “doomed” part, and one could argue you've just described “Mad About You,” and/or “Lassie.”

Alan Sepinwall: Meanwhile, we've got Greg Berlanti – who has probably wrested the Remake King crown away from Katims – doing a live-action Archie Comics adaptation for FOX, and all I know is that it can't possibly have anything as wonderful as this hip-hop version of “Sugar Sugar” from 1990's “To Riverdale and Back Again”

Dan Fienberg: I'm disappointed that it won't be a gritty, realistic Archie origin story, in which case Cameron Monaghan from “Shameless” would be terrific casting. Or we can just wait 20 years and cast Pouty Ginger Baby from “Homeland.” I'm actually OK with this one, since the “Archie” comic has always adapted and morphed to make itself relevant for different generations.

Alan Sepinwall: True, and the dilemma of having to choose between a hot blonde or a hot brunette is an eternal one. Any casting thoughts? What's Moose like in 2015? Is Jughead a hipster? Dilton a hacker? What style of music will Josie and the Pussycats play? And is Kat McPhee too old for Veronica?

Dan Fienberg: Sadly, yes. Kat McPhee is too old for Veronica unless they're going with a late-20s “Archie,” in which case Kat McPhee would be an ideal Veronica, but even then I might go with my All-“H20: Just Add Water” casting and hope for Phoebe Tonkin as Veronica and Claire Holt as Betty. One thing I'm sure of is that both Reggie and Midge are almost certain to be gay.

Alan Sepinwall: I'm assuming this show will feature MANY Disney Channel alums, so I went to an expert on the subject: my daughter, who also reads Archie. She wants Zendaya's old “Shake It Up” costar Bella Thorne as Josie, and picked Olivia Holt for Betty. She's stumped on Veronica. And good call on both Reggie and Midge.

Dan Fienberg: She didn't pick Victoria Justice as Veronica? Ouch!

Alan Sepinwall: Her palm is on her forehead in dismay over the oversight.

Dan Fienberg: And just as Greg Berlanti is The King of All Remakes and Adaptations, FOX is The Network of all Remakes and Adaptations. Are you ready for loose take-offs on “Frankenstein” or “Phantom of the Opera”? Because FOX is developing both of them.

Alan Sepinwall: I'm more ready for “Frankenstein,” just because the concept has proven so elastic. What is the point of a “Phantom” TV show? Especially since Emmy Rossum is otherwise employed?

Dan Fienberg: I do Emmy Rossum the respect of forgetting she ever had to sing with Gerard Butler. Actually, as I look, the “Phantom” script is actually ABC and it will be “Nashville”-esque, which doesn't even sound like such a stupid idea. The FOX “Frankenstein” however? It's a police procedural! Detective Frankenstein is on the case, baby!

Alan Sepinwall: Of course! If TV has taught us anything, it's that no literary character can't be bent in service to the demands of a police procedural. But is it Dr. Frankenstein who's the cop, or the monster? I kind of want it to be the scientist, and he uses the monster as his secret weapon.

Dan Fienberg: It appears he's an FBI Agent brought back to life by “an antisocial Internet billionaire and his bio-engineer twin sister.” With a premise like that, what could possibly go wrong?

Alan Sepinwall: Can Michael Pitt play all three roles? Now, should we even be talking about the remake of “The IT Crowd” from Bill Lawrence and central “Scrubs” guys Neil Goldman and Garrett Donovan, or is it a different thing because so few in the US know the original?

Dan Fienberg: I'd say we shouldn't count it, just as we shouldn't count The CW trying again with “Misfits,” this time with “L.A. Complex” writer Martin Gero adapting. I'm thinking more along the lines of NBC eyeing a “Problem Child” TV series. The only way I'd watch a “Problem Child” TV series is if it's actually a “Parenthood” spinoff focusing on Sydney.

Alan Sepinwall: Sydney is, indeed, a MONSTER, and should be treated as such. Though she'd probably fit more as the lead in a remake of “The Good Son.” Again, it's so weird some of the catalog titles being dusted off this development season! There's certain affection for “Bachelor Party,” and the title itself is pretty universal, but who actually remembers – or thinks fondly of – “Problem Child”? Really?

Dan Fienberg: Oh, I REMEMBER “Problem Child” and it was a big enough hit to spawn sequels. And also, perhaps most importantly, it's a title that has a certain self-explanatory equity. Even if you don't have fond memories of “Problem Child,” you know what a “Problem Child” series would be. More questionable is what CBS thinks it will get from mining the shallow well of affection on recognition for… “In Good Company.”

Alan Sepinwall: That's a fair point on a broad and self-explanatory title (which also fits “Bachelor Party”). As for “In Good Company,” well… Dennis Quaid was actually on a CBS show a couple of years ago, and Topher Grace's career is in flux, so why not just get the original band back together?

Dan Fienberg: Scarlett Johansson is doing a different TV project, a miniseries, when she isn't being Marvel's Widow in Black, so she won't be involved and even if you were to get the whole team back together, you'd just have the whole team from a 2004 movie that didn't make much money and didn't get especially good reviews and hasn't come to be recognized as a classic in the interim.

Dan Fienberg: Then we get to the question of “brands so old that nobody in a target demo knows what they are.” “Bewitched” is at least easy and obvious, but who, exactly, is going to get excited for a new “Courtship of Eddie's Father”?

Alan Sepinwall: “Courtship” was a phrase arguably out of fashion by the time the Bill Bixby show debuted in '69, and sure is out of fashion today. So, yes, that's a weird attempt to trade on a brand. “Bewitched” not only was in reruns forever, but was dusted off for that awful Kidman/Ferrell movie a while back. “Courtship of Eddie's Father” is among the more blatant examples of how this trend can be used by studios to make money off their back catalog.

Dan Fienberg: The “Bewitched” movie at least expanded visibility to a new generation and I know what the billboards would look like. “Courtship of Eddie's Father” is a mystery to me and even more of a mystery since The WB tried rebooting it a decade ago. Somewhere there's a survey that told network executives that there are some viewers who feel nostalgic for the original series and that those viewers have kids now? Or grandkids? I'm skeptical.

Dan Fienberg: In that same vein, Legendary TV is plotting another “Lost in Space,” to capitalize on the success of the Matt LeBlanc movie? “Ed,” I mean.

Alan Sepinwall: Again, “Lost in Space” is a name and concept you can do a lot with, even if the target demo has no memories of Billy Mumy and bad memories at best of the Hurt/LeBlanc/Oldman joint. A family on a spaceship, accompanied only by a neurotic robot and a troublemaking scientist? You could do anything with that! It's the new take on the trite old family drama! “Everwood” in space! Are we sure Berlanti isn't involved in this one, too?

Dan Fienberg: Actually “Lost in Space” comes from the writers behind “Dracula Untold.” I've seen “Dracula Untold,” so that fills me with no enthusiasm. And if I have to take a sci-fi remake/update/reboot that I don't actually NEED, I'll be at least curious to see if FOX moves forward with its “Minority Report” series. And, yes, FOX is doing brand name upon brand name upon brand name this development season. I think it's mostly just to mock Kevin Reilly for declaring pilot season dead.

Alan Sepinwall: And the shame of it is that “HIEROGLYPH!” will never be a brand name some TV executive can try to exploit in 20 years.

Dan Fienberg: It's just not the same in print, Alan. It's just not the same. So bottom line this for me. Are we just getting a rush of remake/rebooted/big-brand names as we rev up the script season and then when we get to spring, will there only be a handful made into pilots? And then will we only get one or two on schedules next fall? Or are we heading toward a 2015-2016 season featuring the titles we listed plus the likes of “Rush Hour,” “Monster-in-Law” and “The Devil's Advocate”?

Alan Sepinwall: I asked a sitcom writer I know about what's happening, and he said the networks are ordering all the high profile stuff with brand names and/or big showrunners early, so they get more play in the trades, and that there will be many pilots NOT based on catalog titles being ordered after the fuss dies down. Twitter is magnifying development season, and the sheer number of familiar names is magnifying it even more. I'd bet maybe two or three of these actually see the light of day in the end. “Beverly Hills Cop” didn't get ordered to series, but the new “Odd Couple” is coming to CBS at midseason. We'll see.

(NOTE: Since we wrapped up this conversation, still more ridiculous remakes have been announced, including Netflix doing a “Richie Rich” series and Jerry Bruckheimer trying to turn “American Gigolo” into a show. The song remains the same…)

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