Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nostalgia Theater: The Crow Flies to TV

A tangential conversation with my podcast buddy Brian Hall while recording the upcoming MovieFilm show led me to this week's entry. The nineties was kind of a boomtown in the realm of hourlong shows sold into first-run TV syndication. Initially this was thanks largely to the twin successes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Baywatch, but as the decade wore on we also got stuff like Xena and Hercules, which in turn inspired their own little boomlets of first-run adventure shows.

Coming at the tail end of this syndication bonanza was The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, a 1998 series inspired by the cult '93 flick that famously took the life of star Brandon Lee (a film that was in turn inspired by James O'Barr's cult comic book about love and vengeance from beyond the grave). While the Lee film (directed by Alex Proyas) reaped nearly $150 million globally against a $23 million budget, attempts to continue the movie with a new protagonist ran aground in 1996 with the painfully unexceptional The Crow: City of Angels.

Thus, television seemed like an appropriate next step at that stage, and that's where showrunner Bryce Zabel (who'd previously toiled in the sci-fi salt mines on Lois & Clark and the short-lived NBC skein Dark Skies) stepped up to reinvent the premise for a televised scenario. One year after musician Eric Draven (Mark Dacascos, stepping into the Brandon Lee role) and his fiance (Sabine Karsenti) are brutally murdered, Draven is brought back to life by a mystical crow, tasked with righting various wrongs until he can be reunited in the afterlife with his ladylove (who randomly shows up to guide him, like Al in Quantum Leap). Here's the intro:

Given that Stairway to Heaven (the title referring to Draven's road to redemption) was tasked with a) measuring up to a fairly beloved performance by a gone-too-soon actor and b) functioning under the usual limitations of a non-existent syndie budget, TV's Crow probably turned out about as well it could have (certainly, I thought Dacascos did fine in a thankless role). Each week Draven would bump into some unfortunate, try to help them using his magical, uh, crow powers (also, instead of applying makeup like in the film(s), he'd sort of "Hulk out" and the patented harlequin look would show up on his face).

As I recall, the ratings were decent enough at the time of airing that there was every expectation of a second season happening, but when the production company changed hands between seasons, the show just kind of flew away. In the aftermath of the cancellation, the Crow movie producers went on to make two more crappy sequels in 2000 and 2004, and now they're trying to get a remake/reboot off the ground. While I don't know if that'll ever actually happen, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven can be seen on a Canada-only DVD release, as well as for streaming via Hulu. Check out the entire first ep below:

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