Wednesday, June 20, 2007

TV Show Revivals Part One

There have been network television broadcasts in the United States for nearly sixty years now. As might be expected, many TV shows which had been cancelled would be revived later. The reasons for this tend to be very basic. The first is the very nature of television, or of most mass media for that matter. An idea which has been successful or popular before will naturally be preferred over an idea which has never been tried. In other words, the American television networks will naturally prefer ideas that have been successful before. Generally this will take the form of debuting shows of a particular genre following a hit in that genre. For instance, in the wake of the success of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation a spate of new police procedurals debuted. Sometimes, however, this tendency to rely on the tried and true will result in old shows being revived.

The second reason for TV shows is simply nostalgia. Network broadcast television has been around for literally decades, and as a result many people will be nostalgic about particular shows. Because of this some shows may well see revivals to take advantage of such nostalgia. This is made all the more likely as many creative people in television are themselves nostalgic about certain shows and will naturally seek to revive them.

While the reasons for TV show revivals are basic, the types of TV show revivals are a bit more complex. Some TV show revivals are simply continuations of old series. That is, they are in effect sequels to old TV shows. Most often these revivals will feature at least some of the cast of the original series, such as Dragnet 1967 and The New WKRP in Cincinatti. In other cases such revivals will feature entirely new casts. Examples of these are the Star Trek series following the original series. Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Enterprise all take place in the same reality as the original show, but are set many years later with new characters (Star Trek: Enterprise was a prequel set many years prior to the original series). In other cases, TV show revivals are what might be termed "re-imaginings," entirely new versions of shows with entirely new casts. Examples of these are the revivals of The Untouchables which aired from 1993 to 1995 and the revival of Battlestar: Galactica currently airing on the Sci-Fi Channel. It must be pointed out that in some cases the lines between the two types of TV shows revivals are not so clear. The short lived PAX series Ponderosa was ostensibly a prequel to Bonanza, but it departed from the original series in such dramatic ways that it might as well be considered a "re-imagining" of the original series.

For most of American network television's history, TV show revivals have largely been confined to game shows and animated series. Game show revivals occurred as early as the Seventies, with game shows from the Fifties being revived in that decade. Examples of this are The Price is Right (first aired in 1955 and revived in 1972) and Match Game (first aired in 1962 and revived in 1973 and again in the Eighties). Animated shows have been resurrected in some form another nearly as frequently as game shows. Indeed, for many in the Seventies and Eighties it must have seemed as if the bulk of Hanna-Barbera's output consisted of revivals of The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You.

While game shows and animated series were frequently revived, however, it was rare that sitcoms and dramas would be resurrected prior to the Seventies. Much of this might have been due the relative youth of the medium. Indeed, by 1967 network television was a mere 20 years old. This was perhaps not enough time for nostalgia about many series to have set in. Regardless, TV show revivals would appear with more frequency in the Sevemties, and by the Eighties they would almost seem commonplace.

Curiously, the first revival of a sitcom did take place fairly early in the history of American television. The Life of Riley was a succesful radio show that had debuted in 1941 with William Bendix in the role of Chester A. Riley, a riveter at a California aircraft plant. The show aired on radio until 1951 and was successful enough to be adapted into a feature film in 1949. Naturally, it was considered ripe for television adaptation in 1949 as well. Because of a film commitment, Bendix was unavailable for the role of Riley in the new TV show. Instead, a young comic named Jackie Gleason was cast in the role. This version of The Life of Riley received low ratings. Complicating matters was the fact that Jackie Gleason wanted to move on to bigger and better things (which he did). The series then ended in 1950 after only five months on the air.

The Life of Riley was still considered a commodity ripe for television adaptation, despite the first series' failure on television. William Bendix made his TV debut as Chester A. Riley in a revival of the TV show in 1953. This version proved to be a hit, lasting a full five years. It must be noted that while his version of the series was a failure, The Life of Riley may have had a lasting influence on Jackie Gleason. The blue collar Riley can be considered the prototype not only for Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners, but Archie Bunker of All in the Family and Dan Conner of Rosanne as well.

While The Life of Riley received a new lease on life, this was the exception, not the rule. In the Fifties and Sixties, when most TV shows were cancelled, they were never revived. It must have seemed a curiosity in 1967, then, when Jack Webb revived his TV show Dragnet. Dragnet 1967 debuted in the 1967-198 season. Jack Webb returned in the role of Joe Friday. His new partner, Bill Gannon, was played by Harry Morgan. The new series proved somewhat successful, running until 1970. Although widely regarded as inferior to the Fifties version, Dragnet 1967 (the title changed with each year) still has a following.

Dragnet was the only series revived in the Sixties. On the other hand, the Seventies would actually see several shows revived in some way, shape, or form. The first of these was the classic Danny Thomas sitcom Make Room for Daddy In 1970 it was revived under the title Make Room for Granddaddy. Danny Thomas returned as Danny Williams in Make Room for Granddaddy, as did many of the original cast. The series found Danny and his wife taking care of their grandson Michael while his daughter Terry and her husband (who was in the Army) were stationed overseas. Hans Conried even put in appearances as Uncle Tonoose, perhaps the most popular character on the original series. Unfortunately, Make Room for Granddaddy would not last. It was cancelled after only one season.

Nineteen seventy two would see one of the strangest revivals in television history. In the Sixties Peyton Place, a soap opera based on the novel and movie of the same name, was one of the most popular prime time series on ABC. It ran for five years, from 1964 to 1969. Its success would turn both Ryan O'Neil and Mia Farrow into stars. In 1972 NBC revived the series as a daytime soap opera, under the title Return to Peyton Place. Only three members of the prime time show's cast appeared in the series. It may have been for this reason it failed. It only ran until 1974, an extraordinarily short time for a soap opera.

The 1973-1974 would see the revival of no less than three series, the most of any season up to that time. One was a classic mystery series. Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr, based on Erle Stanley Gardner's series of novels featuring the crime solving lawyer. It proved to be a big hit for CBS upon its debut in 1957. It lasted until 1966, ending not due to ratings, but due to Burr's desire to move onto other things. The New Perry Mason debuted in September 1973. If Return to Peyton Place seemed odd, The New Perry Mason may have seemed even stranger. The fact is that The New Perry Mason was not a continuation of the first series, but could be considered a re-imagining of the series or, at the very least, a new take on Erle Stanley Gardner's novels. It featured none of the cast from the original series, and even featured characters from the novels who rarely appeared on the first show (such as Gertie, Perry's receptionist). With the original still in reruns throughout the United States, the new series probably did not have a fighting chance. It went off the air after only 15 episodes.

The second TV series was a continuation of a show rather than an attempt to re-imagine it. Ozzie's Girls was essentially a sequel to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The series had debuted on radio in 1944 and centred around Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their family. It made their transition to television in 1952, airing on ABC. Although rarely seen today, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet left its mark on television history in more than one way. Unless one counts The Simpsons, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is the second longest running sitcom of all time (after The Jack Benny Programme). Furthermore, the series featured what could be considered some of the earliest rock videos (their son Ricky Nelson was a rock singer and often his songs would showcased in video segments on the series). Quite naturally, Ozzie Nelson, the brains behind the series, may have felt that the show was ready for a revival in 1973. He developed a new series called Ozzie's Girls. With their sons gone, Ozzie and Harriet rented their rooms to two college co-eds. The Nelsons, accustomed to dealing with boys, then found themselves dealing with young women. The series was syndicated, which may have been part of the reason it did not repeat the original series' success. It ran for only one season. While running in syndication probably put it at a disadvantage to network offerings, the more central reason it failed may have been that Ozzie and Harriet's time had passed. Their quiet, wholesome brand of comedy, was out of fashion by the Seventies.

The third series to be revived in the 1973-1974 was Your Hit Parade. Even by the time it first aired on television, Your Hit Parade was an old show. It had debuted on radio all the way back in 1935. Immensely popular, each week the series featured the top hits of this week as sung by the show's regulars. The original TV series debuted in 1950. The series went off the air in 1959, a victim of the rise of rock and roll and the desire of young viewers to see the latest hits performed by the original artists. The 1974 revival was a summer replacement series. It followed the format of the original show save for one thing. Rather than perform the latest hits, the show featured the hits from a particular week from the Forties or Fifties. This probably put the show at a disadvtange from the beginning. Quite naturally it skewed towards older viewers, the kiss of death for any series in the Seventies. It was not picked up for the 1974-1975 season.

In 1978 a television movie would lead to the revival of an old TV series. Maverick was one of the most legendary Westerns of the Fifties. It concentrated on various members of the Maverick family, ne'er do wells who would generally rather play cards than draw a gun. For the most part the show centred on Bret Maverick (the role which made James Garner famous), a gambler and sometimes conman travelling through the old West. Not particularly good with a gun, Bret would rather talk his way out of a fight than shoot his way out. Bret's brother Bart (played by Jack Kelly) was a gambler like Brett, although a bit better with a gun and a bit more heroic. A third Maverick, Beau (played by Roger Moore), was Brett and Bart's cousin educated in England. Like Bret and Bart, he was a gambler. He was also a bit more of a womaniser. Yet another Maverick (it must have been a huge family) was introduced in the show's next to the last season, Bret and Bart's brother Brent Maverick (played by Roger Colbert). Brent was probably the most like Bret of any of the Mavericks. Maverick proved to be a hit, lasting until 1962.

With Maverick still popular in the Seventies, a TV movie called The New Maverick aired in 1978. The movie reunited James Garner and Jack Kelly as Bret and Bart and introduced yet another Maverick, their young cousin Ben (the son of Beau). The success of the series led to a new series, Young Maverick, which featured the adventures of Ben. Sadly, Young Maverick would not repeat the success of the original series. Only eight episodes aired before it went off the air.

While the Seventies saw relatively few TV series revivals, the Eighties would see a dramatic increase in the number of such revivals. Indeed, when it came to TV show revivals, it could well be considered a Golden Age.

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