I was surprised to hear that Sony Pictures Animation recently bought the movie rights to Manimal, which enjoyed a robust eight episode run in 1983. The NBC show’s premise: a handsome doctor helps the police fight crime via his abilities to morph into different animals.
Ignored by the public (its main competition was Dallas) and ravaged by critics, when you think of ’80s TV, Manimal probably does not come to mind. Still, this is not the worst studios have done, not with an Alf movie in the works.
In 2012, we’ve been treated to movies based on a pregnancy guide (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) and a board game (Battleship). Both tanked, though it gives me hope for my screenplay based on my coffee maker. At least Manimal has a somewhat original concept and a narrative.
If this begins a trend of semi-obscure TV shows being lapped up by studios, perhaps the following long-departed programs should also be revived.
Street Hawk: Strip the show to its essence—wounded cop becomes anonymous enforcer on a bike—and it could be Drive on a Ducati. Just reunite Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn. And it has indie film pedigree. The narrator you hear at the end of the intro is the late Ernie Anderson, father of director Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, Boogie Nights).
M.A.S.K.: Children of the 80’s have an action-oriented cartoon they adore unabashedly be it Voltron, ThunderCats, or something else with sanitized violence. This was one of my favorites as a den-bound, Dipsy Doodle-scarfing eight-year-old. It featured changing vehicles driven by heroes and villains wearing high-tech masks. Tailor-made for guys who get chills when a preview starts with “from the producers of Transformers.” Or you could make it big, violent, and self-aware (think Commando or The Running Man).
B.J. and the Bear: I’ve never seen an entire episode of this show, clearly inspired by Smokey and the Bandit, but I’m captivated by the premise: A trucker (professional handsome man Greg Evigan) and his best friend, a monkey, get into scrapes. I can see the Farrelly Brothers, who specialize in cross-country comedies, directing this with confidence and no regard for decorum.
The Greatest American Hero: Four Spider-Man movies have examined Peter Parker coming to terms with his abilities. So why not make a movie about a young man who discovers a super-hero suit and must learn how to use it without the instruction manual? Plus, we’d get to enjoy one of the best theme songs ever recorded, which was also the inspiration for George Costanza’s memorable outgoing message. Recommended director: Joss Whedon (The Avengers).
Jem: As recently as 2009, a movie version of the cartoon (1985-88)—about a young woman who masquerades as a pop star—was in the works. Now, there’s no news. Too bad: If done right, it could be a kicky ode to female empowerment. “I liked that you could be brainy and fun at the same time,” said my wife, Laura, of her girlhood favorite. “Because I was kind of shy and awkward, and it put a fantasy in my head that you could have different sides of yourself. And I wanted to be like that.”