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'70s TV Gets Silver Screen Revival

That '70s decade just won't stay buried.

Groan if you must, but Hollywood sees dollars in reviving the kitschy television of the 1970s, whose latest big-screen reincarnations include "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" and the upcoming "S.W.A.T." and "Starsky and Hutch."

In development are movie adaptations of the '70s TV hits "Fantasy Island," "Hart to Hart" and "The Six Million Dollar Man," which takes inflation into account with its big-screen title, "The Six Billion Dollar Man."

Throw in "The Hulk," which had its roots in comic books but reached a wider audience with the 1970s TV show "The Incredible Hulk," and it's clear that studios are in revival mode for the decade's campy television.

"I think many of the executives today at motion-picture companies grew up on these series," said Leonard Goldberg, producer of the "Charlie's Angels" movies, whose TV credits include the small-screen versions of "Charlie's Angels," "Starsky and Hutch" and "S.W.A.T." "They remember them fondly, and I also think these shows remind them of a time that was less stressful than the one we live in today."

People who lived through the '70s may roll their eyes at the big hair, bellbottoms and disco beat that propelled the period. Yet just as the corny trappings of the 1950s made a comeback in the '70s with "Happy Days," "Laverne and Shirley" and the resurgence of the sock hop, it's now the Me Decade's turn.

"Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" reunites Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu in the follow-up to the fall 2000 hit about three female detectives, updated from the show whose original cast featured Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson.

This summer's big-screen "S.W.A.T." stars Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell as cops in Los Angeles' special weapons and tactics unit. It was based on the short-lived mid-'70s series whose lineup included Robert Urich.

Next year's "Starsky and Hutch" stars Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as the buddy detectives (and Snoop Dogg as their street-smart snitch, Huggy Bear). Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul originated the title roles on television.

"I think you get far enough away from something, and you can go back and appreciate it again," said Barrymore, also a producer on the "Charlie's Angels" movies. "Those shows were just great. They were fun. It was such a fascinating moment in life and culture, in fashion, in style, in dialogue."

Television of the '50s and '60s has been mined for such movie adaptations as "Leave it to Beaver," "The Flintstones," "The Twilight Zone" and "I Spy." But the '70s are getting their due in a much bigger way.

Since the late '90s, the Fox network has mined 1970s culture with the sitcom "That '70s Show." The '70s comeback began even earlier with 1995's "The Brady Bunch Movie" and its follow-up, "A Very Brady Sequel."

Along with big-screen efforts, TV networks are resurrecting '70s shows. "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" had brief reincarnations as series, while similar TV updates in the works include "Kojak," "Baretta," "McCloud," "CHiPs," "Battlestar Galactica," "The Bionic Woman" and "The Gong Show."

The fancifully fictionalized life story of "Gong Show" creator-host Chuck Barris came to cinemas late last year with "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," which is getting a second shot at theatrical release this summer. The Andy Kaufman film biography "Man in the Moon" featured the cast of the '70s sitcom "Taxi" in re-creations of the show's behind-the-scenes drama.

"There were so many shows from back then we all sort of liked," said Clark Johnson, director of "S.W.A.T." and a co-star of the '90s cop show "Homicide: Life on the Street." "`Charlie's Angels' is up there in the consciousness, at least for guys. I lusted after those women. I have a really good, fairly vivid memory of that series."

Critics often dismissed "Charlie's Angels" as cheesecake and branded shows such "Starsky and Hutch" or "S.W.A.T." as dumb action series.

For their times, though, such shows broke ground and took more chances than networks generally do today, said media scholar Peter Bardazzi, director of research and development at New York University's Center for Advanced Digital Application.

"Charlie's Angels" helped establish women as crime-fighting heroes, and "S.W.A.T." featured a daring amount of violence for its day, Bardazzi said.

"People don't give those shows enough credit for the risks they took," Bardazzi said. After Vietnam, Watergate and the counterculture movement, "creative people were thinking a little bit more and took the culture seriously. The whole idea of `Charlie's Angels' is pretty interesting. It sounds simple, scantily clad women working for a mysterious guy. But if it didn't happen then, I don't know if you do it so easily today.

"People are scared today about whether a show's going to make money. Today, something comes on to fill a time slot and turn a profit."

It might be harder for today's television to eventually undergo a similar big-screen revival decades down the road. With audiences fractured by hundreds of cable and satellite channels, it's tougher for any one show to work its way into the public consciousness the way "Charlie's Angels" or "Starsky and Hutch" did in the days when there were just three commercial networks.

And in the '80s and '90s, much TV drama evolved from old-style action romps to brooding character soap operas rooted in gritty reality. Shows such as "Hill Street Blues," "NYPD Blue" and "Homicide" might lack the glitz and glamour needed for theatrical updates.

"We weren't exactly cool for our era," "Homicide" co-star Johnson said. "We all wore brown suits and looked kind of rumpled and lived in. I got heartburn from cheesesteak just like everybody else. I don't know if that would work for a movie 20 years from now."

By David Germain

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