8 TV shows based on horror movies — and how they fared

05.12.15 4 years ago

With the recent successes of such TV series as “American Horror Story,” “Hannibal” and Showtime's “Penny Dreadful,” horror is hot on the small-screen right now — so much so that in addition to MTV's forthcoming small-screen “Scream” spinoff, TV studios are in the midst of bringing a horde of cinematic fright-film properties to television, ranging from “Shutter Island” to “The Devil's Advocate” to “The Mist.” In light of this, I've taken a look back at eight previous horror movie-to-TV translations and analyzed why they hit — or didn't — with audiences.

“Bates Motel” (A&E)

Based on: “Psycho”
Aired: 2013-present
Why it did (or didn't) work:A great pedigree (“Lost” showrunner Carlton Cuse), a terrific cast (Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore) and generally positive critical notices gave “Bates Motel” a sheen of respectability that worked well in this Golden Age of prestige television. The show has so far aired three successful seasons and looks like a lock for a fourth.

“Blade: The Series” (Spike)

Based on: The “Blade” franchise
Aired: 2006
Why it did (or didn't) work: It wasn't a bad idea to produce a “Blade” TV series given the exploitable canon of Marvel Comics storylines surrounding the character, but the show may have suffered from the inevitable comparisons between Wesley Snipes and Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones, who took over the role in Snipes' absence. Snipes had become so identified with the character by the time the series premiered that any attempt to do it without him may well have been doomed to failure.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (WB, UPN)

Based on: “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”
Aired: 1997-2003
Why it did (or didn't) work:Given that its cinematic inspiration flopped on release, it's almost a miracle that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” managed to get a greenlight from the then-fledgling netlet at all. But Joss Whedon (who wrote the film as well) brought a smart, snarky sensibility to the premise that fell perfectly in line with the post-“Scream” meta zeitgeist.

“Freddy's Nightmares” (syndicated)

Based on: The “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise
Aired: 1988-1990
Why it didn't work: 44 episodes don't exactly spell “failure,” but “Freddy's Nightmares” clearly fell short of its goal of following in the footsteps of such popular anthology series as “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Freddy mania was in full swing then, but unfortunately for fans of the wisecracking phantom, he only introduced the majority of the episodes as opposed to starring in them, which likely turned people off who tuned in specifically for more Krueger mayhem. Poor production values and limits on small-screen gore probably didn't help matters.

“Friday the 13th: The Series” (syndicated)

Based on: The “Friday the 13th” franchise
Aired: 1987-1990
Why it did (or didn't) work: At least “Freddy's Nightmares” had the benefit of Robert Englund; aside from its iconic title, “Friday the 13th” had no connection with Jason Voorhees or the goings on at Camp Crystal Lake, instead focusing on two antiques dealers who made it their mission to track down cursed items for safekeeping. Miraculously then, the series connected with young viewers in late-night airings, prompting some stations to move it to primetime. The show ultimately lasted nearly 30 episodes longer than “Freddy's Nightmares.”

“Poltergeist: The Legacy” (Showtime)

Based on: The “Poltergeist” franchise
Aired: 1996-1999
Why it did (or didn't) work: Similar to “Friday the 13th: The Series,” “Poltergeist: The Legacy” had no direct correlation to the film series from which it derived its title but nevertheless flourished anyway, with a total of 88 episodes produced over four seasons. It was never a breakout hit, but built up a nice cult following during its run and still airs in syndication on Chiller.

“Tremors” (Syfy)

Based on: The “Tremors” franchise
Aired: 2003
Why it did (or didn't) work: Syfy apparently lacked faith in the series and aired the episodes out of order — apparently execs pushed their least-favorite episodes to the back — and as a result the narrative continuity (or lack therof) may have led to viewer confusion. Meant as an extension rather than a reboot of the film series, it also didn't seem to connect with viewers outside of the films' pre-existing fanbase. Cast member Dean Norris would later skyrocket to fame on “Breaking Bad.”

“War of the Worlds” (syndicated)

Based on: “War of the Worlds”
Aired: 1988-1990
Why it did (or didn't) work: “War of the Worlds” continued the storyline presented in Bryon Haskin's 1953 film version of the classic H.G. Wells novel while incorporating elements from the book as well as Orson Welles' famed radio adaptation. Notable for employing the two-hander template of “The X-Files” five years before “The X-Files” was even a thing, with Jared Martin playing an eccentric, unconventional astrophysicist and Lynda Mason Green a microbiologist who takes a “by the book” approach to her job. The series (which encountered a lot of controversy over its level of gore) floundered in its much-maligned second season after being radically overhauled by new showrunner Frank Mancuso Jr., a move that killed fan enthusiasm and led to the show's demise.

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