Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Remaking The Un-remake-able

The recent passing of Equalizer star Edward Woodward got me to thinking about those TV show concepts that were created reviving classic television mainstays for a modern audience with new actors, and how the concept rarely if ever works. It also got me to thinking about some of the projects that are in the pipeline from the major TV networks. Some of this is also inspired by the reaction some had to my recent column where I predicted that some network "genius" will try to bring back The X-Files someday. (Hi, Mariko.)

Anyhow, the trend has become almost predictable: A TV studio finds out they have the rights to a popular concept and feels the urge to "reimagine" it for a new audience. Though unlike ensemble pieces like V or Battlestar Galactica, a series focusing on just one lead rarely flies in re-make land. Here are some examples:

The Bionic Woman - Although Michelle Ryan has since impressed on Merlin or Doctor Who, the top feeling you had when watching this short-lived ABC remake is "she's no Lindsay Wagner." The fact that the show also wasn't very good might've also hurt.

Night Stalker - ABC tried reviving Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Stuart Townsend, but unlike the Bionic reimiagining, this one was actually good. Some of the plots were very X-Files-like, but at the end of the day, audiences are probably more used to their Carl Kolchak being an older, slightly crotchety type. Carl Kolchak should not be "hot." Although cashing in on a known quantity often gets a show a lot of publicity before a program airs, this show might have had a better chance if it had no comparison to something that was so well-loved before.

Kojak - I don't think audience racism (the possibility of not accepting a Black actor as Kojak) hurt the USA Network's revival - the biggest thing getting in the way was that people had something in their mind for what Kojak is, and for a lot of those people, it's Telly Savalas. I never saw this show either way, so I can't say if it was any good or not.


For Fall 2010, NBC is developing a revival of The Rockford Files and House's David Shore is producing it. While it's great to have someone of such talent behind it, it's also worrisome, as the main character of Jim Rockford owed a lot to the actor that played him, James Garner.

I can't really think of anyone else as Rockford, if they are indeed totally redoing it, no matter how talented the people behind and in front of the camera may be. I'll be watching curiously, and who knows - I may like it! - but like the whole Bionic Woman thing, I don't know who could top the original.

Over on CBS, the producers of Fringe are bringing back Hawaii Five-O as a sequel to the original series rather than a remake. I actually think this one might work, if it's done well. Maybe while they're at it they can find out if the Five-O pilot that was allegedly produced around 1998 or so actually exists.

But then again... will people respond to a new CBS procedural that's not part of a current franchise? A few years back, Dick Wolf did Dragnet for NBC, and audiences yawned, despite having a great cast. Could Five-O meet the same fate?

Your thoughts are welcome. And if it's not clear, for the most part I love TV series revivals when they're done right, perhaps because they resonate with nostalgia for me in some ways.