On Wednesday I pointed out that we are in an “everything old is new again” moment in television, with the explosion of reboots, reworkings and reimaginings of veteran television series. Below I offer you six theories as to what is going on. My goal is to save you all the time of reading the countless articles and thinkpieces that will be coming out on this phenomenon. I’m not saying that I subscribe to any of them, but most thinkpieces will cover one or more of the following reasons.
THERE ARE NO MORE ORIGINAL IDEAS
Sorry to bust your bubble, but there have never been that many original ideas in television. Most TV shows are variations on certain themes. The difference among the shows has more to do with the writing and the casting, but the spine of most shows, be they family comedies, procedurals, medical dramas or soaps, are pretty similar. If CBS didn’t announce a “Magnum, P.I.” rework, they might have announced a procedural private-eye drama. How is that more original? This, of course, leads to the next theory.
NETWORKS ARE TRYING TO CUT THROUGH THE CLUTTER
In these times of Peak TV, returning popular series with pre-sold titles (and sometimes the original cast) is a way to get some attention. The return of “Will & Grace” draws far more attention than, say, “Great News.” Even if Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly never appear on the remake of “Cagney and Lacey,” the show will initially get more articles written about it than a generic show about two women cops.
For a development executive, when successful showrunners come in to pitch a reboot, it is extremely difficult to pass on it. Of course, at the end of the day it’s all about execution, and there is no guarantee a reboot will succeed. But it will start with a higher base than one without the pre-sold element.
THE NETWORKS ARE PLAYING IT SAFE
Networks are in the business of aggregating eyeballs even in these transitional times, and like any other business, they are trying to maximize their consumers while minimizing uncertainty. I don’t look at this trend as playing it safe but rather as a response to increased choices. I have talked here about the need to balance edgier, different development with more conventional options. If you’re only going to try to be different, you are increasing your chances of failure. Going back to some tried and true series is not the worst idea.
IT’S A WAY TO ENHANCE YOUR LIBRARY
Several of these reboots come from the originating studio, so by returning a series they are also adding value to their existing library. They are putting these series back in the public consciousness.
NO ONE IS PITCHING TO THE NETWORKS
If the networks are right in that they are not getting the premium pitches, it makes sense to look for other sources, and reviving successful series is one way to accomplish that. Hey, if Netflix can do it, why not the broadcast networks?
COMFORT FOOD IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES
A few days ago on Twitter, I opined that this resurgence in revivals may be an indication that the networks think there is an appetite for comfort in the programs viewers are looking to consume. This has been a phenomenon in television at other moments. “The West Wing,” “American Idol” and “24” were all seen as responses to events going on in the country, and for many, finding comfort in shows from your past may be a reaction to the current state of affairs.
Some or all these theories may be total BS, but they probably cover the countless articles and thinkpieces that will come out between now and the start of the new season in September. I hope this will save you some time. You’re welcome.