If Not The Dark Tower, Then What Will Cross Between Movies And Television?

It’s tempting to read into Universal’s decision not to move forward with Ron Howard’s extremely ambitious take on The Dark Tower, and create labyrinthine theories about why the studio gave up on it: Maybe executives don’t believe that a geek audience would buy into it in enough size to make it profitable! Maybe Stephen King properties are cursed! But no matter why Dark Tower seems to be dead for now, one question remains: Who will manage to pull off the TV/movie crossover trick first?

Despite what you may think about Dark Tower as a story, Howard’s plan to start the story in a movie, before continuing it through a season of television, back to a movie, then back to television, and so on, was potentially groundbreaking, if filled with all manner of obvious flaws (What if the movie flops at the box office, or the television show doesn’t get enough viewers to be financially responsible to continue? What if there’s another writer’s strike, knocking one piece off-schedule? Where are the storybreaks that decides whether something goes in the movie or the television show, and how far do you have to change things from the novels in order to make that happen?), but above all, it was exciting. From the first time it was mentioned, the idea has sparked all manner of excited discussion, speculation and what everyone likes to call “buzz” about the project, based as much on the format as any content contained therein.

And why not? We’ve gotten used to transmedia by now, with stories expanding through ARGs online, or web-exclusive scenes, DVD extras, and so on, and this just feels like the next step in that direction – One that we’ve almost been trained to expect by the increasing number of serialized movie series, exemplified best, I think, by Marvel’s Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Avengers (I’ve suggested in the past that Marvel should be following the Dark Tower model with its television plans – in other words, tying the shows into the movie continuity), with Cap even finishing with a trailer for Avengers next year. But even that is just an extention of the lessons the audience have learned from television shows like Lost and, to a lesser extent, Battlestar Galactica and the like – that you can tell longform stories successfully onscreen, but that the audience has to tune in and keep up in order for it to happen. The audience knows how to do that, now; we’re familiar with keeping track of movie continuities and television continuities – and if we slip, there’s always the internet and the mass mind behind it to help us – so all we’re really waiting for is for someone to join the dots.

If Marvel isn’t going to do it, their former partner should: Paramount has Star Trek, after all, and I’d be surprised if they couldn’t get CBS interested in producing a Trek TV show that takes place in the gaps between movies in the reboot universe – especially if JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were involved. Or perhaps DC could jumpstart its troubled movie franchise with some television build-up? What if James Cameron decided to get in the game with Avatar on television? Or George Lucas and the much-mooted Star Wars live-action series… Could that spin off into movies at the same time?The problem is likely to be one of logistics: Who can come up with a story – or a universe, perhaps? – that’s big enough to be worthy of both mediums simultaneously, from both an audience and narrative standpoint? Because the idea is out there, already, and waiting to happen. It’s really only a matter of time.

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Comments

  • Benjamin Rojek

    Mass Effect could definitely be taken in this direction.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    The most obvious reason this didn’t happen was the risk. This whole thing:

    “What if the movie flops at the box office, or the television show
    doesn’t get enough viewers to be financially responsible to continue?
    What if there’s another writer’s strike, knocking one piece
    off-schedule? Where are the storybreaks that decides whether something
    goes in the movie or the television show, and how far do you have to
    change things from the novels in order to make that happen?”

    We’re talking hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in an untested idea. It was never going to happen. Not like this.

    I also have to take issue with “we’ve almost been trained to expect by the increasing number of serialized movie series, exemplified best, I think, by Marvel’s Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Avengers, with Cap even finishing with a trailer for Avengers next year.” Marvel’s movies aren’t serialized. LOTR was serialized. The Cinematic Universe doesn’t even come close. At best, it’s created an on-screen fictional universe, that most audiences won’t even be aware of until Friday. The success of the idea did not require every piece to be a financial success, unlike The Dark Tower‘s adaptation would have. The only way I can see a studio actively investing in this kind of venture is if Marvel successfully expands it’s Cinematic Universe onto television. Then they’d have a successful mold to base The Dark Tower adaptation on. If anyone does it though, in the current climate, it’ll be Marvel and no one else. DC’s made it clear they’re not doing a shared universe (they ought to rethink that, though). Star Trek‘s actors probably won’t come down to television (Quinto might, but not Pine). Star Wars has been straddling this line for years, but has yet to be cohesive about the two, which The Dark Tower would require. It’s one attempt to do so failed.

  • ATK

    My first reaction is to say Stargate, as they have been the best translated movie to TV franchise but have yet to translate back to into cinema. I agree Marvel or DC could take advantage of the cross medium, it would be awesome to get something like a Dr. Strange TV series only to have it tie into the Avengers 2 or something to that effect.
     
    Star Wars has to some extent done this already thru Clone Wars, which in my opinion is the only good thing to come out of the pre-quills. While I love the show I will admit the irrationality and marketing failure of premiering the series in the theater before starting the series on TV.
     
    Frankly I want more Star Trek. I willing to wait for the new film as I am a firm believer in quality over release date, but I still want weekly adventures if done they can be done right.

  • Guest

    The problem with the Star Trek idea is it’s doubtful they could get the cast to sign up for a (relatively) long term television series.

  • Jmcreer

    Exactly – but what they could do is showcase another ship and crew (in a minor supporting role) that could spin-off into their own series.  In addition, a lot of the Star Trek movie actors who aren’t huge names now (like Chris Pine and Simon Pegg) would be able to cameo now and then (although now I think of it Pegg’s such a Star Trek geek he’d do it).  It’s possible.

    More than likely though, Paramount will just launch a new Star Trek series after the second film comes out, with no need to cameo it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    Don’t forget that Pegg also has a history on television.

  • Jmcreer

    “Marvel’s movies aren’t serialized”  I agree.

    The Marvel movies links to each other are tenuous at best – you don’t need to have seen Iron Man 2 to watch Thor.  You don’t need to have seen Thor to watch Captain America.  You won’t need to have seen Captain America to see Avengers for it to make sense.  The rebooted Incredible Hulk proved this as not that many people saw it at the cinemas.  Iron Man Two’s main criticism was that it was setting up for an Avengers film at the sacrifice of plot.

    Marvel have largely linked the films in the best way possible – small easter eggs and little previews.  When they haven’t adhered to that approach (as in IM2) it’s gone a little pear-shaped. This also happened in a minor manner in Thor when they highlighted the Hawkeye character for no substantial reason – if you weren’t a fanboy (like my wife) you were left thinking, “Who the hell is that guy and why did he just show up and disappear?”  It was distracting.

    The investment required of Howard’s approach to the Dark Tower is gigantic and full of risk.  Marvel’s approach is nothing like it (so far).  I’m only surprised that the studio took this long to say no.  Just do the series on HBO like Band of Brothers.  If one book is successful move on – if not, cut your losses.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    Agree for the most part, except to say, I loved Iron Man 2 and it’s ties to the greater Cinematic Universe. And non-comic readers who are aware of the plan, also appreciated it (in my own, personal experience). But Hawkeye shouldn’t have been in Thor. That was just weird.

  • ATK

    Wouldn’t be opposed to a Star Trek Anthology sereis.

  • Anonymous

    Not quite the same, but what about that first X-Files movie that came out between seasons?