22 February 2012

Beauty and the Beast becomes 2012's 'newest' go to projects

With at least two TV projects and a motion picture based in and around the premise of Beauty and the Beast, I’m curious on what’s the obsession with doing more projects based on the same material. Part of it, of course, comes from idea that this French Fairy Tale’s story is public domain. Another comes from the cynical idea that movie studios and TV networks have little to offer in creativity and fear risk and losing any money that might enrage their shareholders.  Thus, we are stuck with one retread after another.

And granted, technology does advance every generation, so that enables these studios to adapt the same story again and again with foreknowledge that in the end, this new technology is what drive the eyes of the viewers to the TV screen or the silver screen.

But for me, that is not enough reasons to see it.

I’ve still not seen Avatar, and while people agree that James Cameron’s film is FernGully or Dances with Wolves, that the technical aspects -the 3D, the CGI- would make up for the paint-by-number script. I disagree, as to me the effects of any movie or TV show should never become a crutch for bad writing. Cameron counted on his audience realizing they were seeing a story done before, but that you would be so impressed with the visual aspect, you would ignore the shortcomings of said script. 

Both ABC and NBC debuted fantasy shows this past fall based on classic (and, more importantly, free) fairy tales. The alphabet network’s Once Upon a Time has been more successful than the Peacock’s Grimm, though with the fortunes of that network running below (sometimes) cable networks, Grimm is one of its more successful shows this season.

With the demise of Desperate Housewives in May, ABC is looking for something to help lead into or out of Once Upon a Time next fall. They’ve decided to go with a re-imaged version of Beauty and the Beast. The new fantasy version is about an embattled princess discovers an unlikely connection with a mysterious beast, the newly (and so, only announced member) casted Chris Egan. Meanwhile, rival mini-network The CW is retooling the old CBS series that once starred Linda Hamilton and Ron Pearlman. That 1987-90 series has a cult following even to this day. The CW’s version will change the premise a bit, become more of a procedural cop show than the original version, which focused on the underworld of New York and Hamilton’s character of Catherine fighting for their right to exist. Kristin Kreuk, who was Lana Lang on the old WB’s Smalleville, has been cast in The CW’s pilot. 

Meanwhile, director Christopher Gans (Silent Hill) is directing a French financed version of the classic fairy tale, which begins production in the fall. 

In the end, what has become clear is the studios for both TV and motion picture production see little risk in producing property done a million times before –and property they already own. The risk these days is, essentially, to do something that might actually take time to grow. Of course, I don’t buy into the notion that only premium cable networks like HBO, Starz and Showtime can produce quality comedies and dramas. Granted these cable channels have given creators more leeway, allowing stories to grow in a more organic way, but that should not be used as a barometer as what should be green-lite and what will never see the light of day.

Perhaps with the broadcast networks becoming dinosaurs in the new Media Millennium have to do is produce shows like some of the successful ones on basic cable. Maybe 13 episode seasons are more reasonable, even practicable in the sense that the “filler” and “bottle” episodes can be done away with, in favor of thirteen strong episodes. And while episodic TV is expensive –especially the start-up costs- those fears can be, perhaps, waylaid by the idea that like AMC’s Mad Men, The Killing, The Walking Dead, SyFy’s Warehouse 13 and Being Human, USA’s White Collar, Psych and Burn Notice among many others, have been successful in part to due to their 13 or so episode seasons. 

Granted, ratings on cable are measured differently. One of the biggest advantages is the ability of multiple airings. Still, with the broadcast networks relying on an antiquated, fully dysfunctional ratings system –the Nielsons- it’s a wonder that they’ve not just dropped all their scripted shows in favor of game shows and fake reality programming. 

Buying new property is always risky, but so is getting up every day. The broadcast networks, who once controlled America’s viewing audience, have decided to give up on everything to basic and premium cable channels. They no longer want to fight for viewers by offering them something new, and perhaps, original. They’ve settled for second or third best because the bottom-line has become more important than entertaining me, or anyone else, who puts more importance in writing and character driven shows than programming that is all plot driven and punch lines.

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