Very few original ideas exist in the world of TV. Or in the world of movies, for that matter. You may think that you are watching some original, but there is a good chance it was inspired by something that came before. Sometimes these copies are easy to spot and sometimes not. In the case of many TV shows–some of them spectacularly successful–the similarity is so striking that you have to wonder if the show is a just a retitled example of “Based on the Move…” These TV shows are not official small screen versions of big screen hits. But they could be.
The Brady Bunch
“Yours, Mine and Ours” was a movie about a widower with kids marrying a widow with kids and the hilarity that results from this new mixed family. This comedy hit theaters in 1968. In 1969, a new TV show premiered about a man named Brady with three sons who married a lovely lady with three daughters. Coincidence? Great minds thinking alike? The unofficial TV show of the movie? You decide.
“The Dirty Dozen” premiered in theaters in June, 1967. The movie is a classic about the transformation of convicted murderers into an elite team of assassins targeting a mansion overflowing with important Nazi officers. “Garrison’s Gorillas” hit ABC’s prime time schedule barely two and a half months later and told the story of some prisoners with very specific skills who could join an elite team of commandos and gain a pardon from the President if they were successful or face a firing squad if they were not.
Alias Smith and Jones
One of the few TV shows to be inspired but clearly not “Based on the Movie” that actually succeeded in quickly establishing its own identity was “Alias Smith and Jones.” The concept of two affable, non-murderous bank robbers at the twilight of the Wild West promising the Governor of the state they called home to go straight if they could receive a full pardon after a year sounds suspiciously similar to the runaway blockbuster “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” One of the things that “Alias Smith and Jones” had going for it was Pete Duel, who possessed every bit of the charisma of Paul Newman or Robert Redford. Duel was the secret weapon that “Alias Smith and Jones” had going for it as it attempted to distance itself enough from “Butch Cassidy” to be considered more than just a ripoff. Everything was going great and the future looked for the show until New Year’s Eve 1971 when Pete Duel picked up a shotgun and killed himself.
The New Land
This is a weird example. “The New Land” was a Swedish film with Max Von Sydow about Swedish immigrants to the American frontier around the time the Civil War kicks off. The film inspired a movie sequel and, strangely, a TV series that shared its name, but not its characters. Those characters from Sweden are trying to carve out a new life for themselves in the years just before the Civil War, but the show is not considered the TV series version of “The New Land” movie. Weird.
A guy has a wisecracking horse that only talks to him. A movie series about a soldier who strikes up a friendship with an Army mule that only talks to him. Which came first, the horse or the mule? Well, the mule, of course. By a long shot. Does changing the animal from mule to horse mean that “Mr. Ed” was so significantly different from the movie series based on a talking mule that it could be considered an original idea? Once again, you decide.
“Network” was an Oscar-winning film released in late 1976 that provided audiences with the inner workings of a television lagging so far behind in the ratings that they developed the mindset of anything-goes. At the center of this insight into network programming was a ravenously ambitious and amoral female executive. “W.E.B.” premiered on NBC in the fall of 1978 and told the story of a ravenously ambitious amoral female network executive struggling to define her toughness in a world populated by ruthless male executives.
“Cooley High” is a movie about low-income African-American high school students in the Chicago of the 1960s. “What’s Happening” is a TV show about low-income African-American high school students in the Los Angeles of the 1970s. So how could this possibly be an example of a TV series almost based on a movie, but not quite? In fact, “What’s Happening” is closer to being an official version of the movie that inspired it than any of the others. In fact, a pilot for a “Cooley High” TV show was filmed, but rejected by network execs. The writer of “Cooley High” then rewrote a pilot that was “inspired” by his original tale and that one sold and later became a very successful sitcom on ABC. If you look closely enough at the end credits of “What’s Happening” you will even see an acknowledgement of inspiration, but not based on.