When MTV announced that it was remaking the 1985 movie Teen Wolf, starring Michael J. Fox, the question on a lot of people’s tongues was, “Why?” The hackneyed werewolf comedy hasn’t aged well — and it wasn’t anybody’s idea of a would-be classic to being with.
“You can easily ask the same question of Battlestar Galactica, which became one of my favorite TV shows,” said Jeff Davis, an executive producer and the writer of Teen Wolf the series, at a gathering of TV critics last week in Los Angeles. “I loved the original version, and I love the new version. I recognize its datedness.”
Indeed, when MTV told Davis they had the rights to Teen Wolf and were thinking of remaking it, he was initially wary.
“I am a huge fan of the original movie,” Davis said. “I loved it. But the question really is — A, it’s a basketball movie, and, B, it’s a comedy. And I said to them, ‘Is that the kind of movie you want to make?’ And they said, ‘No. We want to reinvent it for modern audiences, but we want to use the same kind of themes of a teenager exploring new-found powers and take the metaphor of a werewolf a little bit further, a little edgier, a little sexier.
“I think what we’ve done is we’ve paid really good homage to the original movie,” Davis said. “And to be quite honest, I consider myself a creative person, but also as a businessman, and you can’t dismiss the power of branding.”
The show will debut in March 2011 on MTV, but TheTorchOnline.com has seen a rough cut of the pilot, and Davis is right: it’s nothing like the original movie.
Instead, it’s a lot like The Vampire Diaries, with werewolves instead of vampires: broad, fast-paced action-romance involving attractive teenage characters.
But since The Vampire Diaries was much, much better than expected (and also better than Twilight, the project that started the teen vampire phenomenon), Teen Wolf’s obvious ripping off of The Vampire Diaries is not necessarily a bad thing.
But while the show plans to feature romance, the producers also insist that it will be only one small part of the show.
According to Davis, “If it was a [broadcast] network [and not a cable channel like MTV], we’d be told, ‘Focus far more on the relationships. Don’t do too much of the werewolf stuff. Yes, he’s a werewolf, but we don’t want to do too much of that.’ There’s network sci-fi shows that are constantly being told, ‘Less sci-fi, more soap opera.’ But here they have been telling us, ‘Edgier. Go for it. We want to see action. We want to see twists. We want to see surprises,’ which is one of the most exciting things, to me, about working in cable.”
According to Tyler Posey, the 18-year-old actor who plays the main character who gets bit by a werewolf in the show’s opening minutes, the werewolves here are not like those in other similar projects.
“The werewolf that we are doing is completely different than the other werewolves that are kind of going around right now,” Posey said. “It’s more of a sexier kind of sleek werewolf. [We] got to push that sexy. It’s not as hairy as the original, the Teen Wolf, Michael J. Fox. But it definitely gives it a much darker and new feel to this werewolf.”
The show includes an element that’s new to the werewolf mythology, a mysterious ancient rivalry that, thankfully, doesn’t involve vampires.
Also in terms of reinventing the werewolf mythology, the show introduces three kinds of werewolves: an alpha, a beta, and an omega, the last of which takes the full wolf shape.
“The alpha being [most] monstrous,” Davis said.
“The way we like to put it is, the other werewolf shows and movies have werewolves you can pet,” Davis said. “We wanted to have one you could kiss.”
Not surprisingly (and perhaps disappointingly), the show is using lycanthropy as a metaphor for adolescence and all its animal-like urges.
“We wanted to do a story about a teenager who wasn’t necessarily a geek, a dork, but who is kind of the kid who you remember in class,” Davis said. “But if they got hit by a bus someday, it would be like, ‘I think he sat behind me in class.’ He’s that kind of guy. So it’s a moment of taking the ordinary person and making him extraordinary.
“When you are talking high school, I mean, that’s a time of life when it’s sexual awakening, and it’s finding yourself, your identity,” Davis said. “Being a werewolf is a way for us to tell a story where our desires are kind of heightened, senses are heightened.
“Our paradigm has always been to take the tone of The Lost Boys: funny when it wants to be, scary when it needs to be, and romantic as well,” Davis said.
The main character’s “sport” has been changed from the 1985 movie from basketball to lacrosse — in part, because the helmet lets the producers hide some of Posey’s character’s eventual transformations (which can be spurred not just by a full moon, but also by heightened emotions, a la The Incredible Hulk). Lacross is also an extraordinary violent sport, producers said, reinforcing the animalistic theme of the series.
“When sitting down to write a teenage show, you — as we writers often do — go into our own past,” Davis said. “And I went to a Jesuit Catholic prep school, and I always remembered the lacrosse players walking around with the sticks in their bags and looking very cool. So it’s a cool sport.”
The series is being shot in Atlanta which, ironically, is also where The Vampire Diaries is shot.
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