The other day when I saw that they were going to turn one of the best movies of the 1980s, Big, into a television series, my immediate response was an exasperated sigh. But then I saw who was behind it: Mike Royce and Kevin Biegel, who are together responsible for two of my favorite cancelled-too-soon series in recent memory, Enlisted and Men of a Certain Age.
I realized exactly what was going on here: Big is the hook. It’s the name. It’s what gets people on their asses in front of the television. It guarantees a certain sampling size. But you can also guarantee that Royce and Biegel aren’t going to recreate Big. Based on their past work, it will probably be a thoughtful, funny, well-conceived and brilliantly cast reverse coming-of-age story, and as long as that pilot is great, viewers will stick around, even if the series itself strays far, far away from the original source material.
Basically, it’s the Fargo and Hannibal models. Noah Hawley (The Unusuals) and Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me) have a history of great shows that were cancelled too soon. A big reason they were cancelled too soon is that no one gave them a shot in the first place. Put a big name title on those shows, however, and it’s a totally different story: A bigger sampling means a bigger audience sticks around, which — in the case of a show like The Unusuals or Men of a Certain Age or even Enlisted — would’ve beget a larger word of mouth audience.
It’s smart, and I think it will allow Royce and Biegel to do exactly what they’ve been doing with their previous shows — create clever characters, and hilarious, compelling, and poignant storylines — only now more people will tune in based on the title. Maybe they will finally get a second or third season out of Big.
If only these ten shows had employed the same strategies when they premiered, our television landscape could’ve been completely reshaped.
1. Freaks and Geeks lasted only 18 episodes, but if the pilot episode had taken place in a study-hall cafeteria and ended with the “Don’t You Forget About Me,” the rest of the series could’ve played out exactly as it would have under the title: Breakfast Club: The Series. It would’ve lasted six seasons.
2. Terriers lasted only one season. If they’d used a different breed for the dog in the promo photos, say a Dogue de Bordeaux, then they could have called it Turner and Hooch. The dog could’ve just hung out in the back of the truck and occasionally cornered a fugitive. Otherwise, as written, and it would’ve lasted five seasons.
3. Better Off Ted lasted two seasons, but if Andrea Anders’ character had begun as a waitress in a neighboring restaurant, who was hired into the corporation in the second episode, then the same show could’ve been called Office Space (Stephen Root’s character could’ve also been added for additional comic relief).
4. My So-Called Life, featuring a red-haired Claire Danes, could’ve changed a couple of character names: Krakow could’ve been Duckie, and Jared Leto’s character could’ve been changed to Blane. The show would be called Pretty in Pink, and it would’ve lasted until the characters went to college.
5. Firefly could’ve made a few modifications to the ship and called itself Millennium Falcon, a Star Wars spin-off in which only the ship is spun into the new series. Everything else could’ve stayed the same. That series would still be running today.
6. Rubicon on AMC, which lasted only one season, could’ve simply changed its name to Three Days of the Condor and promoted itself, like Fargo, as a spiritual successor to the original 70’s movie set in the modern day. (It still would’ve been cancelled after one season, because that show was boring).
7. Pushing Daisies, which lasted two seasons, could simply have asked Tim Burton to executive produce, had Johnny Depp make a cameo in the pilot, and it could’ve been called Tim Burton’s: Pushing Daisies. It would’ve lasted at least one more season.
8. Happy Endings merely would’ve had to change its title to Friends: Chicago, and it would still be on.
9. Enlisted: Stripes: The Homefront. Boom! 10 seasons.
10. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip could’ve simply switched out Aaron Sorkin and Tina Fey, changed the format to a half-hour comedy and the title to 30 Rock, and it would’ve ran for six seasons.