Follow TV Tropes


Sound-to-Screen Adaptation

Go To

Hollywood is famed for being cautious about trying anything new, hence the constant stream of rip-offs, imitations and other-media adaptations that pour into cinemas like so much slurry. But the same is true of television, too.

One method that's particularly popular in Britain is adapting radio series — usually Sit Coms or Sketch Shows — for television. They generally retain the cast and writers (who, in the case of comedies, are usually the same people) and it's fairly common for them to reuse swathes of material for their TV series. After all, if only a tiny chunk of the potential audience heard it the first time around then there's not much harm in recycling is there?

Although it may seem cynical, there are two fairly sensible reasons for adapting from radio to television. First of all, it shows that there is an existing audience for the programme, something which is important given the cost of modern TV productions. Secondly, it allows access to a pool of writing talent that is new to television but nevertheless has prior experience of putting together a weekly show. In Britain, many comedians see radio as the middle stage of career advancement, coming before TV but after stand-up and stage work (film being a fourth step, though not accessible to most).

In America, this was more common in the 1950s, as a number of "golden age" Radio Drama programs made the transition to the tube.

Often leads to They Changed It, Now It Sucks! among the core radio audience.

For the reverse of this, see Audio Adaptation.


    open/close all folders 

     Radio to Television 
  • Miranda (2009) started off as Miranda Hart's Joke Shop on radio.
  • Groucho Marx's You Bet Your Life started life as a radio quiz. The hour long pilot/trial film was merely a filmed version of the audio broadcast.
  • The spoof radio news show On The Hour was later turned into TV series The Day Today — which itself spawned Brass Eye. The Day Today rarely reused old radio material, due in part to the acrimonious departure of two writers, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, whose work was subsequently edited out of On The Hour repeats and would not be reused for TV.
  • Lee and Herring themselves had the Fist of Fun radio show, which was adapted into an identically-named TV series.
  • The Mighty Boosh ran for one series on the radio (as The Boosh) before the stories were adapted for television. Subsequent series have used all-new material.
  • Blue Jam, an hour-long psychedelic mix of disturbing 'ambient comedy' and music, was later translated to television minus the music in the form of Jam and the 'remix' show Jaaaaaam. The majority of the sketches were taken directly from the radio show.
  • Guiding Light is currently known as the longest-running scripted soap opera. This is assisted by the fact that it started out as a radio serial in 1937, with the TV version beginning in 1952. The show actually ran concurrently (running the same storylines) on radio and TV between 1952 and 1956. Notably, Guiding Light is the only radio soap opera to successfully transition to TV.
  • People Like Us was turned into a television series and reused several scripts, but added various visual gags as well.
  • On The Town With The League of Gentlemen retained most of its characters upon transferring to television, but changed the village's name from 'Spent' to 'Royston Vasey' (as a Shout-Out to comedian Roy "Chubby" Brown, whose real name is Royston Vasey, and who later appeared on the show as the town's mayor).
  • Mark Steel's semi-educational radio biography series aboutThe Mark Steel Lecture was adapted into the TV series of the same name. It re-used most of the material but had lots of anachronistic visual gags, like Charles Darwin watching 'Animal Hospital' on his TV.
  • Sean Lock's radio series 15 Minutes of Misery was adapted into another radio series, 15 Storeys High, which itself was later adapted into the TV series of the same name.
  • Radio series That Mitchell and Webb Sound was adapted into the TV series That Mitchell and Webb Look, although the radio series is continuing.
  • A lesser-known transition saw The Burkiss Way transfer to TV as End of Part One.
  • And likewise Radio 9 became The Message.
  • Somewhat more successfully, Radio Active became KYTV.
  • Several episodes of The Goon Show were adapted for a 15-minute puppet version called The Telegoons starring the original cast as Voice Actors. There were also a couple of TV remakes of Goon Show episodes, but that was done by pointing cameras at a radio performance.
  • Hello, Cheeky transferred to TV but viewers complained that it was also just a radio performance with no visual content.
  • Dead Ringers spent many happy years on radio before making the shift to television. It has now shifted back to radio.
  • Armstrong And Miller also began on radio.
  • Popular TV series Have I Got News for You, which was originally devised as an adaptation of Radio Four's The News Quiz.
  • An even earlier example was the various series of Tony Hancock.
    • Hancock's Half Hour specifically started as a radio series in 1954, and made the jump to TV in 1956. From 1956 to 1959 the two versions ran simultaneously. Both were spectacular smash-hits.
  • Little Britain
  • Absolute Power (BBC)
  • The Mary Whitehouse Experience
  • Goodness Gracious Me
  • Red Dwarf was loosely based on Dave Hollins: Space Cadet, a recurring character from the radio sketch show Son of Cliché.
  • Dick Barton, Special Agent, possibly a British takeoff of his namesake Tracy, began as a radio show but had a telly season back in the '70s.
  • Many old time radio shows, mostly comedies, later became successful TV shows. Examples include The Jack Benny Program (radio: 1932-55, TV: 1952-65)and Burns & Allen (radio: 1933-52, TV: 1950-58), whose shows made the transition with almost no changes in format.
  • Game Shows have also made the transition. In the early 1950s the only commercial radio station that could be heard in Britain was Radio Luxembourg, which featured lots of quiz programmes. Then when ITV, Britain's first commercial TV network, began in 1955 most of the game shows packed their bags and moved over, leaving poor old Luxy with no option but to run sponsored record shows instead.
  • New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo Flight of the Conchords reused large chunks of their BBC radio series (as well as most of the rest of their back catalogue) when creating their eponymous US TV series. The second series is supposedly due to be based on more original material, largely because they've used up most of their old stuff on the first.
  • The latest (well, as of March 2009) seems to be I've Never Seen Star Wars. (In which celebrity guests try things they've never tried before. This may make more sense on television since, for instance, Sandi Toskvig trying on her first set of high-heels on radio lacks a certain impact.)
  • Genius, the interesting ideas show hosted by Dave Gorman, is another British example.
  • Canadian examples:
    • Best known these days is probably the Royal Canadian Air Farce.
    • Slightly lesser known, (and shorter lived), The Frantics.
    • Probably the most famous was Wayne and Shuster, who started in radio in 1941, moved to TV in the 1950s, stayed on until the 1980s, and their show was in reruns well into the 1990s.
  • Not a direct switch, but some of the cast of Monty Python started out on I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again on radio (John Cleese as a performer, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle as occasional script contributors) before making the jump to television, first on The Frost Report (again, with Cleese as a performer and all five British Pythons as writers), then via At Last the 1948 Show and Do Not Adjust Your Set to Glory. The Goodies also started out on ISIRTA before moving to television, Tim Brooke-Taylor in At Last the 1948 Show and Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie in Twice a Fortnight (alongside Terry Jones and Michael Palin in their first programme in front of the cameras), and then all three in Broaden Your Mind and eventually The Goodies. Some gags and sketches originally written for ISIRTA resurfaced in the various television programmes; this was less common for the Pythons than it was for the Goodies since the latter were all ISIRTA alumni (compared to only Cleese for the Pythons), and Garden and Oddie were prolific contributors to the scripts for ISIRTA (Oddie primarily with musical numbers) and subsequently wrote the scripts for The Goodies.
  • This was one step taken by the Doctor in the House series of stories; originally a collection of books by Richard Gordon, they were adapted into a series of films starring Dirk Bogarde and directed by Ralph Thomas in the 1950s and early 1960s. In the late 1960s, some of the stories were adapted for radio in two thirteen-episode series, Doctor in the House and Doctor at Large, starring Richard Briers and Ray Cooney (Cooney also wrote the scripts). Between 1969 and 1979, the stories were adapted for television, with the characters re-named, in the series Doctor in the House, Doctor at Large, Doctor in Charge, Doctor at Sea, Doctor on the Go, the Australian transplant Doctor Down Under, and the short lived early 1990s revival Doctor at the Top. The television series is perhaps more notable for its writing staff and its guest cast than for its primary cast (which at various times included Martin Shaw (The Professionals), Jonathan Lynn (co-writer of Yes, Minister), George Layton (successful comedy writer and initial star of It Ain't Half Hot, Mum), and Richard O'Sullivan (Man About the House)). Graeme Garden (himself a qualified doctor) and Bill Oddie wrote many episodes together before The Goodies became successful enough to demand their full attention, and Graham Chapman (also a qualified doctor) and John Cleese wrote many more scripts, both together and with other co-writers, during breaks in the writing schedule for Monty Python's Flying Circus. (An episode of Doctor at Large written by Cleese and featuring a brusque hotelier with a domineering wife later provided the blueprint for Fawlty Towers.) David Jason was a guest star in various episodes of both the radio and the television series.
  • This American Life on PRI, and now Showtime. Very, very rare modern American example.
  • Amos 'n' Andy had a few screen adaptations over the years, which proved to be tricky since the titular characters were black but their performers, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, were white. The first was the 1930 movie Check and Double-Check, which featured Godsen and Correll in Blackface. The second was a 1951-53 TV sitcom which recasted the title roles with actual black actors, but nevertheless attracted enough controversy about its negative stereotypes that it was cancelled after two seasons and banished from reruns in 1966. The third was Calvin and the Colonel, a 1961 animated TV show which transformed Amos and Andy into Funny Animals to avoid racial controversy but otherwise used similar characterizations and situations.
  • BBC Radio 4 stalwart Just a Minute was adapted for television several times, with unreleased pilots made in 1969 and 1981, a regional London series in 1994 (with some minor visual gimmicks), another series in 1995 (playing out some kind of bizarre Midlands vs. London team game with Dale Winton and Tony Slattery as captains), and finally two proper BBC TV broadcasts in the original format in 1999 and 2012. Unlike the short-lived TV versions, the radio version continues to this day.
  • På Minuten, the Swedish adaptation of Just a Minute, filmed six episodes for the television series Nöjeshallen in 1975.
  • The original Dragnet was a famous example, with creator and lead actor Jack Webb bringing most of his radio team with him to the new show.
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? started as a BBC radio program.
  • Meet the Press
  • Adventures in Odyssey has about seventeen video episodes, which occasionally air on TV. As a whole, they're pretty different experiences.
  • Suspense ran on CBS radio for 20 years. In the middle of that, it had a 5-year run on CBS TV.
  • One of the longest running Television shows ever, Gunsmoke, started on radio, where it ran for 10 years (overlapping with its TV incarnation for 7 of those years). Interestingly, the radio and TV series had entirely different casts.
  • Fibber McGee and Molly had a brief, unsuccessful TV version with different actors in the title roles.
    • Both of its spinoffs, The Great Gildersleeve and Beulah, also had TV adaptations.
  • Our Miss Brooks began on radio in 1948, with a TV version following in 1952 and theatrical movie, which acted as the series finale, in 1956. Many of the TV episodes were adaptations of radio episodes. Also notable was a retool in the final season of the TV version that introduced many dramatic changes — all of which were completely ignored by the radio version (still running concurrently) and by the subsequent movie.
  • Father Knows Best
  • The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
  • December Bride
  • The Life of Riley had two TV versions, the first starring a young Jackie Gleason and the other with original radio star William Bendix.
  • A TV pilot of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue was produced but never broadcast, owing to difficulties in making the show "visual". Much later, the stage show and video I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue — Live! proved very successful simply by treating it as a radio recording — the only concessions to the medium being that the teams stood up for the singing rounds, and Samantha couldn't ever quite make it to a show.
  • Old Harry's Game received a clay animation television show adaptation pilot, although it never quite made it to series.
  • Italian radio show Lo Zoo Di 105 became a Comedy Central show in 2011.
  • Bold Venture was turned into a TV series in 1959. It lasted for 39 episodes.
  • The Animated Adaptation of The Ricky Gervais Show.
  • The BBC Radio 4 Mockumentary Delve Special, starring Stephen Fry as Intrepid Reporter David Lander was adapted for Channel 4 as This Is David Lander (then, when Fry couldn't make a second series, Tony Slattery took over for This Is David Harper).
  • The Channel 4 sitcom Milton Jones's House of Rooms is Radio 4's House of Milton Jones with a few tweaks.
  • In an interesting example, a few episodes of The Debaters were filmed to be aired on CBC television in 2011. TV cameras were set up in the theatre where the show was usually recorded in front of a live audience, and the show was produced completely unchanged.
  • Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge
  • In and Out of the Kitchen became a short-lived BBC Four TV series.
  • Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show! became simply Count Arthur Strong on television. Although a few plotlines are recycled, the different setting and supporting cast have led some fans of the radio show to dispute whether it's a true adaptation or merely a sequel.
  • They Think It's All Over started out as a Radio 5 series presented by sportscaster Des Lynam, with two teams of two players each captained by Rory Bremner and Rory McGrath (who went on to become the only person to appear in every episode of the TV adaptation). The radio version was a more sedate, straight sport quiz than its television counterpart.
  • In 1957, The Six Shooter was adapted into a TV series titled The Restless Gun and starring John Payne in the Jimmy Stewart role, renamed from 'Britt Ponset' to 'Vint Bonner'.
  • An Actors Life For Me started out as a radio sitcom which ran from 1989 to 1993 (on BBC Radio 2) before it was adapted into a short-lived BBC One Series in 1991.

     Radio to Film 
  • A Prairie Home Companion is one of the few examples of a movie based on a radio show. And a meta one at that.
  • Several Golden Age radio shows were adapted into films, including Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, The Life Of Riley (prior to its better-known TV adaptation), A Date With Judy, and My Friend Irma.
  • The Shadow, starring Alec Baldwin, about an amoral man given the power of telepathy during a trip to the mysterious East. Pulp crime-fighting ensues.
  • Unaccompanied Minors is based on a non-fiction story by Susan Burton which first appeared on an episode of This American Life, and is the first product of a first-refusal deal that Warner Brothers Pictures has with stories that appear on the radio program.
  • The popular BBC radio discussion show The Brains Trust spun off a series of films during WWII.
  • The Crime Doctor series of films was based on a long running radio program of the same name.

     Radio to Multiple Media 
  • Probably the best known example is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which started off as a radio show and was adapted into a television series, a computer game, a film, a series of popular books, three LP records, and a towel. The radio series actually comprises the first two HHGG books plus some material that never made its way into the other adaptations. The third, fourth, and fifth books were then adapted back into a radio series using the original cast 20 years later.
  • The Navy Lark has had both two television shows (both latest for a short time) and one film.
  • Several interviews and music performances recorded for Q on CBC are filmed and posted to the show's YouTube channel. In particular, a video clip of an interview with Billy-Bob Thornton (in which Mr Thornton was clearly intoxicated and Jian Ghomeshi kept his cool) went briefly viral.
  • Golden age radio sitcom My Friend Irma starring Marie Wilson as lovable Dumb Blonde Irma Peterson produced two feature films and a television show.
  • Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood: A Play for Voices, first broadcast as a BBC radio play in 1954, was made into a film in 1972. The BBC made an Animated Adaptation in 1992, using the original radio soundtrack. There have also been several stage versions, including a ballet.