Friday, June 22, 2007

TV Show Revivals Part Three

The Nineties would see a dramatic decline in the number of TV show revivals. In fact, the decline was so dramatic that the Eighties had as many TV series revivals as, if not more than, the Nineties and the Naughts combined. The question must then be asked, "Why did TV show revivals decline in the Nineties and the Naughts?" It is certain that nostalgia for old TV shows did not disappear. Indeed, if anything it would seem to be have increased in the Nineties and the Naughts to a point more than even in the Eighties. One need look no further than movies, TV shows, and music from the past twenty years. Pop culture references increased dramatically in these media, particularly as Generation X came of age. The movie Detroit Rock City featured clear references to the cartoon Underdog. The Simpsons has made references to TV shows from the Sixties version of Batman to All in the Family. Dr. Dre in his song "Light Speed" made reference to Optimus Prime of Transformers. It is quite clear that TV show nostalgia has not disappeared. This should be no surprise. By the late Nineties television had three generations who had grown up with it: the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.

The mostly likely culprit when it came to TV show revivals being less common in the Nineties and the Naughts was, quite simply, the ratings. The vast majority of TV series revivals have lasted a season or less. Even when a TV show revival features some or all of the original cast, it is rare for it to run over one season. As to why TV show revivals don't always capture ratings, I suspect that this may simply be because they often don't capture the feel of the original shows. This is the case even when the series features members of the original cast and even when it features members of the original production team. No better example of this could be seen than Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although the show was a hit, many original fans complained that it "isn't like the original show." Star Trek: The Next Generation survived this criticism, but many shows did not.

At any rate, while there were fewer TV show revivals on American television in the Nineties than in the Eighties, they were not precisely uncommon. In fact, two such revivals debuted in 1991 alone. In January 1991 the daytime soap opera Dark Shadows was revived as a primetime series on NBC. The new series featured an entirely new cast. And while it was loyal to the original to a large degree, it could also be considered a re-imagining. An example of this is the fact that on the original TV show the vampire Barnabas Collins did not appear until the series had been on for nine months, while on the new series he appeared in the very first episode. Regardless, the new version of Dark Shadows only lasted two months. NBC scheduled the series on Friday night, a time slot that is nearly certain death for any genre show. The show also had the misfortune to debut at the beginning of the Gulf War, so that it was often preempted by war coverage.

The second show which debuted in 1991 was a revival of WKRP in Cincinnati, under the title of The New WKRP in Cincinnati. Original cast members Gordon Jump, Richard Sanders, and Frank Bonner returned to the series, accompanied by new characters. Cast members from the original series would also make guest appearances, including Howard Hesseman as "Dr. Johnny Fever." The new series would not repeat the success of the original, only lasting two season in syndication.

The 1993-1994 season would see the revival of four series. In 1987 a film based on the Sixties The Untouchables, directed by Brian De Palma, became a box office success. With the success of the film, reviving the series probably seemed like a good idea. The new version of The Untouchables can best be described as a re-imagining. The show featured an entirely new cast. And while it was nearly as violent as the original series, like the film The Untouchables it tended to be more character driven. Sadly, the new series did not last nearly as long as the original. In first run syndication, it only lasted two years.

The same season would see the debut of another TV show in first run syndication. Kung Fu: the Legend Continues was a continuation of the Seventies Kung Fu. While the original followed Shaolin monk Kwai Chang Caine (David Carradine) wandering the American Old West, the new version followed his grandson (also named Kwai Chang Caine) wandering America in the present day. I must point out that the idea of the original's Caine actually producing offspring was always a sore point with my best friend; many Shaolin monks are celibate! On a personal note, even though David Carradine played Caine's grandson, I always thought that it did not have the same flavour as the original series. The unique situation of Caine, essentially an outcast wandering the Old West (keep in mind that racism against Asians was prevalent in that time and place) that existed in the original series was entirely lost in the new one. Regardless, Kung Fu: the Legend Continues actually ran longer than Kung Fu. While the original series ran three seasons, Kung Fu: the Legend Continues ran four seasons.

January 1994 saw the revival of the TV series Burke's Law. The series was essentially a continuation of the Sixties show of the same name , complete with Gene Barry returning as Burke. In the new series Amos Burke was assisted by his son Peter. The new show was very much like the original series, with plenty of big name stars and beautiful women. In the end, however, it only lasted a little over a year.

The fourth TV show revival to debut in the 1993-1994 season was a summer replacement. The Sixties series Route 66 had originally followed Tod Stiles and Buz Murdock as they traipsed Route 66 in a Corvette. The 1993 revival followed Nick Murdock (the grandson of Buzz) and Arthur Clark as they travelled Route 66 in the Corvette that Nick had inherited from Buzz. The series was fairly loyal to the original, but it did not get the ratings that the Sixties series had. The new Route 66 only lasted four episodes and was not renewed for the fall.

Nineteen ninety five would see the debut of a series that was also a continuation of a Sixties series. Fox revived the popular show Get Smart, with Don Adams and Barbara Feldon returning as Maxwell Smart and Agent 99. Also returning was David Ketchum as Agent 13. Max was now Chief of Control. His son, Zach Smart (Andy Dick), was now a spy for Control. He was teamed with Agent 66 (Elaine Hendrix). The series was very short lived, lasting only a little over a month.

It was during the 1995-1996 season that premium channel Showtime revived yet another Sixties series. The Outer Limits was a sci-fi anthology show that originally ran from 1963 to 1965. Unlike its contemporary, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits was almost purely a science fiction series, and its episodes almost never had twist endings. Although it only lasted two years, it had remained popular since the Sixties. The series revival was largely loyal to the original, concentrating on sci-fi stories. Airing on a cable premium channel, the new series could afford to be a bit more violent and sexually explicit than the original had been. While made for a premium channel, the new Outer Limits would enter syndication a season after its debut. It was also fairly successful. It ran from 1995 to 2002.

The 1998-1999 season would see the revival of two series. UPN revived The Love Boat with The Love Boat: the Next Wave. The Love Boat: the Next Wave was essentially a continuation of the original series, with a new cast. Several of the original cast would make guest appearances. While the original series ran for nine years, however, The Love Boat: the Next Wave would not see the same success. It sank after one season.

That same season what was then the Fox Family Channel (now the ABC Family Channel) tried to revived The Addams Family. After two feature films, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. To a degree, the new series was more a re-imagining than a continuation, and largely drew from the movies rather the original show. For instance, on the Sixties series, Uncle Fester was Morticia's uncle (hence he would be Gomez's uncle in law), but in the movies and the show revival, he was Gomez's brother. The new series remade several of the original's episodes. That having been said, the new series was generally considered inferior to the original show and the movies. Perhaps for that reason it only lasted one season.

One major difference between the Nineties and the Naughts is that while the Nineties saw nearly as many sitcoms revived as dramas, the majority of TV show revivals in the Naughts have been dramas. Indeed, the first such revival of the Naughts was a drama--a revival of the Sixties series The Fugitve, in the 2000-2001 season. The new series remained fairly loyal to the original show, with the falsely accused Dr. Richard Kimble on the run from the law. It would not see the original show's success, however, only running one season.

The following season PAX TV (a small, "family oriented" network of the early Naughts) would debut what was supposed to be a prequel to Bonanza entitled Ponderosa. It featured the early adventures of Ben Cartwright and his young sons Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. While it was supposed to be a prequel to Bonanza, however, Ponderosa should perhaps best be considered a prequel and a re-imagining of the original show. For instance, Ponderosa has Ben Cartwright settling in Nevada along with his third wife, Marie, and his son Little Joe. According to the original series, Ben had not even met Marie when he settled the Ponderosa, so that Little Joe was not even born. This was only one of many differences in the shows' continuities. At any rate, the series was not a hit. It only lasted one season.

The year 2002-2003 season would see two TV show revivals, one of which was the only sitcom resurrected in the Naughts. Family Affair was a quiet, wholesome comedy that had aired for five years in the Sixties. The new series was most definitely a re-imagining of the original. While the original had been a quiet comedy that was almost cloyingly wholesome, the remake relied heavily on slapstick and often brought up subjects that would be taboo on the original (i.e. sex). The show also received some very poor reviews. It is perhaps a wonder that it even survived most of the season.

The 2002-2003 season also saw yet another revival of Dragnet (I'm not sure, but discounting the continuations of Star Trek, this might make it the most revived show of all time). The series was initially loyal to the original, with Ed O'Neil in the role of Joe Friday. With its second season the show was renamed L.A Dragnet (which seemed to me be a bit repetitious as the show had always been set in Los Angeles), with Joe Friday receiving less screen time than younger detectives. The change apparently didn't sit well with viewers. It lasted only five episodes into the 2002-2003 season, although the USA Network would air some of the previously unseen episodes.

Late in the 2002-2003 season NBC debuted a continuation of Hunter, with Fred Dryer returning as Rick Hunter and Stephanie Kramer returning as Deedee McCall. While the original series ran from 1984 to 1991, the revival only managed to last five episodes.

The most successful revival of the Naughts would definitely be the re-imagining of the Seventies series Battlestar Galactica which debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2004 and is still on the air. The new Battlestar Galactica is also definitely a re-imagining of the original series, making some drastic changes to the show. The robotic Cylons of the original show are now humanoid in appearance on the new show. The character Starbuck underwent a sex change, going from male to female (the original was played by Dirk Benedict of A-Team fame). The culture in the new Battlestar Galactica is also closer to that of 21st century North America or Europe, albeit with advanced technology. This did cause considerable controversy among fans of the old series. While no fan of the original (I watched it as an adult a few years ago and discovered the show I watched as a kid was, well, bad...), I have to admit I did not like the idea of the Cylons being humanoid in appearance, and I was actually upset at Starbuck being female (no offence to my female readership, but Dirk Benedict was just so cool in the part--the only good character on the original show--and it's not like the original didn't have female characters they could have played up in the new show). Despite the controversy over changes from the original, the new Battlestar Galactica proved to be a success. It is the highest rated show ever on the Sci-Fi Channel and has received plenty of kudos from critics. I have never seen the series, but my best friend states that he feels it is overrated. While he believes it is a good show, it is not a remarkable one, and certainly not one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time (it falls far short of the original Star Trek and Farscape. for instance).

The final show to be revived so far in the Naughts was another re-imagining. Kojak, already revived once, would be reimagined in the 2004-2005 season. The new series cast Ving Rhames as Kojak and retained such characters as Captain McNeil while introducing a new character, Assistant District Attorney Carmen Simone. This reinterpretation of Kojak only lasted nine episodes.

Particularly in the past 27 years, TV show revivals have been a part of American television. And while many have failed, nostalgia for old shows and the success of such series as the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica dictate there will probably be more. Indeed, Seventies series The Bionic Woman has been re-imagined for NBC this fall. Who knows? In twenty years we could see new versions of The X-Files and Everybody Hates Chris....

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