Networks Banking on TV Reboots

Despite some high-profile missteps, nets still betting on series remakes (NYT)

The New York Times’ Bill Carter today wonders why, despite recent failures like “Bionic Woman,” studios keep churning out remakes of old series as new prime time fodder.

Among the most prominent projects under consideration at the networks for next fall are these familiar names: The Rockford Files on NBC; Charlie’s Angels on ABC; and Hawaii Five-O on CBS.

All of the projects were announced with some fanfare by their networks, but the show creators and top network entertainment execs were reluctant to discuss any specifics about the new versions yet, the NYT says, because they are still in the writing stages.

Still, Warren Littlefield, who was the top programmer at NBC and is now an independent producer, told the NYT, “It’s a good idea to try. Movies have proved you can do well with a presold concept.”

And yet, the NYT contends, in the history of network television, no remake of a previous hit series has ever become a hit itself on network television. (Battlestar Galactica, had a favorable reception on the Syfy – then SciFi – network in 2004, but that was on cable, not broadcast television.)

One could perhaps make an argument for some shows spawned from original hits, Carter suggests. Star Trek birthed four separate series, but those were all spinoffs.

The current development slate titles are true remakes. The Rockford Files could certainly be helped by the fact that it features a creator with one of the best recent resumes in television. David Shore, the chief creative force behind House has said that Rockford was one of his favorite shows growing up and that he hopes to find a way to replicate its mixture of comedy and action.

But replicating a star on the level of James Garner may prove more challenging, the NYT notes.

Littlefield said having a talent like Shore running the show would be a great advantage, but he added, “I don’t think there are many gumshoe detectives around anymore, so the key will be how they reinvent the character.”

How much to remake and how much to reinvent has been an issue with previous efforts at bringing back familiar shows and characters.

“The identity of a hit TV series is so intimately tied to the original stars, style and attitude that made it a hit in the first place that any deviation from that creates a real sense of aesthetic dissonance,” Robert J. Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, told the paper.

Littlefield said that the woeful track record of previous remakes should not discourage network programmers from continuing to buy projects based on old hits. “But there has to be a series there,” he said. “It can’t be like a movie. You can’t trick them.”

He further added, “At the risk of being oversimplistic: it also has to be good.”