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TV Spin-Offs

”Party Girl,” ”Clueless,” and other films are being downsized for the small screen

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Next fall, you may feel like shelling out eight bucks before switching on your television. Although big-screen spin-offs have always been a small-screen staple — remember when M*A*S*H and Happy Days ruled the airwaves? — there haven’t been this many movie-based shows headed to the tube since…well, since M*A*S*H and Happy Days ruled the airwaves. At least half a dozen TV pilots based on feature films are in production for the 1996-97 season. What’s behind the trend? ”The total lack of imagination of people in Hollywood,” jokes screenwriter-director Joss Whedon, who is turning Buffy the Vampire Slayer into a pilot for the WB network.

This theory of a creativity-challenged Hollywood aside, programs based on hit features have the advantage of familiarity, and for TV execs, familiarity breeds delight. ABC has already ordered 13 episodes of Clueless. ”They’re like mini-Clueless movies,” the film’s director, Amy Heckerling, says about her TV adaptation, in which Rachel Blanchard (Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark?) steps into Alicia Silverstone’s Gucci pumps. ABC has also ordered a pilot based on the Michelle Pfeiffer schoolroom drama Dangerous Minds (with Designing Women‘s Annie Potts filling Pfeiffer’s role). ”They’re pre-sold titles,” says Minds coproducer Jerry Bruckheimer, whose production company is developing the television version. ”Viewers are hoping they get the same experience with the TV show that they did with the film.”

Among the other movieplex spin-offs headed to your living room are Party Girl, a Fox pilot based on last year’s art-house comedy, with Christine Taylor (The Brady Bunch Movie) taking over Parker Posey’s role; Once a Thief, another Fox show, this one being developed by director John Woo and based on Woo’s 1991 comedy of the same name about a Hong Kong crime family living in Vancouver, Canada; The Big Easy, a USA Network drama starring Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure) and taking off on the 1987 thriller; and The Blues Brothers, an animated show for UPN based on the Saturday Night Live characters. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s widow, Judy Belushi Pisano, are consultants.

Of course, we can only hope for the next logical step: Babe, the series.