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TelevisionWeek columnist and deputy editor Josef Adalian applies his decades of experience covering the television industry to deliver analysis readers can't find anywhere else.

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Josef Adalian Column



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.”

Josef Adalian

RETREADS The CW's "90210," above, and NBC's "Knight Rider" are just the latest entries in the remaking-vintage-TV-series derby.

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.

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Comments (6)

Bill:

Why not just bring back the longest running nighttime soap of all time, Knot's Landing?

The reunion shows seem to do well…

kechara420:

A Quantum Leap remake would be FANTASTIC! A few years ago there were rumors about a spinoff/sequel series, but nothing ever came of it. Such a series, possibly with Sam's daughter as the new leaper, would be great!

Phil K:

I would revive Quantum Leap with Scott Bakula himself. He isn't all that old yet and was pretty good in Star Trek: Enterprise. Dean Stockwell is still active, too; he was just on Galactica and he could return, too. Add one good new younger character and actor to establish that it is a new show, of course.
We know with the new movie coming out next year that the original Star Trek will eventually be remade, too. As a companion show to that, they could continue Star Trek: Deep Space 9 from where it left off in the series finale. That was a really cool show that a lot of people ignored because it was different from regular Trek.
I think the ideas for a new Knots Landing, Dallas or Dynasty would also be good.
Finally, how about a new TJ Hooker, with Chris Pine, the new Capt. Kirk, as Hooker's son or as a new version of the Shatner character. :)

Jay:

MWC does not need to be remade. The shock value will not be the same - precisely because as you mentioned - in the era it was out, tv was flooded w/ unrealistic family "sitcoms". Bernie Mac already did a different spin on the family sitcom anyway.

Quantum Leap - I agree this could be good - could be. I'd watch for the effects so they'd have to be employed frequently - otherwise the show will run the fate of the original.

Eight is Enough was boring then and would be now.

Norman Lear & his writers were brilliant - no doubt. And the themes of race and class from those shows have mixed reviews as time goes on. While diversity on tv was needed then, America is not in the same place in regards to seeing the strict poor class of non-whites specifically on tv. Cosby was a response to these one-sided portrayals. Whaddya say we move forward? In-your-face commentary of race and class these days have been relegated to sketch shows (Chapelle / Mencia). Sitcoms these days don't usually get that same pass/greenlight, which means a remake of such a show would just not be good.

James at 15 might work but when you have hybrids like Everybody Hates Chris, it's hard to peg the success of a teen show as you indicated.

Happy Days was about happy days (for some) of the 50s - the 80s were not happy days lol. But an 80s show could be hilarious - I'll give you that.

Dynasty or Dallas - hey you're right here - people love trash and cat fights!

It's easy to list remake/revisit failures, but doing so overlook that such things have also had their successes -- notably, Star Trek (done as a sequel rather than a remake, but then so is the new 90210) and Battlestar Galactica come to mind. Heck, The New Leave It To Beaver ran four seasons, What's Happening Now ran as many season as the series it revived. And The Office may be based on a UK original, but one that aired in the US before getting its new US series. So I don't know that these things really have that much worse a track record than new series.

Christa:

QL was not in the 80s. It played in the 90s. However a remake would be very cool.

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