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Adaptation Addict: Reworking Shows Like ‘Torchwood’ In America Could Be Difficult

But can Fox pull off what is sure to be a tough project


Nothing gives me more pleasure than to watch television shows or movies that are based on something that already exists such as a beloved book, and then pick it apart to see what was left out, what was done well, and especially what they got wrong.

But the term adaptation can really be expanded past entertainment ideas that originate from books. The terms revamped, modified, reworked and reconstructed also relate to the same concept. For this column, I will focus on works on television or the film screen that catch the attention of fans and haters alike.

There is exciting news for fans of sci-fi about a possible reworking of the British BBC show Torchwood. Last July, Torchwood: Children of Earth became one of the highest-rated shows for BBC America of the year as well as pulling in top ratings in its mother country. However, it was only a five-episode story arc, and since it aired there hasnt been much news about whether the show would be picked up for a fourth season.

As a fan, I searched often to find news stories that would give some hint as to when Russell T. Davies would take up the reins once again, when production would start, and what actors would be added to the decimated team. At the end of November, star John Barrowman confirmed that a future season would be a full 13 episodes. Recently after the David Tennant Doctor Who specials, the only words were ones of support for Russell Tovey to be added as the love interest for Barrowmans Capt. Jack. Tovey is known for his werewolf character George Sands in the BBCs Being Human, which is another show being restarted in the United States for Syfy.

However, it has recently been reported by The Hollywood Reporter that Fox Broadcasting is interested in bringing the Torchwood franchise to America as well. With this import, they also would be interested in bringing in Davies and Julie Gardner to help helm the startup as well as bringing in Barrowman himself.

While the news is in its early stages without confirmation from Fox, it struck a nerve with me and several other fans who expressed their reactions on Twitter. My first reaction was one of disbelief because of two major issues. First, what made Torchwood so interesting and great to begin with is because they broke many rules of television shows. For example, they not only portrayed a gay, or omnisexual character, it was made a part of him so that it was never an issue and was accepted immediately.

If the show is brought to network television in America, how much of that rogue attitude that Torchwood first started with would be watered down?

Second, is Fox the best place to restart any sci-fi show? There are many people who have watched Fox not be as supportive to its genre shows as many have been canceled such as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Joss Whedons latest show Dollhouse, and of course Whedons classically ill-handled show Firefly. Many fans of sci-fi believe that Fox does not know how to support genre shows.

But if not at Fox or BBC, then where can Torchwood go?

Beyond my negative reaction to the idea, I began to think about shows, popular franchises, and movies that are revamped and redone again and again. The question that comes to mind is, arent there any original ideas out there? The answer to that is a cynical, but realistic answer – it comes down to commercialism. If something has already proven to be financially successful, in todays entertainment industry it is OK to continue to dip into that honey bucket again and again.

However, what is the cost to the fans and consumers who are hungry for well-produced material? There are a few things that can make an adaptation work.

1. Staying true to the origins – Whether it is taking dialogue straight out of the book or keeping the characteristics of a major protagonist the same, it is important that there is a nod to the original source in more than just name. Shows like Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica have done that well, while the new V series still has the rest of its first season to prove successful.

2. Evolve in some way – It would be highly boring to do everything exactly the same. If we wanted it to be identical, we would rent or buy the DVD of the original. Adding something new to the original mix makes it more intriguing. Television shows that have done that with satisfying results include the ones mentioned above as well as Stargate: Universe, another show in its first season.

3. Trim the fat, but keep the meat – This mainly applies to movies that are adapted from books, but it can also go towards any franchise that gets a reboot. In the Harry Potter or Twilight movies, not everything carries over from the written word to the screen. Things have to be cut.

The best adaptations are ones that take away what isnt necessary to keep the meat of the story intact. For franchises that are getting revisited, such as Spider-Man, the producers would do well to figure out what didnt work in the last two movies to make it worthwhile to redo something that has recently been done. A good example of this is the difference between Ang Lees Hulk and the revamped The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton.

I have nothing against original ideas, and in fact I love to be surprised like with District 9. But I also love seeing shows and books of which I am a fan come alive in a new way. I am ready and waiting for V to return to ABC. I cannot wait to see the new version of the cult classic Clash of the Titans.

As for the Harry Potter and the Twilight movie series, I will always be there on opening weekend. In terms of Torchwood, I would like to see it stay in the United Kingdom on BBC and not be brought to America unless it is for filming of an episode. However, I cannot decide whether some Torchwood is better than no Torchwood at all.

No matter how the media spins it, if Torchwood is brought over and produced in America, it will not be the same as the original. Changes will have to be made based on limitations of the network, the writing staff and casting. There are ways in which it could go very wrong which would end the show altogether.

But if it happens, it could be an interesting change to the show if the creators and network pay attention to the details of making it great. Either way, I will be watching to see what happens with many other fans, and Ill be ready to pass judgment.

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