Essays · TV

Every Movie is a TV Show is a Book is a Broadway Play is a Video Game

Here’s something to think about when you go looking for your favorite movie: it might be a TV show.
By  · Published on October 6th, 2015

Stephen King first published “The Mist” in 1980, Frank Darabont adapted it as a movie in 2007, and now The Weinstein Company is developing it for television. That’s similar to what happened to “The Dark Fields,” which was turned into Limitless in 2011, and is currently on CBS on a TV near you.

Going in reverse, the late ’80s TV show 21 Jump Street has been converted into two films (with probably more on the way, which also happened with The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, Charlie’s Angels, The A-Team, Dark Shadows, Mission: Impossible and Veronica Mars (although that last one is admittedly a spin-off film featuring most of the same actors in their original roles).

However, Veronica Mars (like Entourage) helps illustrate an interesting difference from all of the TV shows that decided they needed a movie (not yet, Community). That happens a lot with animated shows, and it happens sometimes with live-action casts, but more and more we’re seeing revivals of older shows morphing into movies with brand new casts and the potential/threat of a cameo appearance from the old guard. These are different animals altogether, and they’re growing in popularity.

Then we have Fargo, another movie that became a TV show. See also: Terminator/The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Minority Report and Scream. If you’re up to it, add Sleepy Hollow as a TV show that started as a 19th century short story, was adapted many times for film, TV, and musical theater before Tim Burton’s 1999 film version and the currently popular TV version.

Speaking of musicals, Broadway has also seen Spider-Man swing into action alongside, Big Fish, Carrie, Evil Dead, Rocky, and about a billion Disney movies, and it’ll soon see a version of Back to the Future. Meanwhile, Hollywood has mined Broadway more recently, producing Annie, Les Miserables, Into the Woods, Jersey Boys, The Last Five Years, August: Osage County, Venus in Fur, Rock of Ages and more. They’ve also shown interest in “Book of Mormon,” and just about every other wildly popular new show. The radar is pinging.

That’s not to mention the tangled product web of all things Marvel and the fact that all popular movies are novelized (some create universes of books (that are then retconned out of existence when a new movie series begins afresh (ahem, Star Wars))) and turned cheaply into crappy video games. These are admittedly tie-in advertisements for the main artwork being sold, but even so, they are pieces of art themselves, crafted (often hurriedly) at the same time as the movie they want you to see.

On a more solid version of that front, you can personally list off all the video game movie adaptations you’ve hated, and we’re getting new hope for them with World of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed.

Then we have The Walk, a movie currently in theaters based on a true story that was covered by a notable, high profile, Oscar-worthy documentary. How long until we get Grey Gardens: The TV Show? When can we have Ken Burns’ The Civil War: The Breakfast Cereal?

And what’s the point of rattling off all these tiles? We already know how unoriginal media is and how often we see something we know being molded into a different platform. However, we don’t often take the opportunity to gaze into the abyss to understand just how intractable popularity has made television, cinema, literature, video games, stage shows and more. Every corporate entity who tells stories is now addicted to synergy. We all mocked that concept when NASA announced flowing water on Mars on the heels of The Martian, but we should remember the joke when the movie inevitably becomes a show on CBS in 2017 and a Broadway musical where Mark Watney belts out his loneliness and love for potatoes using catchy lyrics. It’s already got a video game.

All media is feeding into all media.

The bottom line is that, while we think about remakes/reboots and sequels all the time, we don’t always consider the cross-media reality of making something popular today. Or even something you hope will be popular. It’s not enough to make one piece of art; you have to make five, and they all have to tie in and point back to the main source. Conversely, if you’re stuck for what might be popular, there’s a host of other media with proven titles to comb through. We see one thing and think immediately that it should be something else. “The Venus de Milo would make a radical opera.”

It’s difficult to keep track of where everything began life. You find yourself thinking, “That was a book?” when you bother to Google something you just enjoyed. At a certain point, it will be frivolous to worry about what came first. The movie you love is a book is a video game is a musical is a graphic novel is a TV show is a movie.

But, seriously, there’s gonna be a Back to the Future musical.

Update: How could I forget podcasts? This American Life was the TV pioneer, but now its spin-off Serial is so good that it has to be a TV series, too.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.