Nine Failed Films Directed by TV Series Creators

Larry David’s Sour Grapes
It's been a while since I wrote a List of 9; my research & writing interests have been focused on a new, non-film-related project called L.A. Street Names. You'll be hearing more about that later. Anyway, for decades, TV was seen as the artistic inferior to theatrical motion pictures. Lately, of course, the tables have turned. Yet TV creators remained tempted to try their hand at helming a feature. Often it works: Carl Reiner, Garry Marshall, J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and the Russo Brothers are just a few of those who successfully made the leap from small screen to big. The following nine, not so much. Note that for this list I am limiting it to showrunners who, as of this writing, directed one and only one feature.
  1. ARE YOU HERE, directed by Matthew Weiner. Weiner created Mad Men, considered one of the greatest TV series of all time. At the peak of his show's success, he wrote and directed this little-seen indie starring Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Poehler. Reviews were not kind and audiences avoided it.
  2. NOT FADE AWAY, directed by David Chase. Weiner cut his teeth as a writer on The Sopranos, also considered one of the greatest TV series of all time. In 2012, Sopranos creator David Chase wrote and directed this dull coming-of-age drama based on his memories as a would-be teenage musician in the 1960s. Even Sopranos star James Gandolfini couldn't breathe life into it.
  3. SOUR GRAPES, directed by Larry David. Between Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, David wrote and directed this lame comedy about gamblers played by Steven Weber and Craig Bierko. Sour Grapes made it clear that all three of these guys were better suited for television.
  4. COLD TURKEY, directed by Norman Lear. We need to go back to 1971 for this one. Norman Lear was the mastermind behind that decade's greatest sitcoms: All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son, and One Day at a Time. Before all that, he wrote for both film and TV, and he got his directorial break with Cold Turkey, a Dick Van Dyke vehicle that satirized the tobacco industry. It had modest commercial and critical success, but Lear went over budget and lost money for the studio. Then All in the Family got huge and Lear abandoned his film directing dreams.
  5. LAST RITES, directed by Donald P. Bellisario. He's never been cool, but Donald P. Bellisario has created loads of hit series over the years: Magnum, P.I., Quantum Leap, JAG, NCIS, and more. In 1988, he wrote and directed a thriller called Last Rites, starring Tom Berenger as a Catholic priest entangled with a beautiful woman and the Mafia. You will not be surprised to learn that it fizzled at the box office.
  6. THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, directed by Chris Carter. You'd think the guy who created The X-Files would know how to direct an X-Files movie, but alas. While the show's first theatrical adaptation, directed by Rob Bowman in 1998, was a blockbuster, Carter's 2008 sequel came too late and underperformed on all counts.
  7. SMALL TIME, directed by Joel Surnow. Household name or not, Joel Surnow co-created 24, which is all he needs on his resume. Small Time, his 2014 coming-of-age period picture that, like Not Fade Away, was semi-autobiographical, really was small time. Starring TV actors Christopher Meloni and Dean Norris, it never received a theatrical release.
  8. CABIN BOY, directed by Adam Resnick. Longtime Late Night with David Letterman writer Resnick teamed up with Late Night regular Chris Elliott to create the cult sitcom Get a Life, starring Elliott. In 1994, someone at Disney decided to gamble on Resnick and Elliott's absurdist theatrical comedy Cabin Boy. It was a bad bet. And I actually saw Cabin Boy, hoping to find something in it that others couldn't. Instead, it put me to sleep. A few funny gags can't save an aimless movie, and Elliott is best taken in small doses.
  9. HARRY IN YOUR POCKET, directed by Bruce Geller. I was going to list Towelhead, directed by Six Feet Under/True Blood creator Alan Ball, but Ball just premiered his second feature Uncle Frank at pre-pandemic Sundance 2020. Sidney Sheldon (I Dream of Jeannie, Hart to Hart, and countless airport novels) almost made this list as well, but he directed two features in the 1950s. And so we'll settle with Geller, who created the original Mission: Impossible (and co-created Mannix, if you remember that one). 1973's Harry in Your Pocket, starring James Coburn as the leader of a pickpocket ring, is one of those middling '70s movies that Quentin Tarantino probably likes. If Geller hadn't died in a 1978 plane crash, he might have directed something more.