/ 21 July 2015

Hollywood’s fatal attraction to TV: Why studios are turning to the small screen

Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey stars in the series House of Cards.
Spacey was considered one of the finest actors of his generation but his career nosedived following allegations of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen men in the United States and Britain. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Like Glenn Close rearing out of the bath when you think she can’t possibly have any life left, old movies are increasingly being reanimated in the entertainment industry’s desperate search for content across other platforms. Three months ago Disney’s plans to reboot its venerable animations as live-action films was under the spotlight; now it is the turn of fellow Hollywood studio Paramount to flex its muscles as it ransacks its archive for recyclable properties.

At the beginning of July 2015 it was revealed that Paramount is developing an “event” TV series based on its hit infidelity thriller Fatal Attraction, which starred Close as the obsessive stalker of a lawyer, played by Michael Douglas, after the pair have a brief affair. The film, which was released in 1987, struck an immediate chord with audiences and became the second highest-grossing film of the year, and gave rise to the phrase “bunny boiler”; but the film also sparked criticism from feminist writers , such as Susan Faludi, who protested that it was a prime example of a film where “the independent woman gets punished”.

A fresh audience
Whether or not Fatal Attraction‘s original gender politics will survive intact – and the betting is they won’t – there’s no doubt that reviving past successes has a powerful attraction for a risk-averse Hollywood studio. “Paramount had a lot of big hits in the 1980s,” says Michael Rosser, news editor for film industry trade magazine Screen International, “and enough time has passed for them to be brought back. There’s a fresh audience out there who haven’t seen the originals, but there is also brand recognition, which is so crucial financially.”

Fatal Attraction’s disinterment marks the latest burst of activity from Paramount’s recently revived TV division, which had been defunct between 2006 and 2013. Other film-based series in the pipeline include Minority Report, based on the Tom Cruise science fiction drama that was originally made for Dreamworks, but is now owned by Paramount; Ashecliffe, based on the Martin Scorsese-directed thriller Shutter Island; American Gigolo, the 80s style classic that made a star of Richard Gere; and Galaxy Quest, drawn from the 1999 comedy about aliens who turn up at a fan convention.

Although the entertainment industry tends to focus on projects that go the other way – from small screen to film, such as the recent Entourage and The Equalizer, and the forthcoming Man from UNCLE – cinema to TV transfers have been an everpresent feature. In past decades – with series such as Alien Nation, Stargate SG1 or Buffy the Vampire Slayer – TV transfers used to be largely confined to films that were of relatively low value, or that had somehow underperformed at the box office. 

The rise of alternative broadcast channels
More recently, however, the proliferation of high-end TV has seen authentic classics given the small screen treatment. The Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning Fargo debuted as an ongoing series in 2014, while Michael Curtiz’s seminal 1945 film noir, Mildred Pierce, became a five-part mini-series on HBO in 2011, with Kate Winslet in the role originally played by Joan Crawford.

Rosser says that the rise of alternative broadcast channels is clear contributing factor. “Nowadays they don’t just have to go with network TV and all the restrictions that entails. HBO, Netflix, Amazon and the like allows people to be edgy and creative in a way that couldn’t have happened in an earlier era dominated by network. The stigma of TV has entirely gone, when you have someone like David Fincher making House of Cards.”

Cinema’s increasing reliance on big-budget spectacle – and ticket prices to match – is driving studios’ efforts to get involved in the relatively sophisticated world of TV drama, Rosser suggests. “Film remakes tend to be very high-concept, like Ghostbusters, and they can do more complicated things in TV. Plus the people are staying at home if they don’t want to see superhero movies; studios are following the audience and taking their product to the audience. They don’t expect them to come to the product any more.”– © Guardian News & Media 2015