5. Spawn: The Storyteller
Following the current popularity of zombies (and that charming studio wisdom about superhero costumes needing to be minimized for modern audiences to take them seriously), we're going to strip everything off Spawn - his mask, his cape, his chains - until all we have left is a walking corpse with a face like hamburger. While we're at it, we'll also take out all the tacky stuff about fighting demons so as to keep the focus squarely on the hobos that the former Al Simmons likes to pal around with.
Every week, our faithful narrator Spawn will shamble in and greet us with another hair-raising tail from the streets. It'll be like like Tales from the Crypt, but with the casts limited entirely to bums. Well, maybe the occasional hooker. Spawn himself will sometimes appear in these yarns, but his appearances will be rare and brief (wouldn't want to steal the spotlight from the real human drama!). Stories of redemption, panhandling, and scams gone awry will be the norm, and Spawn will always return to close out each story by spelling out the valuable lesson it demonstrated. Think of it as The Canterbury Tales for a new generation of idiots.
And if the ratings ever get low, we can always put out a reliable trump card and hew this closer to CSI by involving Spawn's trusty gumshoe pals, Sam and Twitch. These few episodes would be titled "Rat City Rodent Roundup" and "The Mystery of the Missing Miscreant," because there's nothing more macabre than alliteration.
6. Ministry of Science Adventures
You may think it impossible to convince anyone to fund a TV spin-off of a CG animated family movie - based on a 60-year-old Japanese comic book, no less - which totally bombed at the box office four years ago. We say there's no shortage of private investors who'll never bother to research the entertainment business before putting money up.
To pile obscurity upon obscurity, this show would push aside the Ministry's most famous achievement, the mighty Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy, natch), so as to put the spotlight on all the indistinct and often unnamed engineers in the Ministry itself. The one and only set will be a large, sterile room with a chalkboard, and each week will see a new invention being tested with ever more exciting discoveries... well... ever more somberly observed scientific findings.
If any inventions ever soar on to great heights (like a certain Mighty Atom), we'll never know, because the #1 rule in the bible will prohibit the depiction of any daring super-heroic adventure on screen. Instead, we'll have the calm and composed lab work of the emotionally-repressed scientists at the Ministry, constantly struggling to control their enthusiasm for innovation. Test tubes and beakers will overflow with bubbling liquids long before our cast ever bubble over with any sort of affection or excitement for each other.
You may question how much saleability this premise has in comparison to, say, any new story we could cook up about a research lab. Obviously, it's all about pre-awareness - no matter how tenuous and obfuscated that awareness is. At least some people have heard of Astro Boy before, right?
7. The Punisher's Days in Vietnam
We've saved this one for last because - GASP! - it could actually work. No Joke.
When Frank Castle was first introduced as a foe for Spider-Man, he basically fell somewhere between Death Wish and First Blood in the mid-70's pulp zeitgeist; being an embittered Vietnam vet who brought military tactics back home to wage a war on crime. While most superheroes are constantly fretting about how to update their origins' once-contemporary details (see: Tony Stark being captured by Vietnamese warlords vs. vaguely al-Qaeda-esque warlords in Afghanistan), Big Pun has been kept in his original era - even if that means that he's a little old, by now!
There's an excellent prequel mini-series, Born, which shows Castle as a young, war-addicted marine in Vietnam who administers his own brand of justice on corrupt soldiers. In the story, it quickly becomes clear that the Punisher was never just some normal guy who suddenly snapped after a tragedy. He was crazy long before his family's murder. Their deaths just gave him license.
Another special, The Tyger, is entirely about a 10-year-old Castle growing up in a crime-ridden Hell's Kitchen in the early 60's. While that premise sounds more ridiculous than any of the ones we've thrown out here, believe it or not, it's actually a compelling character study. We see a young boy with an already-pathological hatred for bullies, witnessing injustices in his neighborhood which will come to shape him for the rest of his life.
Dexter has pretty much eradicated any possibility of a "regular" Punisher show catching on since it's already put forth a toned-down vision of a "good" serial killer that's more palatable to audiences turned off by... flashier stuff (like, say, mowing down gangsters with a M60 machinegun). As such, the only way a Punisher show could work now would be an adaptation of these specific books: a tight historical series. Which means that, for once, the prospect of a show about a superhero when he isn't a superhero is more compelling than a show about a superhero doing what he's famous for.
previously by Alex Eckman-Lawn: