Popular TV Series That Were Originally Supposed To Be MoviesPublished on March 14, 2017. Updated March 25, 2020
When it comes to creating a hit film or TV series, one of the biggest concerns is how to tell the entire story properly. Coming up with an original story for the next big Hollywood film is difficult, but the same could be said for a new TV series and what fans don’t know is that some of their favorite shows weren’t even supposed to be shows at all! There have been quite a few times when some of the most popular shows of recent years were actually pitched as movies before somebody realized how much better they could be if turned into an entire series instead. Here are 12 popular series that were first imagined as movies:
Lost may have been one of TV’s most groundbreaking and gripping series of recent years, but there was a brief moment when all it was going to become was a made-for-TV movie! While in the middle of filming the pilot episode, the new head of ABC decided it would be better as a TV movie. “In the middle of shooting the pilot, the head of ABC [Lloyd Braun] was fired,” J.J. Abrams revealed. “And the new person [Stephen McPherson] came in while we were shooting and they said, ‘Uh, can you shoot an ending? We can air it as a TV movie.’ And I said, ‘If you can tell me how to end this show … what that scene is, I will shoot it for you.” Abrams said after that brief interaction and some push-back on his part “he never heard back about it” being made into a movie instead and it went forward as a series with the pilot becoming one of the most expensive TV pilots in television history.
With many of its hit shows ending, The CW was in need of a gripping new teen series when it picked up Riverdale. Using the beloved Archie comic characters, and a mix of talented new stars and beloved Hollywood veterans the show was an immediate success, but at first it wasn’t even supposed to be a show at all. In 2013, Warner Bros. picked up the idea for an Archie movie after receiving a pitch from writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and director Jason Moore. The film was imagined as a teen comedy reminiscent of the John Hughes’ classic films from the ’80s; however, as Warner Bros. began focusing on its bigger films, the Archie movie got left behind. Eventually Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa reimagined the film for TV and Riverdale was born. Riverdale began development at Fox in 2014, but the network soon dropped the project and, finally in 2015, the show was moved to The CW.
In the fall of 2016, Fox took a leap with its new series Pitch which told the story of the first woman to ever play in the MLB. While the unique premise seemed like a definite hit, the series was canceled after the first season, and may be one of the few that possibly could have done better as a film, which was the creator’s original intention. Producer Dan Fogelman was introduced to the project via writer Rick Singer and producer and director Tony Bill, but none of them thought of it as a series at first. “They had been developing this for a long time as a movie. They’re huge baseball junkies themselves. I’d first talked to Tony about it as a film and I realized as my deal was coming over to 20th Century Fox Television that it might be a nice fit as a TV series,” Fogelman explained on how he took Pitch from a movie to a Fox series.
It might be hard to believe but one of the most iconic medical dramas in TV history and one of the longest-running shows in TV history, almost wasn’t a show at all. Back in 1974, renowned author, creator, producer and director Michael Crichton developed a screenplay about his own experiences as a doctor in a hectic hospital emergency room, hoping to make it into a successful film but that isn’t exactly what happened. “I wrote a documentary-style movie about what happened during 24 hours in an emergency room. I thought the screenplay was terrific, but nobody would make the movie, finding it too technical, too chaotic, and too fast-moving. It sat on the shelf for the next nineteen years – brought out every five or ten years, for updating, and for the studios and networks to look at, and reject yet again,” Crichton wrote on his website. After collaborating with Steven Spielberg to bring his book Jurassic Park to the big screen in 1993, the pair turned to ER and made some changes to present it as a two-hour pilot for a series instead of as a film and finally it was picked up by NBC.
8. The Shannara Chronicles
In January 2016, MTV aired The Shannara Chronicles which was the teenage answer to Game of Thrones. The series was based off of the best-selling fantasy book series by Terry Brooks of the same name. While it gained a small and dedicated following, the show did not perform as expected and was cancelled after only two seasons and twenty episodes, meaning maybe it should have just been a movie which reportedly was originally intended for it. Almost 10 years earlier in 2007, the books were optioned by Warner Bros. to be turned into a film but Warner Bros. never moved ahead with production and in 2010 their film rights expired and were given back to author Terry Brooks. Instead of a film studio, Brooks got a better offer from MTV to develop his stories into a series instead.
There are many superhero and comic book fans who wish that 2003’s Daredevil starring Ben Affleck never happened, and it took a decade before anyone made another attempt at the story, and in April 2015 the Daredevil series came to Netflix, but not before another film version was first discussed. In 2013 the film rights to Daredevil were bought back by Marvel Studios from 20th Century Fox, and Drew Goddard immediately began looking at creating a Marvel Daredevil film. After the disastrous 2003 film, however, Marvel was hesitant about how to present the character and his story and did not want to create an R-rated film but Goddard did not want a “watered down version of the character.” Goddard explained, “I went into Marvel and talked to them about making it as a movie a couple of years ago, long after the Affleck movie. But what we all sort of realised is that, this movie doesn’t want to cost $200 million. The thing about Matt Murdock is, he’s not saving the world. He’s just keeping his corner clean. So it would feel wrong to have spaceships crashing in the middle of the city. But because of that, Marvel on the movie side is not in the business of making $25 million movies. They’re going big, as they should.” Through this conversation Goddard and Marvel realized that while a Daredevil movie wouldn’t work, but that a television series definitely would and Marvel’s Daredevil was created.
It didn’t take long for Glee to become a pop culture phenomenon following its debut on Fox in May 2009, but the story could have been very different, and audiences may never had had six seasons of William McKinley High School’s glee club. In 2005, Glee’s creator, executive producer, co-writer, and director Ian Brennan envisioned the story as a film based on a high school glee club in a very normal town with characters who just wanted to stand out and be stars. After pitching the film unsuccessfully for awhile, he gave up on the idea until his friend, television producer Mike Novick, ran into Ryan Murphy at the gym and gave him Brennan’s script. Murphy immediately loved the script and brought in his friend and colleague Brad Falchuk who agreed Glee would serve better as a television show instead. Brennan, Murphy and Falchuk re-wrote Brennan’s entire original script and sent it off to Fox who picked up the series only 15 hours later.
5. Mr. Robot
Sam Esmail’s cyber-thriller series Mr. Robot is yet just another successful series that almost wasn’t on TV at all. Esmail has explained that he has always been fascinated by hacker culture and for 15 years thought about making a film about it, but it was during the writing process he realized the story would be better told through TV. “I was writing it as a feature, but I think around page 90 I realized I wasn’t even halfway through the first act, and that’s when I knew this really couldn’t be a feature. I chopped 30 pages off and said, ‘okay, this will be the pilot episode of whatever this becomes.'” After making the changes, he presented the script to Anonymous Content to gauge interest on it as a series and USA Network immediately picked it up and ordered a pilot in July 2014 before ordering a whole 10 episodes in December 2014.
4. 13 Reasons Why
Netflix has had a lot of success with original series lately and one of the biggest and most talked about has been 13 Reasons Why. Since most books are adapted into films instead of series, that is how the screen adaptation of 13 Reasons Why began when Universal Studios bought the rights to the novel in 2011. As it turns out, Selena Gomez spearheaded the film after falling in love with the book and was cast as Hannah Baker. Before long it was realized the story would be better served as a series instead and Gomez decided to stay behind the cameras as an executive producer because she didn’t want her fame or celebrity detracting from the importance of the book and the story.
3. Game of Thrones
It really isn’t surprising that many imagined Game of Thrones as a major sci-fi fantasy film in the vein of Lord of the Rings, but this time around it was the writer who was against it. Before being approached by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to turn “A Song of Fire and Ice” into a series, many other scriptwriters had tried to talk Martin into turning the story into a feature length film, but he was adamantly against it and Benioff agreed. Of course the violence and sexual content was not going to fly on network television either, so they took their idea to HBO who agreed and bought the TV rights to the novels.
2. This Is Us
No drama has impacted TV the way This Is Us has since its premiere in September of 2016, and there is a small chance that TV audiences would never have been introduced to the Pearsons the way we know them at all. This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman revealed midway through the show’s second season that he originally intended for the series to be a film about octuplets. Fogelman explained that he wrote around 80 pages of the Pearson family back in 2015 and instead of the twist fans saw at the end of the pilot episode, “There was going to be a reveal at the end [of the movie] that they were octuplets born in the late ’70s or early ’80s.” Before long, he realized how hard it was to fit everything he wanted into just one movie. “The reason I was struggling with [the film] wasn’t the plot; it was about these characters and how I didn’t want to ‘beginning-middle-and-end’ them. I wanted to do this continuous story — which felt very much like the theme of the show.” There is no doubt that TV audiences have never been happier that Fogelman realized what a great show it could be and gave us This Is Us.
1. One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill may be one of the most beloved and popular shows of the 2000s, but in the beginning, fans could have only gotten a movie instead of nine seasons. Creator Mark Schwahn first came up with the idea from his own personal experiences of growing up in a small town and playing on the basketball team, but said he was more like the character of Mouth McFadden, and originally imagined it as a film which he called Ravens. As he continued writing, however, he realized it could make a very interesting television series and recreated Ravens as One Tree Hill.