But after just two shortened seasons, Fox pulled the plug on the blockbuster franchise's move to TV. Ratings had fallen to a series low by May, and it seemed the show was doomed to be unfavorably -- and maybe unfairly -- compared to its iconic source material.
This year, the networks are trying something more subtle. More movie reboots are on the way, but rather than plucking from mega properties, the networks have chosen less obvious films to help launch, but not overshadow, new series. In the fall, NBC will bring a drama version of the 1989 Steve Martin family movie "Parenthood" (a prior, short-lived comedic attempt aired in 1990), while ABC has slated a "Desperate Housewives" spin on "The Witches of Eastwick," simply titled "Eastwick."
ABC Family on Tuesday will premiere the half-hour series "10 Things I Hate About You," based on the 1999 teen comedy of the same name.
Though the films themselves may no longer be at the forefront of pop culture, each spinoff feels more like a homegrown project than a marketing ploy; "Parenthood" continues NBC's tradition of extra-large-ensemble dramas ("The West Wing," "ER" and "Heroes"), "Eastwick" adds another female-centric soap opera to ABC's stable ("Grey's Anatomy," "Brothers & Sisters"), and "10 Things" has the comedic edge of ABC Family's hit "Greek" (not coincidentally, "Greek" writer-producer Carter Covington works on both shows).
Time and distance between iterations offer advantages too. When the WB slowly grew "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" into a cult hit in 1997, few made comparisons -- or even remembered -- the 1992 movie that preceded it.
Name recognition, even if it summons a dim memory, is important, said Angela Bromstad, president of prime-time entertainment for NBC and Universal Media Studios. "When you're in such a crowded space, anything that resonates is good," she said. "To be honest, I haven't watched the original 'Parenthood' in some time. It's sitting at my desk at home -- I was planning on taking it on vacation to watch again."
That means no angry fanboys burning down NBC if the Steve Martin role is miscast. Jason Katims, who is executive producer of the series, said he likes "the fact that even if most people know the film, they won't be demanding the series be a certain thing. Hopefully, they'll be more open."
The gamble is not entirely new to NBC. The network saw moderate success with Katims' adaptation of the Peter Berg high school football drama "Friday Night Lights." Though the ratings-challenged show had a difficult time explaining itself to an audience -- the story centers on the issues facing a small-town community in Texas more than it does on high school football -- it found a critical following so devoted that NBC engineered a deal with DirecTV to keep the show on the air through 2011.
Katims thinks his new show will be a much easier sell. " 'Parenthood' is simpler -- it's all there in the title," he said. "It's dealing with the beauty and heartache of everyday life, specifically for parents."
As in the Ron Howard-directed film, the show will revolve around the daily dramas of a supersized adult family: four adult siblings (Peter Krause, Maura Tierney, Erika Christensen and Dax Shepard), their spouses, kids and parents (Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia). Howard will be executive producer of the series with producing partner Brian Grazer.
"Like with 'Friday Night Lights,' I think there's positive attachment to 'Parenthood,' " Bromstad said, recalling being a young mom herself when the film came out. "I don't remember the specifics, but I do remember it being a rare comment on how challenging parenthood was, but also how great."
A hard spell to cast
"Eastwick" executive producer Maggie Friedman concedes she initially found it troublesome that "The Witches of Eastwick" might be a little too memorable.
A couple of series attempts had already been made in the aftermath of George Miller's 1987 supernatural comedy-horror movie, based on the John Updike book, which starred Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer as a trio of lusty but vengeful witches and Jack Nicholson as "your average horny little devil." Pilots were produced in 1992 and as recently as 2002, with Marcia Cross, Kelly Rutherford and Lori Loughlin playing the women as mothers with teenage sons (all three are now regulars in returning series this fall).
"It was extremely intimidating," said Friedman, who had worked with ABC when she was a writer on "Once and Again." Also, the idea of a remake had already stalled out twice before, but Friedman said she eventually gave in because of her "intense interest" in magic. (She had previously written a show about a witch for Warner Bros. that never got picked up.)
"What I wanted was to be evocative of the fun and sexiness and danger of the movie but also do something different and contemporary," Friedman said. "More than magic, mine is a fantasy about female friendship."
For the series, she abandoned the campy '80s trappings and supernatural vagueness -- in the film, the women's powers randomly come and go -- in favor of something more grounded. Each of the three new witches in sleepy seaside Eastwick, here played by Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price and Jamie Ray Newman, is granted a gift specific to her midlife hang-up. (Price's character, for example, is a meek, bespectacled wallflower who suddenly finds herself with the power to bend men's wills -- after she ditches the glasses and updo, of course.)
"The magic and mythology is really just gravy for us," said Suzanne Patmore-Gibbs, ABC's executive vice president of scripted programming. Even the devilish man, played by Paul Gross, who helps awaken the trio's potential, may or may not be Satan this time around.
Patmore-Gibbs said: "We just wanted to hang out with these women. 'The Witches of Eastwick' means something to a certain age group, certainly, but you don't have to have seen the movie or read the book to get into it."
A recent favorite
Of the three shows, ABC Family's "10 Things I Hate About You" might have the most baggage to shed. The original film, itself an update of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," featured Julia Stiles and the late Heath Ledger, the latter in a star-making performance as the longhaired misfit who falls for Stiles' tough-talking high school feminist.
Their characters had to be reinvented for the show, which will follow the mismatched Stratford sisters and the students at Padua High. "It was really concerning," said ABC Family head of programming Kate Juergens. "Heath's role was particularly hard to cast, and we didn't want to replicate what he'd done and do ourselves a disservice by comparison. So we went in a different direction entirely."
Ethan Peck, the grandson of Gregory, will play the character of Patrick Verona. Juergens said that whereas Ledger had a "beautiful, sunny, playful presence," Peck has a "dark, brooding, deeply classical romantic thing going on."
She added that she had had her eye on the film ever since seeing a research presentation that listed "10 Things" among the Top 10 influential films among "young millenials," ABC Family's target audience. Once she found out parent company Disney owned the rights, she immediately began to develop the project.
Gil Junger, who directed the film and will direct several episodes of the series, said the show stands on its own because the characters from the movie do.
"I think if Disney had signed the cast of '10 Things' to a two- or three-picture deal -- and I'm still surprised they didn't -- there would have been a '10 Things 2' and '10 Things 3' and they would have been equally successful," Junger said, "because people fell in love not with the story but with those characters."