From 'Get Smart' to 'The Love Boat,' remakes have rarely succeeded on the small screen
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With revamps of classic series Hawaii Five-O, Charlie’s Angels, Dallas, and 90210 all set to air this upcoming TV season, it’s fair to say that programming execs have been bit by the nostalgia bug. Last week, it was announced that a remake of the ‘60s sitcom Bewitched could join that crowd, with CBS ordering a script for a pilot based on the magical housewife and her harried husband’s now-famous domestic hijinx. It’s a curious move, not only because an attempt to take Bewitched to the big-screen flopped in 2005 (with Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell as the leads), but because TV remakes in general have an abysmal track record on TV.
Sleek, hip, and expensive relaunches of The Bionic Woman (which in 1978 starred an indestructible Lindsay Wagner) and Knight Rider (the ‘80s series in which a pre-Baywatch David Hasselhoff talks to his crime-fighting car) were high-profile disappointments for NBC in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The one-two punch of failure would be the cautionary tale against remaking TV classics—had attempts at reviving Get Smart, Love Boat, and Melrose Place (among others) not tanked spectacularly before them. Given the graveyard of TV remakes haunting Hollywood, why do networks keep churning them out?
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For starters, there’s the ever-important buzz that follows the initial announcement of these projects. From the inevitable “good idea or
bad idea” debate to the numerous unsolicited casting suggestions, a TV remake instantly garners more press and attention than any other new
series. With a crowded slate of freshman shows jockeying for those few breakout slots each season, that early chatter can be invaluable to a network.
Look, for example, to the magnifying glass placed on every leaked video, casting scoop, and—most importantly—wardrobe detail in this
reboot. A mass-internet evisceration of star Adrianne Palicki in costume as the titular superhero may have led to its eventual demise, as the show did
not get picked up this fall. On the flip side, endless interviews with the stars and creators of NBC’s new
series, about how this version of the crimefighting drama will differ from the ‘70s version, has garnered the show more press ink than perhaps
any other series this fall. The topic of conversation—what’s going to change in the new version—is built into the remake’s very
Yet unlike film reboots and updates, which are often successful, these TV versions are routine failures. Hawaii Five-O can be considered successful, though its ratings are not on par with what CBS had projected, and 2007’s revival of Battlestar Galactica was certainly critically respected, if only watched by a small, passionate few. One reason these remakes work on the big screen is that initial intrigue that was mentioned earlier. Often the TV reboots are hot commodities when they premiere in the fall, debuting to big ratings. But the curiosity wanes as viewers realize it’s not the same viewing experience as watching David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider or lacks the campiness of the original
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So the current onslaught of TV reboots have their work cut out for them. It seems that no matter what approach shows in this genre go with—a straightforward remake, a stylized modernization, picking up where the original left off—they fizzle out quickly. The Charlie’s Angels pilot has been making rounds with critics, who are lukewarm on the decidedly more aggressive version of the ‘70s classic. A short teaser for TNT’s Dallas reboot was similarly divisive, with some wondering how well the dated family politics that make up the backbone of the drama will hold up. And as for the planned Bewitch revival? The jury’s still out on whether a sitcom that was so inextricably of its time will need anything short of a magical twitch of the nose to make it successful.