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Reality Joins TV’s Revival Movement

Cable networks are looking to breathe new life into classic reality series in an effort to get a leg up in a very crowded and competitive television environment.

Iconic reality series such as Trading Spaces (TLC), Cold Case Files (A&E), Cash Cab (Discovery Channel), Cold Justice (Oxygen), Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (Netflix) and Biography (A&E) will return to the small screen later this year and into 2018, hoping to trade on their familiarity with viewers to recapture old fans and draw in new viewers, according to network officials.

“There’s a nostalgia about it,” TLC president and general manager Nancy Daniels said of Trading Spaces, the network’s popular home design and decorating series that ran from 2000-11. The network will resurrect the series next year.

“It’s a brand that people know and love,” Daniels said. “In a world where it’s so hard to break through with something new, to have something that has an automatic, built-in fan base is a gift.”

Indeed, the reality genre is joining its scripted brethren in creating updated versions of classic shows. Decades-old sitcoms such as One Day at a Time and Full House have been resurrected into more contemporary versions by Netflix, while movies such as Lethal Weapon and Westworld were turned into successful scripted series this past fall by Fox and HBO, respectively.

Discovery Channel Group president Rich Ross said bringing back a well-known franchise like Discovery’s unscripted game show series Cash Cab — which will return to the network later this year after a five-year hiatus — provides a network with a built-in marketing advantage that other new shows don’t give it.

“There is no doubt that familiarity gives you a leg up in a crowded universe, and when you don’t have to resell a premise its much easier,” he said. “It’s a simple premise, but seemingly timeless.”

Other networks are bringing back shows that resonate with some of TV’s hottest programming-genre trends. A&E this past February relaunched its documentary series Cold Case Files after an 11-year hiatus, amid the growing popularity of true crime programming within the TV marketplace.

Advancements in crime-solving technology — along with good, old-fashioned detective work — have created new interest in the series, Elaine Frontain Bryant, A&E executive vice president and head of programming, said.

“Good ideas are good ideas, and when they can be revamped in new ways and come back as fresh, it can work again,” she said. “The show had been off for several years, but given this renewed interest in crime programming, we thought this was the perfect time to bring it back.”

The surge in popularity for home improvement-themed content in recent years was the catalyst for TLC’s decision to resurrect Trading Spaces, according to Daniels.

“The home and property shows are huge and everybody has their favorites,” she said. “We absolutely think there’s still a rabid consumption of property shows, and with Trading Spaces we can draw in those viewers that are nostalgic about the show as well as new viewers.”

TLC is just starting the process and has not made any decisions on the reboot, Daniels said, including who will host the reality series. She did not rule out bringing back the original Trading Spaces cast, including host Paige Davis.

“There’s such an affinity for it, and it just felt like the time was right,” Daniels said.

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.