Remaking the Remake
August 3, 2008 8:54 PM
TV’s track record for remaking its past hits is pretty awful. So what do the networks have in store for the coming months? More remakes, of course.
NBC is bringing back “Knight Rider.” The CW is revisiting “Beverly Hills, 90210.” ABC is taking another stab at “Cupid” (with Rob Thomas, the same producer who earlier this year was working on the new “90210”!) And word leaked out last week that CBS is mulling a return to “The Streets of San Francisco.”
You’d think the quick fadeout for last fall’s much-hyped remake of “Bionic Woman” would result in the networks at least waiting a year or two before jumping back on the revival bandwagon. Executives also could heed the warnings provided by the short lifespans for remakes of “Night Stalker,” “Family Affair,” “The Fugitive” or “Fantasy Island.”
But TV is no business for the faint of heart.
Network suits probably figure that, since most new shows fail anyway, there’s no harm in crapping out with a remake. And indeed, as the strong premiere numbers for “Bionic Woman” and last spring’s “Knight Rider” back-door pilot point out, reimagining a well-known brand makes it easier to at least get audiences to check out your first episode.
Since there seems to be no stopping the networks’ love affair with revisiting the past, the least I can do is play along. Here are seven shows (and a few bonus choices) the networks ought to consider resurrecting in one form or another:
“Married ... With Children”: Subtle it wasn’t. But almost as much as “The Simpsons,” the Bundy clan helped turn Fox into a legitimate network. While critics loathed “Married,” its anti-Cosby take on family life was a welcome respite from the era’s fairy-tale portrayals of raising kids. With the family comedy all but extinct in 2008, a new Bundy brood could be a great way to get younger viewers reacquainted with the format. I’m nominating either Dane Cook or Bernie Mac to play Al Bundy.
“Quantum Leap”: This is the 1980s show Ben Silverman needs to bring back. TV is sorely lacking a good-time-travel adventure, not to mention sci-fi/fantasy shows that don’t require viewers to invest all of their free time trying to figure out producers’ elaborately constructed mythologies. (That’s no knock on “Lost,” which, if you ask me, is just about the most amazing TV experience of all time.)
The premise of “Leap”—our hero jumps into the bodies of various people throughout the course of history, all in an attempt to right some wrong—remains just as cool as it was back in the Reagan era. And thanks to dramatic advances in computer-generated graphics, it would be easy to accurately re-create various historic locales.
In addition to being fun, “Leap” also was quietly educational. Given the networks’ wholesale abandonment of the family hour, reviving this show would score some brownie points for the network that brought it back.
“Eight Is Enough”: If “90210” works, The CW should try to bring back this cheesy gem about a very large brood. One of The WB’s longest-running hits was “7th Heaven,” and family shows are few and far between these days. Why not serve up a multicultural take on the concept, making mom and dad from different ethnic backgrounds? A real-life version, “Jon and Kate Plus Eight,” has been a major hit for TLC. There’s a plate of homemade wishes on the kitchen windowsill waiting for the network that gets this one right.
“Good Times”: The networks have pretty much abandoned the notion of shows with largely nonwhite casts. Ditto the idea of main characters who actually have to struggle to make ends meet. Remaking Norman Lear’s underappreciated 1970s comedy would fill two voids at once.
While Jimmie “J.J.” Walker’s overly broad antics eventually took over the show, at its best, “Good Times” offered an honest portrayal of how family bonds and friendships can help people survive the toughest of circumstances. The same theme applied to “Chico and the Man,” another 1970s half-hour that boldly tackled matters of class, and one that would be equally worthy of revisiting.
Given the awful state of the economy, shows about struggle might find a receptive audience in 2008—if networks can only get over their instinctual desire to serve up escapist fare.
“James at 15”: As ABC Family has discovered this summer with “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” shows that deal semi-realistically with adolescent life can draw a big crowd. While “James” wasn’t a big hit—it lasted two seasons—the show bravely tackled teen topics with sensitivity and humor. Broadcasters haven’t had much luck with teen shows in recent years (R.I.P., “My So-Called Life” and “Life as We Know It”). So maybe this one goes to cable. ABC Family might be smart to develop “James” as a male-centric companion to its latest hit.
“Happy Days”: Technically, this legendary half-hour has already been remade. It was called “That ’70s Show.” But since every generation deserves its own teen comedy, why not bring back the “Happy Days” brand name, but set things in the 1980s instead of the ’50s?
“Dynasty” or “Dallas”: CBS needs to find its own “Desperate Housewives.” Since it seems unwilling to give promising soaps such as “Cane” a chance, maybe it ought to just revive one of the megasuccessful soaps of the 1980s. While “Dallas” is more closely associated with the Eye’s brand, the over-the-top tone of “Dynasty” would be more welcome in prime time. And hey, Heather Locklear isn’t doing much these days.