How to Tell If a Movie Will Make a Good TV Show

How to Tell If a Movie Will Make a Good TV Show

Television is in the midst of a renaissance. Some of the best storytellers working today are choosing to focus on the small screen. However, this doesn’t mean that movies are going to be replaced by television anytime soon.

What it means is that filmmakers should consider how they could potentially translate their material into a TV show. In recent years, it’s become common for popular films to spawn TV adaptations.

While not all movies are suited to TV adaptations, two recent films—Limitless and Catfish—embody those qualities that allow them to translate easily to television. They exemplify the kind of material that filmmakers should seek out if they intend to spin off their movies into TV series. Here is what they did right.



Jake McDorman | Image by ABC TV | Flickr

Limitless tells the story of a man whose life changes dramatically when he begins taking a drug that significantly boosts his mental abilities. At first, his new powers allow him to achieve success beyond his imagination. However, as he develops an addiction to the drug, his life spirals out of control.

It’s easy to see why audiences enjoyed the movie and why it was an ideal story for a TV adaptation.

While the TV version of Limitless does not follow the same character as in the film, it does exist in the same universe. The protagonist of the film even makes periodic appearances in the TV series. However, the production team realized that audiences wouldn’t simply want a retread of what they had seen before. A TV series that followed the character from the movie could go in one of two ways: it could tell the same story with more detail and subplots, or it could be a continuation of the storyline from the film.

Neither of those would make for compelling entertainment. Most people aren’t interested in seeing a new version of a movie that they just watched. They also don’t necessarily want to see everything that happens to a character after a film, if it ended the way that Limitless did, with an open-ended conclusion that asks audiences to speculate.

However, Limitless did lend itself to a TV adaptation because it created a universe in which there were many different stories to be told. In the film, it was clear that other people could take this drug. While their experiences would likely be similar to those of the movie’s protagonist, they would not be the same. Rather than covering the same ground as before, the TV series explored the other possibilities and implications of the film’s universe. A story with this type of potential is the kind that makes for a compelling series.



Catfish, like many smart movies, is an interesting story that tackles significant modern-day issues. This documentary chronicled a young man’s budding relationship with a woman he corresponded with primarily via the Internet. However, over the course of the film, it becomes clear that this woman is not exactly who she seems.

The topics, online dating and the anonymity that the Internet facilitates, are equally relevant to modern audiences. That’s why it made sense to adapt Catfish into a TV show after the initial success of the film. While the narrative of the movie may have essentially “concluded” as much as it possibly could have, the filmmakers did not by any means exhaust those topics.

Clearly there was a lot more material that could be covered. While the film documents one person’s experience with an online acquaintance who misrepresents her identity, this type of experience is common to many people who are active on social media sites. The television version of Catfish allowed the team from the original to investigate this experience on a deeper level. The film provided the initial foundation, and while it stands on its own, it also benefits from a TV show that builds on it.

That is the kind of source material that results in an effective TV adaptation. Like Limitless, Catfish brought viewers into a universe where there were many different stories to tell. While one was a fictional thriller and the other a fact-based account, both invited viewers into worlds that other storytellers and filmmakers could expand on.

No, not every film project needs to work as a TV show. That being said, if a filmmaker is looking for material that they could later expand on in this capacity, studying these examples is a smart idea. They worked as TV shows for clear reasons.

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