This list does not contain the countless - and usually lame - cinematic "re-imaginings" of classic TV programs (e.g., Bewitched, The Flintstones, The Brady Bunch, Starsky and Hutch). Nor does it include any of the various Saturday Night Live skits that were stretched out to feature length, as I already wrote a list about them years ago. Finally, it does not include the handful of Playhouse 90-style teleplays from the 1950s that were adapted for cinemas (such as Marty). No, I'm talking about the television series that, whether or not they were successful during their boob-tube runs, somehow made the leap to the big screen, along with their original casts and creators.
- Dark Shadows. It all started here, with the cult vampire soap opera that everybody knows about, but almost nobody watched. The show ran from 1966 to 1971. House of Dark Shadows, which starred Jonathan Frid and the gang, came to theaters in 1970. (The long-discussed Tim Burton/Johnny Depp remake is due in 2012.)
- Star Trek.Thank legions of Trekkies - and local TV stations that played Paramount's short-lived sci fi series in syndication for years - for keeping interest in Kirk, Spock, and the crew so high as to warrant Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. Then thank those Paramount executives who still believed in the franchise, even after the 1979 movie fizzled, and greenlit Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The rest is history.
- Police Squad! Even shorter-lived than Star Trek - indeed, several of the entries on this list fared so poorly on the small screen that it's baffling that studios were willing to bank on them in theaters - the wacky Police Squad!, which starred Leslie Nielsen as bumbling cop Frank Drebin, lasted a mere six episodes before getting yanked. Six years later, Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! became a box office hit and spawned two sequels.
- Twin Peaks. It's hardly ironic that feature filmmaker David Lynch's first foray into televised drama would eventually find its way to cinemas. What's impressive is how quickly it happened: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was released just a year after the one-and-a-half-season show was canceled. Somebody must have figured that they needed to strike while the iron was still hot. However, Lynch's oblique, paranoid feature wound up turning off most mainstream Peaks fans. Personally, I thought the movie was a lot more interesting than the series.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation. With Trek fandom at its peak in the mid-'90s and the original Trek crew entering their dotage, taking Patrick Stewart et al to theaters may seem like a no-brainer today. But at the time it was a risk: because it was a syndicated, rather than network, program, the show's audience was notably smaller. Could it be a crossover hit? 1994's clumsy Kirk/Picard hybrid Star Trek: Generations suggested not, but the franchise rallied with 1996's Star Trek: First Contact.
- The X-Files. By the '90s, studios recognized that a hit genre show's geek audience was a force to be reckoned with, and few were surprised by the success of 1998's X-Files feature, hitting theaters right when love for Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and the show itself had reached its zenith. But the 2008 sequel arrived far too late, and flopped.
- The Simpsons. I know not why, but theatrical adaptations of animated series are commonplace - or at least they were a few years ago: Spongebob Squarepants, Beavis and Butthead, South Park, The Powerpuff Girls... the list goes on. But no animated series is as huge as The Simpsons, so I am singling out Springfield's favorite family to represent this subgenre.
- Firefly. Joss Whedon has had a funny relationship with big and small screen adaptations. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which he wrote, was a box office dud, but Whedon revived it as a popular TV series. Then his 2002 series Firefly only cranked out 14 episodes before cancellation, but its vocal fan following inspired Universal to release 2005's Serenity, written and directed by Whedon, only to realize how small the show's fanbase truly was.
- Sex and the City. Whatever I write about this adaptation has already been covered in my entry on The X-Files, although it is interesting to note that, aside from Police Squad!, this is the only non-genre, non-animated TV show to successfully make the transition to theaters. For its first outing, anyway; the sequel bombed.