Extreme Series Make-overs

LeeandcastBlogger Brent McKee is talking today about what happens when TV shows undergo a major creative overhaul. One of the examples he uses is MARTIAL LAW:

The first season was brilliant with one
of the few sour notes being the inclusion of Arsenio Hall as a cast member. It
didn’t get good ratings and the show was handed over to Lee Goldberg and William
Rabkin, who were posting on rec.arts.tv at the time. The gutted the show –
tossed out every actor except Sammo Hung, Kelly Hu and Arsenio Hall – and
created a sort of mytharc which was so incredibly stupid that even devoted fans
were sickened. I swear that if Rabkin and/or Goldberg were standing in front of
me at the time I’d have gotten as many good shots as I could and I have the
feeling a lot of fans would have done the same thing.

I won’t waste time defending our creative decisions on MARTIAL LAW (anyone remember Louis Mandylor? I didn’t think so), but I would hardly call the first season "brilliant" by any stretch. By far the biggest problem with the show was that it starred a guy who couldn’t speak English and a talkshow host pretending to be an actor, neither of whom liked each other much and both of whom were very difficult people to work with.

I’ve been integrally involved in the revamping of three shows — THE COSBY MYSTERIES, DIAGNOSIS MURDER, and SEAQUEST — and in each of those cases, I’d argue the shows were greatly improved (of course!). However of the three series, only DIAGNOSIS MURDER enjoyed a big spike in ratings and critical acclaim as a result of our changes.

The truth is that a revamped show rarely survives… and for good reason. A revamp is an act of total desperation. If the show wasn’t already in serious creative or ratings decline, it wouldn’t need an extreme make-over — or, in some cases, two or three  (look how many formats ELLEN went through before it died). But there have been shows that have survived…and even thrived… after radical revamps, MANNIX being one of the best examples.

My favorite extreme TV series make-over revolved around a western called KLONDIKE…about cowboys in Alaska in the 1880s. The ratings sucked. So the show was pulled and it came back two weeks later as ACAPULCO. Same cast, different format, warmer setting. The change didn’t help and the show was cancelled after a few episodes…

8 thoughts on “Extreme Series Make-overs”

  1. I remember his brother Costas. I had to chase him and Ice-T across the natural history museum once in some show I can’t remember the name of. Ice-T asked,”Are you a real museum guard?” Oh Brother.

  2. Heh! I remember seeing the first promos for MARTIAL LAW and thinking “Sammo Hung?! The sumbitch don’t hardly speak English!” I think I watched maybe one episode in the first season. I was right. It was a terrible idea from the word go. Although Kelly Hu was babe-o-licious.

  3. “I swear that if Rabkin and/or Goldberg were standing in front of me at the time I’d have gotten as many good shots as I could and I have the feeling a lot of fans would have done the same thing.”
    I doubt E. Kelly or Bochco in their prime could have done anything with Sammo. Once the novelty wears off of someone that size pulling off the stunts that he did, you had no where to go (a sumo wrestler/defensive tackle arc?).
    Sammo is a brilliant stunt co-ordinator and stuntman. He is a decent actor in his area of the Hong Kong action genre where plot is tertiary to the names on the poster and the action.
    But no one in the world regardless of writing pedigree could build an American television series around Sammo.

  4. Sammo’s more comedian in the Jackie Chan mold than tough cop – felt the show was trying to be a kung fu TJ Hooker more than what it could be –
    The biggest mystery was – what the hell was ARsineo Hall doing there – and how come a guy that cannot speak English act better than him?
    Sammo’s accent never bothered me too much, but I was a fan of his to begin with (and there’s something of an idea to this, didn’t this series happen before the Rush HOur thing took off?) and putting him in a contemporary US setting could have worked, I think. I just thought it should be more of a comedy.
    For the record, I liked the second season better than the first, and had no idea you were involved until you wrote this. But I’m a kung-fu / karate fanatic –
    But now how about some real dirt on Spenser for Hire?


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