Skip to main content

What’s Old Is New Again

Can you make an old hit new again?

Several cable networks and OTT providers are hoping to appeal to the mature end of the millennial demographic — that is 25-to-34-year-olds — by rebooting or remaking classic 1980s and 1990s TV shows.

Cartoon Network has reanimated The Powerpuff Girls, returning the characters to its schedule with a new series some 11 years after the original ended. Netflix’s Fuller House updated the 1990s ABC sitcom Full House, with the Tanner kids now grown up and raising children themselves. MTV has reimagined Scream, the 1990s horror-movie franchise that put Courteney Cox of Friends on the big screen in its first iteration.

And Disney Channel is remixing a rendition of Girl Meets World — featuring the now-grown kid stars of 1990s sitcom Boy Meets World.

All of these shows aim to appeal to busy millennials who are increasingly viewing content on nontraditional television platforms.

Today’s millennial viewers are often defined as cable cord-cutting, binge-watching viewers who devour the latest eclectic short-form content via digital platforms. Older members of the massive 16-to-34-year-old demo, though, still watch a lot of their TV the way baby boomers and Generation Xers do, gravitating to the long-form, classic content they grew up with back when cable was still cool.


The trend reflects a realization that all millennials are not the same, and not every YouTube video or short-form show will appeal to all consumers in the demo.

“All of these networks are looking at the millennial audience, and some are recognizing that [older millennials] really like reminiscing about their childhood,” David Quinn, senior brand lead for digital marketing firm Beamly, said. “It was a wonderful time and some millennials embrace that.”

Like boomers and Gen Xers, older millennials are finding that the responsibilities that come with work and family leave less time for entertainment. And, like those older demos, they’re often drawn to familiar content that resonates.

Nostalgia can be a big driver for remakes of movie and TV hits that have built-in audiences but may be sitting unused in the crowded soup of subscription VOD platforms. The challenge, of course, is to parlay that nostalgia and bring in the old crowd, as well as new viewers, without it all seeming tacky.

It’s a tricky challenge for TV’s demographic marketers, who parse the world in groups of boomers, Gen Xers and millennials.

And older millennials, particularly those with families, also watch more traditional television than their younger demographic cohorts. Millennials starting a family watch more than three hours a day of live TV — that’s over an hour more than single millenials consume, according to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report for fourth-quarter 2015.

That boosts the value of franchises that date back to older millennials’ childhoods, such as Cartoon Network’s The Powerpuff Girls and Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold!. Nick has set a Hey Arnold! special that picks up where the final episode of the animated series in 2002 left off .

Nickelodeon Franchise Properties senior vice president of content development Chris Viscardi said that franchises like Hey Arnold! and 1990s game show Legends of the Hidden Temple — which the network is turning into a live-action TV movie — give Nickelodeon a leg up on other entertainment networks trying to reach the elusive audience group.

Millennials with families are also more likely than not to introduce their kids to their childhood TV favorites, Viscardi said. That helps Nick reach out to a new generation of viewers.

“There is a huge millennial love for those series, so we know that millennial fans who grew up on them will come back,” Viscardi said. “There are some things inherent in our properties that we know a new generation of fans would love also.”

Nick is exploring several other older titles that it might resurrect and develop new episodes for, although Viscardi would not provide specific details.

Shows such as Girl Meets World — less a reboot than a 2014 spinoff of the 1993-2000 ABC series Boy Meets World, featuring grownup characters from the first series with children of their own — allows Disney Channel to reach a wide audience of both adults and kids, Sean Coccia, executive vice president of business operations and general manager for Disney Channels Worldwide, said.

To further encourage co-viewing, Disney will resurrect DuckTales, a 1987-1990 syndicated animated series built around Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie and his Uncle Scrooge, for its Disney XD network in 2017. And Disney Channel later this will year premiere Adventures in Babysitting, an original movie based loosely on the 1987 theatrical fi lm of the same name.


“For Disney Channel, it is not hard to reach these millennials if we deliver content that provides them with the opportunity to share an experience and time with their families,” Cocchia said. “Social media has also helped us by giving these millennial families platforms to talk about what they love and what they are seeing in the new storylines and characters.”

Classic entertainment franchises don’t always initially appeal to the older end of the millennial audience. MTV’s Scream series — based on the horror movie franchise of the same name launched 20 years ago — had its biggest audience among younger 16-to-24-year-olds during its freshman season last summer, according to MTV senior vice president of scripted programming Mina Lefevre.

Scream will return for its sophomore season in May.

“[Younger millennials] knew about Scream — some of them watched it and some of them didn’t — but they all knew about the value and iconic nature of Scream,” Lefevre said. “For us to reinvent it for them is where we stood. We thought we could make it as appealing and iconic to them as it was to [older millennials].”

Cartoon Network’s Miller said that networks looking to reach the full swath of millennials will ultimately have to market and promote differently to the younger and older segments of the demo. “There is absolutely a difference in how we create content for different audience segments because they all consume content differently,” Miller said. “We’ve devoted a lot of time and resources to really understanding all of our audiences and how they consume media — including millennials of all different life stages, not just ages — and we develop our strategies accordingly.”

For the older end of millennials, Beamly’s Quinn said the trend toward revitalizing 1990s classic programming is only beginning as distributors look for ways to reach an elusive audience that is looking for some familiarity to go alongside all the new content offered to them.

“I definitely think this is a trend that we’ll see continue going forward,” he said. “I think it makes perfect sense because if a network is looking to create entertainment in a crowded marketplace it’s nice to create entertainment that has a built-in audience.”