Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed in Shows' Redo

With an honorable mention to the various military dramas debuting on broadcast TV in the coming weeks, the biggest story in the programming world this season is the series reboot. Will & Grace, Dynasty and S.W.A.T. are among the vintage series returning with new casts and storylines, as network executives bank on an established brand standing out better than a new concept in the 500-scripted show universe.

“Our attention is divided in 15 million ways — we now have a plethora of choices,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV critic Rob Owen said. “It makes it harder for everything to cut through, especially new things.” Other series joining the remake trend are American Idol and Roseanne, which will premiere on ABC in 2018. Also in the works are revivals of Starsky & Hutch from James Gunn on Amazon and Miami Vice and The Munsters on NBC.

Those come in the heels of recently revived shows such as Love Connection and The X-Files on Fox, One Day at a Time on Netflix, Cold Justice on Oxygen, MacGyver on CBS, The Tick on Amazon, Battle of the Network Stars on ABC and Twin Peaks on Showtime.

The reboot wave is not limited to primetime. Among children’s shows, DuckTales returned on Disney XD in August, The Magic School Bus Rides Again premieres on Netflix Sept. 29, and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters debuts on Amazon Prime Video Oct. 13.

The reboots are a product of “risk-averse thinking” at the networks, in the view of Myles McNutt, Old Dominion University assistant professor of communication. “Why take the risk on making something new when you can bring back something that people love, in a different form?” he said.

He described the returning series as “too big to fail,” at least in network executives’ minds. “There’s too big an audience to let it fall off the map,” he said. “And there’s a better chance it will pop more than something completely new.”

The remake craze has made Deborah Lynn Jaramillo, director of the graduate film and television studies program at Boston University, think of a statement from former FCC chief Newton Minow about how ratings tell us what viewers watch given the available options — not what they’d watch if there were other options.

“I think the excitement over original series that aren’t reboots says a lot about where viewers will go,” she said, mentioning The Handmaid’s Tale and Atlanta, “when they’re not boxed in.”

Carringtons Carry On

Dynasty, a staple of ’80s primetime as the Carringtons battled the Colbys, premieres on The CW Oct. 11. Network president Mark Pedowitz, Described it as “a fun show that pushes the boundaries.”

The new series comes from Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, the duo behind Gossip Girl, and Sallie Patrick, whose credits include Dirty Sexy Money and Revenge. Patrick recalls sitting on the floor of her parents’ bedroom when the Aaron Spelling original aired on ABC. More recently, she was drawn to the Dynasty concept, about powerful families doing battle for primacy, while watching a pair of dynastic families, the Trumps and the Clintons, vie for the White House this past fall.

“I was fascinated by that idea,” she said. The new Dynasty sees heiress Fallon Carrington, played by Elizabeth Gillies, feuding with Cristal, the fiancé of her billionaire father Blake. Fallon and her next-generation Carrington counterparts are, all the while, clamoring for control of the dynasty.

Originally set in Denver, the remake is set in Atlanta. “I love the idea of a blue city in a red state,” Patrick said.

‘Grace’ Under Pressure

Over at NBC, Will & Grace debuts Sept. 28. Bob Greenblatt, NBC Entertainment chairman, sees it as more of a “continuation” than a reboot, he said, picking up 11 years after the edgy comedy wrapped with the same cast and characters.

“We wondered, what would those characters say about fill in the blank — pop culture, politics,” he said. “It just made sense to bring it back.”

The network is considering resurrecting other series, Greenblatt said, but he noted that successful remakes are uncommon. “I think you have to be really smart to take something that’s already been successful, and not blow it the second time around,” he said.

Notably, NBC has committed not just to a lone season of Will & Grace, but to a 13-episode second season as well, an extraordinary show of devotion to a rebooted series.

S.W.A.T., meanwhile, debuts on CBS Nov. 2. The cop drama stars Shemar Moore as a sergeant running a specialized tactical unit in Los Angeles who’s torn between his background on the streets and his loyalty to law enforcement. Shawn Ryan, Aaron Thomas, Justin Lin, Neal Moritz, Marney Hochman, Danielle Woodrow and Pavun Shetty are executive producers. Sony Pictures Television and CBS Television Studios are producing.

The original S.W.A.T. ran on ABC in 1975 and 1976.

Jaramillo said Will & Grace has a decent shot at finding an audience, given the current political climate. “Some of the themes of Will & Grace certainly remain relevant,” she said. “But I wouldn’t imagine that there’s an enduring fandom centered on S.W.A.T.

Besides the pressures of the peak-TV era, the fact that many old series get new life on streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon is a factor in shows being brought back. (Will & Grace, for one, started on Hulu Sept. 21.) While the streamers don’t give up much in the way of ratings, a show’s owners get a feeling about how much viewing the series gets on the platforms. “It makes shows more visible and extends the after-life for a lot of programs,” McNutt said. “Now you have evidence of demand, and that pushes people to think, we can capture this again.”

He mentioned Prison Break enjoying a bit of a resurrection on Netflix as a factor in Fox bringing back the series, which ran from 2005 to 2009, last spring.

We Can Rebuild Her …

To be sure, several remade series have failed. In recent years, NBC’s revivals of Bionic Woman (2007) and Knight Rider (2008) hardly made the impact of their original runs, and ABC’s rethinking of Charlie’s Angels was despised by critics, and canceled three weeks after launch.

“Sometimes there’s a creative reason to reboot a show, and that’s great,” said Rob Owen, mentioning Syfy’s remake of Battlestar Galactica. “Sometimes there’s a marketing reason, and that’s not so great.”

Sallie Patrick said she envisions parents who watched the original Dynasty tuning in to the new one with their children. She hopes viewers are as enthused with the various rebuilt shows as she is. “I love to see what people have done in a reboot,” she said. “There are tons of shows to watch, and it’s great to have something familiar and nostalgic that [the creators] dive into in a unique way.”

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.