Old is New Again

I am a bit bewildered by the surge in remakes and spin-offs of old TV shows in development. First, there was NBC’s KNIGHT RIDER pilot/Ford commercial last month. Now comes news that the CW is developing a BEVERLY HILLS 90210 remake, ABC is reviving the short-lived series CUPID from a decade ago,  SciFi is crafting a BATTLESTAR GALACTICA prequel series called CAPRICA, and producer Bill MacDonald, actor Roger Moore (as a producer) and director Barry Levinson are independently financing a pilot based on THE SAINT and shopping it around themselves. Meanwhile, movie versions of GET SMART , SPEED RACER, and SEX AND THE CITY are on tap for this summer and director John Singleton’s A-TEAM is coming in June 2009. What is spurring this renewed interest in old TV? It’s not like the last wave of TV remakes did so hot (MIAMI VICE, BIONIC WOMAN, I SPY, etc.).

(In a related note, based on the success of THE OFFICE and UGLY BETTY, the networks are also on an over-seas shopping spree, developing U.S. versions of the UK series SPACED, LIFE ON MARS, and THE ELEVENTH HOUR, as well as formats from Australia).

19 thoughts on “Old is New Again”

  1. Where are all the Idea Men (and women)?
    I know “there’s nothing new under the sun.” But come on. Do they really have to re-vamp every hit show or movie every 10+ years?

  2. The last mystery novelist Robert Kienzle once responded to the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” with: “Everywhere but Hollywood. They don’t have any new ideas out there.”

  3. You know, it’s not like recycling British TV shows is a new idea. Sanford and Son and All in the Family were originally British series.

  4. Being a smartass aside, I would guess it has to do with a risk-averse mindset. If it was successful once, maybe it’ll be successful again. Plus, the networks seem to have short attention spans and don’t let shows find their audience. I guess that’s understandable if you’re spending millions of dollars on a show that has crappy ratings, but an awful lot of shows get 4 or 5 showings then get killed.

  5. Might be one of the effects on America and the world of the Iraq War. Maybe the war doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and it might seem that it is no longer clear what can be accomplished, and is no longer clear on what the way ahead should be. So to find answers and insights, maybe the audience wants to revisit older, familiar stories told when the world seemed clearer and there were solutions and the way forward was evident. Sort of, “from where I have come, I’ll get an idea of where to go next”, maybe.
    Maybe, too, part of the reason is with the natural way a culture evolves. Each generation tells itself the story of Troy, and all of the stories told since, that relate to the present ethos because these stories tell us where we are, and how we, as Westerners, solve problems. We use Reason, we use Trail and Error. We use Perseverence in the face of failure, and we are Successful when we do. At least, so far. So the stories that tell us these things, get repeated as they resonate with the audience. It may be hard to believe, now, but GET SMART may be retold for centuries, and 90210 Characters may be studied by Ph.d’s trying to understand our era and its discontents.
    Anyway, to me, it’s like revisiting an old friend whom I have affection and love for. Agent 99 is like a friend, and I just want to see him again. He embodies a never-say-die attitude no matter how many mistakes he makes over the details. He is always going forward against CHAOS to preserve Peace and Order and the Triumph of Reason and Love. What’s not to like? And then to visit with him, and then look at dispatches from Iraq, it just doesn’t seem so impossibly chaotic anymore, or so impossible to deal with. All that from Agent 99! I love this guy!

  6. While I’m interested in seeing David Kelley’s take on “Life on Mars” (I think Colm Meaney as Gene Hunt is a good start), the McG version of “Spaced” needs to die, as soon as possible.
    At least the original production company (if not the actual team) is involved with the new “Life on Mars” – the attitude of the McSpaced crowd towards the original creators is what’s turned me off that idea…

  7. Another UK remake to add to the list is State of Play. It was a 2003 BBC miniseries and it’s being remade as a feature film with Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, and Ben Affleck.

  8. This reminds me of the time back in 1999 when I was sitting in a meeting with my boss’ boss’ boss’ boss (the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales and Marketing) at BMC Software to discuss Web marketing. After presenting him with detailed information how our Web site was failing (based on Web traffic analysis) and providing some solid content and flow ideas (based on proven and sound marketing and Web fundamentals) he came up with:
    “I like how Yahoo has MyYahoo…we need to do something cool like that…like ‘MyYeehaw'”
    I nearly choked.
    Any winner is guaranteed to have a bunch of high-paid executives blindly following like lemmings without giving a moment’s thought of how that specific strategy/tactic/content worked, and why it might not in the future.
    …oh, and Lee’s just mad that the ‘Hoff isn’t in the new Knight Rider!!! 😉

  9. I think Dan Williams said it eloquently (except I think he means Agent 86, unless Agent 99 had a very strange secret). There are characters whose stories will be told again and again, because they are so compelling. There will always be new versions of Sherlock Holmes, and Tarzan, and James Bond, and Nero Wolfe and The Saint. Not to mention Spider-Man (currently starring in his eighth TV series and seventh animated series), Batman (seventh TV series, sixth animated), Superman (SMALLVILLE is the ninth TV series, and one of three about Superman as a boy); and any other character who stands the test of time.
    Will there forever be stories of The Terminator, Speed Racer, and the 90210 crew? Time will tell.

  10. Now Lee, more than most people you know that THE SAINT is not a remake or spin-off of the old TV shows but a spin-off of the original books which predate the first TV series by just under 40 years.
    But you raise an interesting point which I think deserves a wider view. There have been several articles in the English media over the last few weeks discussing why shows such as ASHES TO ASHES (the LIFE ON MARS ‘sequel’) and the revisits of old shows are doing so well. Most of them concluded that given the state of the world in the 21st Century we all yearn for the simpler life of the past…

  11. I think that yes, this has to do with a risk averse studio environment as well as a “what do we have that we already own and has a proven track record?” mentality.
    I think that some reboots (my preferred term) are well done – GALACTICA for example – but they are the exception that proves the rule. That said, if given the chance I would reboot the following (as tv shows, not movies):
    What can I say? I like underdogs…

  12. Oops!! Yes, what can I say? Agent 86, not 99! But she’s good, too! As is The Chief, the cone of silence, and the agent who was always stationed in a trash can. Thank-you, Mr. Barer. Your memory is better than mine is.


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