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Broadcast ’Boots Bring Back Buzz

While a handful of high-profile rebooted shows have helped anchor the broadcast schedule this season, including NBC comedy Will & Grace, CBS cop drama SWAT and The CW’s soapy Dynasty, a couple more major rethinkings of beloved series are on tap to debut in the coming weeks. American Idol makes its premiere on ABC March 11, and comedy Roseanne debuts on that network March 27.

Related: Something Borrowed, Something New

Many believe the reboot trend is simply a function of it being harder and harder for a show to stand out among the many offerings on broadcast, cable and streaming, with a familiar title having a better chance to make itself known among distracted viewers. Others feel TV watchers are simply missing the simpler days of television viewing in a previous era. “Folks are looking to kinder and gentler times, a sense of nostalgia,” media consultant Bill Carroll said. “There’s so much controversy these days; there seems to be a division in the culture.”

TV pundits such as Carroll are quick to point out there are two types of rebooted shows. One, which includes Will & Grace and Roseanne, reassembles the cast and key writers and producers. Another, as is the case with SWAT, which originally ran on ABC in 1975 and ’76, brings back the title and concept, but with a new cast and behind-the-scenes team.

The rookie reboots are a mixed bag. Will & Grace, which first aired on NBC from 1998-2006, has averaged 9.8 million viewers this season, and a 3.1 live-plus-7 rating in viewers 18-49, earning a renewal. SWAT has averaged 9.9 million viewers and a 1.8 rating in 18-49. Dynasty is averaging 1.1 million viewers and a 0.3 in adults 18-49 on a live-plus-7 basis.

American Idol, which had its farewell season on Fox in 2016, looks to be a mix of old and new elements. Carroll says its success is reliant on two dynamics: how the judges, Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan, connect with viewers, and if the show can unearth a batch of talented and charismatic contestants for Idol fans to feel passionate for. “Lightning has to strike in two ways,” he said.

Trish Kinane, president of entertainment programming at Idol producer FremantleMedia North America, believes the judges will connect with viewers. “They bring a completely different vibe to the show,” Kinane said. “They very much bring their own style to it.”

Preston Beckman, former Fox executive vice president of strategic program planning and research and chairman of The Beckman Group consultancy, said an Idol that sticks pretty close to what worked on Fox will yield the best ratings. “I don’t think it will come back significantly higher than where it left off,” he said. “But it will do better than whatever ABC would put on in that time period if they didn’t have American Idol.”

Sampling for the new Idol should be sky high. The return of host Ryan Seacrest helps it stick close to its original formula, though the sexual harassment allegations aimed at him by a former stylist may turn some viewers away.

Beckman said ABC is also well-positioned for a strong debut for Roseanne, which comes from Carsey-Werner Television. The network is up for nine episodes, with the original cast, including Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalf, back in the mix.

“I think it will open to a pretty good number,” Beckman said. “ABC has good middle-America comedies.”

Bergen Back as Brown
Also in the works in terms of remade shows is a redo of Murphy Brown, with CBS saying yes to 13 episodes for the 2018-19 season. Murphy Brown starred Candice Bergen as an investigative journalist and hard-nosed host of a newsmag, originally airing on CBS from 1988-98.

CBS has also ordered pilots for Cagney & Lacey, about a pair of female detectives in Los Angeles, and Magnum P.I., from Peter Lenkov, who helped bring Hawaii Five-0 back to CBS in 2010. Other reincarnated series include The X-Files and The Exorcist on Fox, MacGyver on CBS, and Battle of the Network Stars and The Gong Show on ABC.

Beckman said reboots are hardly new, though the trend perhaps stands out more in a TV landscape where so many networks must fill countless hours with original stuff. “It’s always been part of television’s tradition,” he said.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.