ABC's Charlie's Angels redux didn't work, and NBC's new take on Wonder Woman never even made it to air. But just like the feature film world — where everything from Footloose to Conan the Barbarian has been recently updated — TV execs continue to mine the vaults in search of more classic titles to reboot.
Among those up next: TNT's new take on Dallas (which mixes a new generation of Southfork characters with original cast members like Patrick Duffy, Larry Hagman and Linda Gray) premieres next summer; Fox has ordered two new updated takes on its early 1990s sketch comedy In Living Color, from original executive producer Keenen Ivory Wayans; and NBC has an adaptation of the Tom Cruise movie The Firm set to air in midseason.
In development for next season are a whole new round of remakes, such as a new take on the CBS 1980s drama Beauty and the Beast, now being updated at the CW. CBS is looking to develop a modern version of the 1960s sitcom Bewitched; NBC is looking at new takes on The Munsters, Romancing the Stone and Wiseguy; and ABC is working with Marvel to revive The Incredible Hulk. Just this week, CBS confirmed that it had acquired rights to create a new take on classic black-and-white series The Rifleman.
"It's easy development," one studio president says of TV's current reboot mania. "There's already a built-in foundation for what you're doing. You're not building from scratch. With the audience so fragmented, you want to stack the odds in your favor, and if you give people a title they remember fondly, it's easy to market."
In selecting titles to reboot, The CW executive vice president Thom Sherman says he's looking for concepts that would still resonate today regardless of whether it's a remake. "Could the show play without the title?" he asks. "But does the title give you an added benefit, marketing-wise?"
Sherman and The CW have successfully brought back new versions of Beverly Hills, 90210 and La Femme Nikita. Other reboots that have worked in recent years include CBS' Hawaii Five-0 and Syfy's Battlestar Galactica (in a rare case of a remake that's universally considered better than the original); MTV hopes to have a hit with the just-relaunched Beavis and Butt-head. But like most TV series, reboot failures far outweigh the success stories.
Joining Charlie's Angels in the primetime graveyard are plenty of other recent attempts at reviving old favorites, including Bionic Woman, Knight Rider, V and Melrose Place. "Are we all fooling ourselves that a title helps increase your chances?" asks one studio exec. "Most of them haven't worked."
And yet the networks are still bullish on remakes. Despite their limited success rate, reboots provide immediate built-in awareness — and in this age of hypercompetition in primetime, TV execs can't resist anything that might give them an edge. "I think there's a lot of fear right now about taking chances on original content," says one studio executive. "They're looking for how they can hedge their bets. There's so much development t the networks are less about [story] and more about branding."
But it's a double-edged sword. Sometimes viewers have such strong memories of an original that the new version can never compare. Even shows derided in their time, like Charlie's Angels and Knight Rider, are now nostalgia trips remembered fondly by viewers — and tough acts to follow. "You have to live up to the pedigree of what the brand is, even if the content wasn't that great," the studio exec says. Says another exec: "If you're just going to rely on the nostalgia of it you're kind of sunk."
Adds Sherman: "You don't want fans of the original coming to that first episode and saying, 'That really sucked.' These are high bars, and you want to match or surpass that bar... You do feel a responsibility to the original show."
Sometimes, like 90210 and Dallas, that can be helped by bringing back familiar faces before focusing the attention on new stars. In the case of Nikita, so many versions already existed (the movies and the USA series) that it was fairly easy for the CW to introduce yet another take. And Hawaii Five-0 included enough nods to the original, including the same theme song, to placate fans. It's when a remake strays so far from the original that viewers seem to lose interest.
The only thing potentially stopping the networks from reviving even more properties are rights issues. With so much entertainment industry consolidation over the years, it's sometimes difficult to figure out who owns a piece of certain properties. According to insiders, reboots still being pitched around town, but unsold because of ownership questions, include Mork and Mindy and The Mod Squad.
For the time being, it appears TV will continue to follow the old cliché that eventually everything old will become new again.