Friday, May 18, 2018

New Episodes of Classic TV Shows: Would it Work?

If you visited Las Vegas this year, you may have seen some of these shows playing at various resorts on and off the Strip:  

The Australian Bee Gees
MJ Live: Michael Jackson Tribute Concert
Bruce in the USA: Bruce Springsteen Tribute
Purple Reign: The Prince Tribute Show
Abba: The Concert – a Tribute to Abba
Wanted: A Tribute to Bon Jovi
Jay White is America’s Diamond: Honoring Neil Diamond

There were more, but you get the idea.

When I moved to Las Vegas back in 1982, the only tribute show that drew an audience featured an Elvis impersonator. But today, it seems there is a much greater interest in celebrating the music of previous generations.

So I can’t help but wonder: Could the same thing happen with television shows?

Classic shows are already revisited in myriad ways. There have been parodies, like The Rerun Show (2002) and The Real Live Brady Bunch stage show. We’ve also had a wave of (mostly lousy) feature film adaptations, where the original series is a starting point from which to take the concept into new territory.

Remakes? Tim Daly headlined a new version of The Fugitive in 2000. Family Affair was revived in 2002 with Gary Cole as Bill Davis and Tim Curry as Mr. French, and Charlie’s Angels returned to television in 2011. None of these attempts were successful. New takes on Dragnet and The Bionic Woman also flopped. The new Dallas had its moments. The new Dynasty did not. 

More recently we’ve had something that comes closer to a true continuation of a classic series, with the new episodes of Roseanne and Will and Grace now airing, and more Murphy Brown coming soon. Ratings have been very impressive, suggesting audiences are glad to be reunited with TV characters they first met decades ago. 

So would audiences be equally happy to spend more time with Ann Marie and Don Hollinger, or James West and Artemus Gordon, or the Cartwright family?

There are obvious reasons why these projects could not be attempted with the original stars. But if you carefully and respectfully recast the roles, reproduce every other aspect of the original show, and resist any urge to "re-imagine," "update" or "modify," would that result in a successful revival? If the right tone was captured would there be an audience for new episodes of Gunsmoke or Mannix, I Dream of Jeannie or Father Knows Best, Perry Mason or The Man From UNCLE

I think so – if the new episodes stayed true to what made the source material successful, with no self-awareness, no casting or scripts based on 21st century sensibilities, and no winking at the audience. The only goal should be not to remake but to revive, with as much authenticity and attention to detail as possible.

Think about The Brady Bunch Movie (yes, I know, I always come back to The Brady Bunch). While that project had its own satriric slant on the material, consider the possibilities of putting a lookalike cast like that one into a new 30-minute script with the kind of plot viewers came to expect from the series, and without exaggerating aspects of their characters for comic effect. Would the result be close enough to the actual show to satisfy fans? 

Since the objective is to produce new episodes that would fit comfortably into the series’ original runs, that requires setting them in the same era; so no cell phone for Joe Mannix, no GPS for Bo and Luke Duke, no Chip and Ernie Douglas doing homework on a computer. And no updated wardrobe for Mike Brady.

Again, would it succeed? Could a sincere attempt to write, produce and perform new episodes of old shows capture enough of the flavor of the originals – or would the hurdle of accepting a new cast in iconic roles be too great to overcome?

I think it would work. And I think the ratings success of networks like MeTV proves there is an audience that would embrace a continuation of shows that ended decades ago. I also believe there is an audience eager to have more family-friendly viewing options, and most of the series from the Comfort TV era fit into that category.

There is another option for reviving classics, and that is through the same technology that will soon be used to bring Marilyn Monroe back for a new movie about her life. Today’s CGI can create digital avatars of characters as they appeared in a show from 50 years ago. Voices? Those can be recreated as well. Many films now combine practical sets with digital effects, and most viewers can’t tell where the real parts of a frame stop and the CGI starts. 

Far too expensive to do for a TV series now, but there was a time when videocassette recorders were cutting-edge technology that cost $1,500. 

I’m not saying it might happen for classic TV shows – I’m saying it absolutely will happen. And I for one cannot wait.


  1. “…resist any urge to 're-imagine,' 'update' or 'modify,'…no self-awareness, no casting or scripts based on 21st century sensibilities, and no winking at the audience.” Therein lies the issue. I think we may never know if such revivals could work. Producers cannot resist the urge to “update”. That old chestnut needs to be sexier, edgier, or more “socially relevant”- a catchphrase which usually means seedier. I’ve always been a huge fan of The Rifleman, but I shudder to think of what a revival would be like. I’m sure it would be inconceivable today to feature an adult male character who didn’t regularly fool around.

    1. I fear you may be right - creative egos will always think they can do something to make a work of art better, even if that is not the objective. But it's fun to think about.

  2. There WAS a Perry Mason reboot with an entirely new cast back in 1973. It only lasted half a season.

  3. I think you're underestimating the "uncanny valley" factor of having a reboot that tries to stay close to the original, but features new actors attempting to mimic the old.

    There was a reboot of Are You Being Served? in 2016:

    Other than adding "diversity" to the cast, it hews pretty close visually and linguistically to what the show was, but just comes across as a gross parody if you're a fan of the original.

  4. I always pictured a musical version based on the 70's kid's show The Electric Company.

  5. Check out the following URLs:

  6. Great topic! Me, I would be opposed to any revival or reboot of classic TV shows, especially with new casts but even with the original. The MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE revival of the late-'80s was awful. The GET SMART revival with Adams and Feldon was awful. The COLUMBO, ROCKFORD FILES, and PERRY MASON TV movies were awful (from the few that I've seen). As Blakeney noted above, producers cannot resist the urge to update and change, invariably for the worst.

    I'm such a fundamentalist on this I dislike even the STAR TREK movie franchise because of all the changes that made the characters strangers to me. I disliked the two WILD, WILD WEST reunion movies circa 1980 that reunited Conrad and Martin, but which nonetheless were missing something integral. You can't go home again, wrote Thomas Wolfe, and you can't go back years later and recapture the moment, the chemistry, or whatever it was that made a series great.

    Taking it back to BRADY BUNCH--I love that show, too!--I hated the reunion movies filled with drama and divorce and fake Jan, BUT... I really enjoyed the BRADY BUNCH movies with Gary Cole and Shelley Long. They didn't attempt to be in the original series' continuity, and were spoofs done with admiration and respect for the source material. Compare them to most other movies based on beloved shows that, as you wrote, use it as a starting point to go in their own directions--usually vulgar and crass--e.g., DUKES OF HAZZARD, LAND OF THE LOST, and CHIPS (none of which I saw, but read about with despair).

    So no, I don't want to spend time with the Bradys outside of the five-season canon. But there are newer shows that have a similar that vibe. I watched with my kids growing up DRAKE AND JOSH, iCARLY, GOOD LUCK, CHARLIE, DOG WITH A BLOG and others and thought they captured well what made those family-friendly shows of yesteryear work so well. And I'm glad they did it with original ideas and characters, not plundering pre-sold names and concepts.

    1. Mr. Peterson, what do you have to say about the 1980 telefilm "The Return of Frank Cannon"? What do you have to say about the 1992 TV movie "Back to the Streets of San Francisco," which had Karl Malden but neither Michael Douglas (in new footage, anyway) nor Richard Hatch?

    2. Christopher, I haven't seen either film, though the RETURN OF FRANK CANNON is included with my DVD set and so I'll watch it and get my money's worth. No interest in tracking down the STREETS film (can't call it a reunion without Douglas or Hatch). It wasn't included with the SoSF set.

  7. Judging from this blog commentary of yours, Mr. Hofstede, I have a feeling that you don't care that much for the "Hawaii Five-O" reboot known as "Hawaii Five-0." Is that right? How about the 2009-2010 "Melrose Place" revival? At least Heather Locklear participated in the latter.

    Actually, the "Dynasty" reboot HAS been renewed. However...

    1. Mr. Hofstede, you might want to check out the following URL:

  8. *sigh*