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Familiarity Breeds Audience for Kids-Show Reboots

Children’s-targeted programmers such as Disney Channel and Nickelodeon are rebooting popular kids shows from the 1990s and early 2000s in an effort to reach a new generation of kids, as well as their parents who grew up watching them on both traditional television and online streaming platforms. 

Shows with brand identity and familiarity have an advantage over new programs trying to establish themselves in a crowded multiplatform content universe, network executives and industry observers said. But such advantages don’t guarantee success for reboots, regardless of the original show’s popularity. 

“If you can provide an entertaining show to the current audience and use established characters in an established format that also attracts past viewers, then you’re on the right track,” TV analyst Bill Carroll said. “Yet in any show, whether it’s a reboot or an original, it has to stand on its own, whether it’s entertaining or whether the audience finds it attractive.”

As young viewers consume content across multiple platforms — kids 2 to 11 averaged 14 hours as week of viewing on connected-TV devices and 10 hours of live or time shifted TV viewing according to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report for third-quarter 2020 — content distributors are turning to more established intellectual properties (IP) to reach more kids, as well as their parents who grew up with such properties. 

“It absolutely helps break through the clutter and connect to audiences,” Paul DeBenedittis, Nickelodeon’s executive VP of programming and content strategy, said. “We have the ability to bring back properties so that parents who are now 40 years old can experience Nick with their children.”

Aggressive IP Revivers

Nickelodeon in particular has been aggressive in developing reboots and spinoffs for its older titles, having brought back this past May animated series Rugrats with new episodes featuring the original actor voices from the 1990s. On the live-action front, the network in June revived its 2010 series iCarly, featuring the original kid stars Miranda Cosgrove and Nathan Kress reprising their roles as adults. 

Both shows debuted on upstart streaming service Paramount Plus and not Nickelodeon, where the original shows ran. DeBenedittis said the streaming service allows the network to reach both fans who watch reruns of the original series on Paramount Plus as well as new viewers who may not be familiar with the franchise but are viewing other shows online. 

Miranda Cosgrove in iCarly on Paramount Plus

Miranda Cosgrove returns in the iCarly reboot on Paramount Plus.  (Image credit: Giselle Hernandez/Paramount)

The strategy seems to be working. The iCarly reboot, whose June 17 debut reached 145,000 households within the live-plus-three-day window according to Samba TV, was recently renewed for a second season on Paramount Plus.

“We have an opportunity to reach a broader audience that might not be watching Nick and might not have children, but they’re watching Paramount Plus to see a title that they grew up with,” DeBenedettis said. “These titles generally have a strong affinity with audiences while at the same time they also have the ability to drive new audiences.” 

Disney Channel is preparing to revive one of its more popular animated titles, The Proud Family, with hopes it will follow in the footsteps of successful reboots of That’s So Raven (Raven’s Home) and High School Musical (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series). 

The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder will once again follow the exploits of an African-American family, led by teenage daughter Penny Proud. Original series creator and executive producers Bruce Smith and Ralph Farquhar will return for the reboot along with most of the cast members from the original show, which aired on Disney Channel from 2001 to 2005. Though no premiere date for The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder has been announced, it will be available on Disney Plus.  

Disney Branded Television president and CEO Gary Marsh said the multigenerational appeal of reboots provides a catalyst for co-viewing opportunities on multiple platforms. “There is a familiarity with the series among original fans, but the show has new stories to tell and new characters to introduce that will keep the original fans engaged and attract new ones,” Marsh said. 

Marsh pointed to the success of Disney Channel’s Raven’s Home, which finished its fourth season this past May as one of the network’s most-watched and most co-viewed shows. The series starring Raven-Symoné takes place years after the end of That’s So Raven, which ran on the channel from 2003 to 2007, with Raven’s then-teenage character now a divorced mother of preteen twins. 

“When Raven’s Home first launched, the nostalgia factor of seeing Raven-Symoné in her comedic element again appealed to fans of That’s So Raven, while attracting a whole new generation of fans in Disney Channel’s core 6-14 demo,” Marsh said. “What’s great about these titles is that they’re multigenerational and are great for co-viewing.”

The CW will look to capitalize on the success and popularity of Craig McCracken-produced Cartoon Network’s animated series The Powerpuff Girls, having green-lit a live-action version of the series. In The CW’s version, the three adolescent superheroes of the animated series that ran on Cartoon Network from 1998 to 2005 and again from 2016 to 2019, are 20-something women contemplating their roles as crime fighters. 

Carroll said reboots of kids-targeted shows such as Netflix’s Fuller House (based on ABC’s 1980’s sitcom Full House) have succeeded because the new series are able to update the original version to appeal to new viewers without totally alienating former viewers looking for the nostalgia of the original show. Fuller House, in which the kid stars from the original are now adults and drive the main storylines, ran for five seasons from 2016 to 2020.

Rugrats on Paramount Plus

Nickelodeon animated series Rugrats got a reboot on streamer Paramount Plus.  (Image credit: Nickelodeon/Paramount Plus)

“Time and time again it has been proven that if a reboot is well-done and it makes sense, then it works,” Carroll said. “If it’s just taking a concept that worked before and is not contemporized then it probably doesn’t work.”

Indeed, not every reboot idea successfully sees the light of day. Disney in 2019 announced plans for a revival of the 2000s Disney Channel series Lizzie McGuire, with original series star Hilary Duff reprising her lead role as an adult living in New York. But in a 2020 Instagram post Duff announced that the show would not go forward, saying that the “stars didn’t align” creatively for the much-anticipated reboot. 

Disney’s Marsh acknowledged the challenges in navigating actors, storylines and characters surrounding reboots. “It’s important to honor the heart and soul of the original series because it obviously holds a special place in the hearts of the fans,” Marsh said. “But it’s equally important to evolve and contemporize the characters and storytelling so that we invite new audiences in as well. With every project you start out to make, sometimes the stars align and other times they don’t and that’s OK.”

New ‘Under Wraps’ In Works

Disney is moving head with several other projects in the reboot arena, including a comedic remake of the network’s first ever original movie, Under Wraps, and a Doogie Howser M.D. reimagining featuring Andi Mack’s Peyton Elizabeth Lee as a 16-year-old prodigy juggling a budding medical career and life as a teen, according to Marsh. 

Nickelodeon is putting a new spin on the classic animated series The Smurfs, and a live-action reboot of 2000s animated series The FairlyOdd Parents is also in the works, DeBenedittis said. Other franchises such as Star Trek, Transformers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are also being primed for new projects. 

“We’re looking at additional content — both movies and series — that we could potentially deliver for the fan base and grow new audiences through both linear and streaming,” he said. “The different platforms offer us the ability to drive broader reach and engagement with beloved properties that fans love as well as introduce kids to these properties.” 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.