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Something Borrowed, Something New

In New York’s Times Square last month, WE tv drummed up support for the March 2 launch of a series by opening a pop-up “Museum of Natural Hysteria,” replete with a scream booth, a Rage-O-Meter Punching Bag, cranial massage chairs and a rogues’ photo gallery of viral brides to be, including an infamous one in 2012 who was left at the altar. (Google it.)

Few shows might be deemed worthy of such an oversized promotional presentation, but the cable network deemed the return of its series Bridezillasafter a five-year hiatus to be one of them. The AMC Networks outlet is resurrecting the reality show for fans who want to watch, again, as women lose their grip prior to their nuptials, as well as a new generation that wants to know what the fuss was about.

WE tv is one of several cable channels resurrecting TV franchises previously thought buried in the graveyard of cancelled shows. While the broadcast networks are generating headlines with reboots of such classic shows as Roseanne, Murphy Brown and Get Christie Love!, cable networks are also looking to mine ratings gold by resurrecting nostalgic programming.

Related: Broadcast ’Boots Bring Back Buzz

Heading Back to the Beach
Networks say bringing back popular series, from TLC’s Trading Spaces to MTV’s Jersey Shore, which comes back in April with the original cast, including JWOWW, Snooki and The Situation, in Jersey Shore Family Vacation — already green-lit by MTV for a second season — generates instant viewer recognition in a crowded and noisy environment.

“There’s so much television these days, and so much entertainment for people — you have to find a way to hook them quickly — and I think there’s a built-in interest and excitement around a [rebooted] series that provides a different way to tap that existing passion,” said Tom Ascheim, president of Freeform, which will reboot the 1990s Fox series Party of Five. “We definitely hope it makes it easier to promote and taps into an existing fan base, as well as attract people who haven’t spent so much time with the show or vaguely heard of it and want to see the new one.”

While TV programmers have long sought to relive the glory of classic shows through remakes and movie takeoffs, the trend has exploded over the past year as networks look to offer content with built-in audiences to counteract a Peak TV dynamic that featured more than 450 scripted television shows in 2017 and is expected to grow this year.

More than a dozen shows from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s are scheduled to return to the air in 2018. Some will be completely new versions of the original, others will feature the shows’ original casts. They come in a variety of genres, including comedy (CBS’s Murphy Brown), drama (CBS’s Magnum P.I.), and unscripted fare (History’s In Search of …).

Even streaming services that haven’t been around very long are tapping into the past with reboots of classic shows like The Twilight Zone (CBS All Access), Lost in Spaceand Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (Netflix).

WE tv executive vice president of development and original programming Lauren Gellert said social media has changed the dynamics of preparing for a wedding day, which has allowed the network to bring back popular series Bridezillas.

After a 10-season run, the series was benched, replaced in the lineup by Marriage Boot Camp.

With social sites such as Pinterest and Facebook becoming major platforms for brides to shop and showcase themselves, Gellert said the network saw an opportunity to reboot the franchise for a new generation.

Bridezillas was obviously a fan favorite when we rested the show, but it certainly didn’t leave the zeitgeist and pop-culture lexicon of words often used in the press and by celebrities,” she said. “We thought it was a good time for a little nostalgia and to tap into some of our roots.”

Gellert said the show will draw former Bridezillas fans as well as social media-savvy millennials looking to connect with the franchise.

“There’s a new ‘better find me my selfie stick’ kind of bridezilla out there that thinks everything should just be fine if she orders flowers she saw on Pinterest,” Gellert said.

TLC will also look to shake the dust off of one of its most popular series, Trading Spaces, which returns with new episodes on April 7 after being off the air for a decade. The series, arguably the granddaddy of the home-renovation genre, premiered in 2000, but new episodes for the show have not aired since 2008.

TLC president Nancy Daniels, upped last week to chief brand officer, Discovery & Factual, at Discovery Communications, told TV critics in January that the series, which will bring back many of the show’s stars (including host Paige Davis) was a cornerstone show for TLC that fans had for years inquired about returning.

“From the moment we announced it, we knew it was the right time,” Daniels said during the Television Critics Association tour. “Just the interest, the excitement and the people coming out of the woodwork to tell you their favorite episodes and favorite stories … I’m thrilled and excited, and I just feel like it is the right time.”

Davis said the Trading Spaces brand remains popular with viewers despite the proliferation of home improvement shows that have aired since the series left the air. She added that the return of the show’s original crew as well as the addition of several new professionals will help the show’s appeal beyond its fan base.

Trading Spaces will offer viewers the same thing it offered when it first came into the landscape — creativity, resourcefulness and approachability — and we created a catalyst for a new genre of television,” she said. “I’m not concerned that Trading Spaces will not break through the clutter; one of the benefits of all of that stuff being out there is that our viewing audience is much more educated, and they’ll appreciate what we have always offered.”

Reviving a popular show with its original cast isn’t a guarantee of ratings success. For reboots to work, the show has to remind people of the past but reflect today’s society and culture, Freeform’s Ascheim said. The Walt Disney Co.-owned network’s reboot of Party of Five, in which five brothers and sisters are forced to raise themselves after their parents die, changes the dynamics of the original by following the lives of five siblings after their parents are deported.

“The basic construct is the same, but this time updated to reflect the culture in which we live now,” Ascheim said. “It feels like it’s up to this moment in our world when it launches.”

Familiarity Breeds Success
The show’s familiarity, coupled with its ability to address some of today’s societal issues, could be a recipe for attracting young viewers who may or may not have streamed episodes from the original series on Hulu.

“Just in the same way that we often base a television series on a movie, book or some other pre-existing or intellectual property that people already have a relationship with, taking a familiar series makes viewers more likely to pay attention on the way toward making the show,” Ascheim said. “And then once it’s made they create a disposition and affection for it.”

WE tv’s Gellert said reboots appeal to viewers exhausted by the constant drumbeat of controversy and drama in the current breaking-news cycle and want comfort television, something safe and familiar. “I think there’s some innate goodness in Bridezillas, because there’s a lot of humor and it really is an over-the-top reaction to what is the biggest day of many of these women’s lives,” she said. “We see a wedding at the end and we feel good about that. We laughed with her — we thought she was insane — and yet we see that he is really marrying her, and how happy this crazy bride is. There’s humor, a lot of lightness and a celebratory moment, and I do think we need that in today’s fast-paced media environment.”

Ascheim doesn’t believe the reboot phenomena is in danger of running out of steam in the near future, adding that these reimagined shows can thrive side by side with the plethora of new, original scripted and reality shows.

“I don’t think we’re in danger of going overboard yet,” he 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.