Less risk doesn’t mean low risk
Despite the apparently lower risk strategy of reviving classic movies and TV shows, there’s no guarantee of success – as the resurrections of the BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs and Minder on Channel 5 can attest.
Casting is, of course, of prime importance: original stars can usually entice viewers, hence the popularity of returners such as ITV’s Cold Feet and BBC duo Gavin & Stacey and Open All Hours spin-off Still Open All Hours.
But it’s not a given – witness the failure of reboots such as Kojak for USA Network 15 years ago, Knight Rider on NBC, TNT’s Dallas resurrection and the revived Murphy Brown on CBS in 2018.
And without the unique performances of lead actors, producers can at times seem to be on a hiding to nothing. ITV’s Prime Suspect 1973 in 2017 had many flaws, primarily the failure of star Stefanie Martini to successfully evoke Helen Mirren in her role as a younger Jane Tennison. Then there was the ill-advised decision to resuscitate politcal satire Yes, Prime Minister in 2013 on UKTV comedy channel Gold, which saw the impeccable trio of Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and the late Derek Fawlds replaced by David Haig, Henry Goodman and Chris Larkin.
Despite these challenges, there’s little chance the remake is going anywhere soon, as the instant recognition factor becomes ever-more important as drama proliferates, a point made by BBC Studios’ global VOD director Jon Farrar.
“There was a great piece of research a couple of years ago, which found that the average person will spend 2.4 years of their life just looking for something to watch. We are totally overloaded with content from every direction. We need cues – the familiar and the well-loved – to help direct us through that fog.”
But the reboot surge also underlines the trend for nostalgia, he adds. “In a world that’s getting more complex, angry, and uncertain we have a need to seek comfort. We want to escape into the familiar that reminds of us simpler and, perhaps, happier times.
“What’s interesting here is also the need to escape to older brands for a generation that weren’t born first time around, but crave warmer, simpler programming. Gen Z’s embrace of Friends suggests older brands have value far beyond the audiences that remember them first time.”
To remake or reboot?
For Farrar, there are two approaches that work. “You have a faithful homage to the original or a complete breaking out, taking the bare bones and re-inventing it into an unrecognisable new drama,” he says. “The dangerous ground is what lies between those two approaches. It’s littered with corpses.”
The US has always been fertile ground for remakes and reboots – in a broadcasting environment where shows can be pulled after a few episodes, name recognition is a vital part of the arsenal in attracting viewers.
And the US tends to have a stronger hit rate in bringing back TV classics – recast, rejigged and usually with higher budgets, although that is in part because of the huge volume of shows produced.
Streamers such as Netflix have made hay with reviving shows, including Fuller House, Gilmore Girls, Lost In Space, The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, Tales Of The City and Arrested Development, to varying degrees of critical approval.
Cablers and broadcast networks have been busy at the same game, with The CW rebooting Dynasty, CBS returning to Magnum P.I., The L Word and Twin Peaks airing on Showtime and MacGyver airing on ABC. All performed fairly well, as did the likes of Mad About You for Spectrum and Will & Grace on NBC, while time will tell on Freeform’s Party Of Five.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that the outlook for the reboot in the US is bright. Cult comedy-drama Northern Exposure is reportedly coming back for CBS, Battlestar Galactica is returning in some form also.
NBCUniversal’s streamer Peacock, while shows ranging from American Gigolo to Gossip Girl are all in some state of revival. All provide an instant pathway in for viewers, a point made by Sunder Aaron, former VP at Sony Pix and currently principal of Indian production company Locomotive Global.
“As a child of the 1980s and 90s, it’s amusing to see some of those shows revived,” he says, pointing to Beverly Hills 90210 and Will & Grace. “Admittedly, I haven’t been able to stick with any of these shows beyond an episode or two. Most are just leveraging the well-known brand name to launch what really are entirely new series. For these shows to succeed, they’ve got to develop their own audiences, as if they were completely new and unrelated shows.
“Of course, the shows are easier to promote at launch as viewers will have an idea of what to expect, but they face a hard time retaining and building an audience if they aren’t good enough in their own right. And familiarity isn’t necessarily the enemy of creativity,” he says, pointing to what the creators of Riverdale were able to pull off. “That was a creative and unique take on the beloved Archie characters.”
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