“The A-Team” is ready for action. But this one isn’t comprised of George Peppard, Dwight Schultz, Dirk Benedict and Mr. T, but rather boasts a retooled roster featuring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
The original “A-Team” kicked its first butt in 1983, but alas, that was a lot of spent ammo ago. With the release of the June 11 big-screen movie, a new audience is being introduced to the gang.
It might appear that taking a television show from years ago and making a movie out of it today is a baffling business decision. After all, fans of the original show are older and less likely to go to the movies, whereas there is little brand recognition for younger cinema buffs.
Yet, Hollywood keeps doing it. It was recently announced that “Gilligan’s Island,” which ended its run on CBS in 1967, will eventually come to a theater near you.
“I think there’s a little bit of an imagination deficit going on,” noted Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief and CEO of TheWrap.com. “But it’s also risk averse. (Studios) can spend a lot of money on a new idea that people haven’t heard of, which is a lot riskier, or take an old brand like ‘Get Smart’ or ‘The A-Team’ and build an entertainment product that people at least recognize.”
Familiar names sell tickets
In recent years, Hollywood has done just that, with titles ranging from “Star Trek” to “The Honeymooners” to “Bewitched” and many more. But John Horn, who covers the movie business for the Los Angeles Times, said this TV-to-movie movement is part of a larger strategy of feeding entertainment comfort food to the public.
“Hollywood is desperate to make movies that it believes have pre-sold awareness,” Horn said. “It’s not only why the studios are making movies based on old TV shows, but also adapting things like board games and toys into films. There are currently plans to turn ‘Battleship,’ ‘Stretch Armstrong,’ ‘ViewMaster’ and ‘Magic 8 Ball’ into films. After all, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ among the most profitable franchises in modern show-business history, was based on a theme park ride.
“While any number of TV show adaptations have failed, quite a few have been successful, including, ‘Sex and the City,’ ‘Get Smart,’ ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘Star Trek.’ ”
Indeed, for every “Car 54, Where Are You?” (released in 1994; $1.2 million total domestic gross) and “McHale’s Navy” (1997; $4.5 million), there seem to be plenty of examples like “S.W.A.T.” (2003; $116 million), “Wild, Wild West” (1999; $113 million) and “Maverick” (1994; $101 million) that turned cheesy reruns into cinematic gold.
Laura Grindstaff, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, said that although critics may groan at the thought of another retread, audiences tend to enjoy these updated and repackaged products.
“There are attractions for audiences,” she said. “One is that there is pure pleasure in seeing a familiar story retold. Audiences like to be ‘in the know,’ and when familiar stories are retold, audiences are cast in the role of knowledgeable consumer, capable of making comparisons between old and new, and capable of making evaluations and judgments.
“Familiarity fosters what I think of as an ‘anticipatory plus participatory orientation,’ which means audiences have both a sense of expectation/anticipation,” Grindstaff said. “They know what’s coming, only not exactly — and a sense of entitlement to have an opinion on how the story unfolds. Both are important to people and increase their pleasure in watching film and TV.”
Will ‘A-Team’ work?
Grindstaff also pointed out that moviegoers like to see something different with their sameness. “In any remaking, there are inevitable changes,” she said, “and the implicit comparison between old and new is engaging for people.”
So how will “The A-Team” fare?
It’s obviously too early to tell, but the L.A. Times’ Horn said the people who made it and others like it have enough of a feel for the marketplace to make such adaptations work, at least financially.
“Most teenage moviegoers have no idea what ‘The A-Team’ was, but studio executives do,” Horn said. “They understand what the movie is before having to commit a dollar to make it.
“If a film adapted from a TV show turns out good enough, some of the fans of the original series may come to the theaters to check it out. But the studios are aware of how a decades-old TV show might look stodgy. In fact, Paramount worked particularly hard to make sure advertisements for ‘Star Trek’ made it clear that this wasn’t your father’s show by emphasizing action scenes and star Chris Pine.”
In other words, studios will seek money from older fans of “The A-Team” television show, money from new fans of “The A-Team” movie, and money from anybody in between.
Michael Ventre is a frequent contributor to TODAYshow.com.