The Light from the TV Shows: The Prequelization Principle

You know you’re a real fan of “Psycho,” Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film adaptation of Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel, if your first reaction to hearing about A&E’s new series, “Bates Motel,” which premieres on March 18, was to grumble, “They’ve already done a TV show called ‘Bates Motel.’”

bates-motel

True enough: in 1987, NBC aired a TV movie called “Bates Motel,” which starred Bud Cort as Alex West, a fellow with a few mental troubles who shared some quality time with Norman Bates in the state insane asylum and, as a result, finds himself the beneficiary of the Bates Motel in Norman’s will. The intent was to use the movie as a backdoor pilot for a weekly anthology series of sorts, following the lives of individuals passing through as guests of the motel, but when ratings for the movie proved disappointing, the plan for the series was abandoned.

But A&E’s “Bates Motel” isn’t a retread of that premise. Instead, it’s a prequel, revealing how Norman Bates became the kind of guy who’d grow obsessed with his mother that he’d take on her identity on occasion and kill anyone who looked at him sideways.

Oh, wait, you say that’s already been done, too?

Yep, it sure has: in 1990, Showtime produced “Psycho IV: The Beginning,” which pointedly ignored the aforementioned TV movie and showed a very-much-still-alive Norman (Anthony Perkins) calling into a radio talk show about – what are the odds? – matricide, using the conversation as a framing device to flash back to his youth and reveal the bond between Norma Bates (Olivia Hussey) and her son (played by Henry Thomas). It doesn’t exactly hew 100% to the continuity established by the preceding three films, but as a standalone film for casual fins, it holds up relatively well, thanks in no small part to Perkins’ performance.

Actually, A&E’s “Bates Motel” isn’t a retread of that premise, either. Not really, anyway. I mean, yes, it starts at approximately the same point in Norman’s life, and the general idea is the same, in that it’s looking into all the Oedipal-ness of the Norma/Norman relationship. This time, though, it isn’t a period piece. For better or worse, it takes place in present day, which means that it’s arguably not a prequel at all but, instead, more of a complete reboot of the franchise.

Don’t worry, though: the Bates Motel itself still looks just as decrepit and foreboding as ever.

But, of course, “Bates Motel” is far from the first occasion of an existing property has been turned into a prequel for TV. Heck, it’s not even the first time it’s happened in 2013!

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The Light from the TV Shows: TGS: 30 Great Shows (That Don’t Actually Exist)

With “30 Rock” departing the airwaves after a not-unrespectable seven seasons – a particularly incredible achievement when you consider what an incredibly off-the-wall, insider-y sort of sitcom it was throughout its run – it seemed only appropriate to offer up some sort of tribute to the show in this week’s column. Unfortunately, since everyone else seems to have swiped all of the good angles that are 100% show-specific (indeed, I actually wrote a piece on the 30 best “30 Rock” guest stars for the “Today” blog, The Clicker), I had to think a little bit outside the box, but since a key aspect of the series was its show within a show, “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable concept to spotlight 30 of TV’s great fictional TV series. Lord knows these aren’t all of them, of course. Hell, even limiting myself to a one-fake-TV-series-per-real-TV-series rule…with the only exception being “30 Rock,” which seemed only fair, given the reason for the list in the first place…there are still thousands of omissions, so feel free to offer up your personal favorites that didn’t make the cut, “Family Guy” fans. (There’ve been so many on that show, I didn’t even know where to start.)

1. TGS with Tracy Jordan (“30 Rock”)

For those who can remember back to the pilot of “30 Rock,” Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) was originally in charge of a not-terribly-great sketch comedy series called “The Girlie Show,” but when GE’s new Head of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming, Jack Donaghy made an executive decision to add the completely unpredictable Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to the show, the comedian’s ego necessitated a change in the show’s title to feature his name more prominently. 136 episodes later, we’ve scarcely seen a single “TGS” sketch in its entirety, and what bits we have seen have rarely been funny (at least not intentionally), but the shenanigans surrounding the series have been consistently hysterical.

2. The Alan Brady Show (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”)

Dick Van Dyke has discussed on many occasions how many TV writers have come up to him over the years and told him that the biggest reasons they decided to break into the business in the first place was because Rob Petrie and his cronies on Alan Brady’s variety show made it look like one of the most entertaining occupations in the world. Strangely, he hasn’t spoken nearly as much about how many of those writers finished their comments by yelling, “Thanks for nothing, you big liar!” I’m betting it’s about 50/50.

By the way, although “The Alan Brady Show” wasn’t real, the folks at MeTV talked Carl Reiner into doing a promo for the addition of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to their line-up where he reprised the character. Funny stuff.

3. Invitation to Love (“Twin Peaks”)

If you’re not a David Lynch obsessive, you may not remember this soap opera, but those with keen eyes will recall that it turned up at least once in each of the first seven episodes of “Twin Peaks.” It’s also worth noting that “Invitation to Love” pointedly features identical-twin characters played by the same actress, which – in no way coincidentally – was more or less what Sheryl Lee did as Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson.

4. The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (“Spongebob Squarepants”)

The best bit about this cartoon-with-a-cartoon was the fact that the “Spongebob” show runners reunited former “McHale’s Navy” co-stars Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway to prove the characters’ respective voices. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

5. The Terrence and Phillip Show (“South Park”)

Disproving a longstanding theory that Canadians can’t be funny while cementing the not-really-in-question suspicion that farts are always funny, it need only be said that Terrence and Phillip are a stone-cold gas. Sadly, this clip is from their movie, “Asses of Fire,” rather than their series, but it’s basically the same thing. Y’know, except filthier. Much, much filthier.

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