Three things I learned last week: In Russia, it is illegal to call President Vladimir Putin a gay clown. Cheerleading is the most dangerous sport for girls in the United States. And, despite the rumors, nostalgia is what it used to be.
Speaking at the annual INTV conference in Jerusalem recently, Fox Television Group CEO Gary Newman – and I’m paraphrasing here – said he would donate a kidney (maybe even his own) to get “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” back on TV if creator Josh Whedon were interested. Given that the original “Buffy” is itself a reboot of a flop 1992 movie, it would be churlish to get too sniffy about Sarah Michelle Gellar getting the Scooby Gang back together for one last payday (in some cases, maybe their first payday since the show went off the air in 2003).
It’s also one of the few potential reboots I’ve read about in recent months that didn’t make me want to boot in my own television. Because – seemingly buoyed by the success of redos of “Dynasty,” “MacGyver” and “S.W.A.T.,” and revivals of “X-Files,” “Star Trek” and “Will & Grace” – there are a ridiculous number of reboots on the horizon.
It’s an inevitable consequence of having so much airtime to fill on so many different channels, streaming sites, etc. And it’s only going to get worse now that Apple is throwing its billions into the ring – including a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s 1980s sci-fi cult hit “Amazing Stories.”
“Roseanne” is back at the end of March after a 21-year hiatus; a new “Lost in Space” is on Netflix from April 13; and “Party of Five” returns next year – the twist being that the five kids are now parentless because their folks have been deported to Mexico (no doubt prompting chants of “Build that Fourth Wall!”).
There are talks of restaffing “The Office,” while pilots are being shot for reboots of “Murphy Brown,” “Magnum, PI” and “Cagney and Lacey” – the latter three are all for CBS. Someone at “the Eye” has clearly been overdoing their 1980s box sets.
In case anyone wonders what’s prompted this ‘80s lovefest, it’s worth noting that, according to Nielsen Media Research, the median age of CBS prime-time viewers in 2017 was 61 (which is still comfortably below Fox News’ median age of 66). All three shows were achingly unhip when they first aired – though “Cagney and Lacey” was a cult hit among lesbians – but that’s OK because this is an audience that’s increasingly more concerned about hip replacements than hip shows.
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The big tweak in “Magnum, PI” is that it’s a mustachioed woman in the lead role – I jest, that’s in “Cagney and Lacey.” Actually, the twist this time is that the Hawaii private eye’s debonair assistant is to be played by a woman – the wonderfully named British actor Perdita Weeks.
This gender-swapping lark is clearly TV executives’ way of thinking outside the box – the only problem is that they’re all doing it. The reboot of “The Greatest American Hero” will have a female titular character; there’s a female-led version of “Kung Fu” in the works and talk of a “Fresh Princess of Bel-Air”; and the villainous Dr. Zachary Smith in “Lost in Space” is now simply Dr. Smith, played by Parker Posey. At this rate, the most radical reboot will be the one that leaves the original characters untouched.
‘Twilight Zone’ at 60
The rebooting of old TV shows doesn’t stop at the ‘80s. “Lost in Space” first aired in 1965, “The Twilight Zone” in 1959 and “One Day at a Time” in 1975. They’re all being dusted down, even though they’re almost as old as CBS’ viewers.
The Netflix trailer for “Lost in Space” presents a VFX-heavy family adventure that’s a far cry from the clunky black and white show I watched in the ‘70s – a show whose only real contribution to popular culture was the phrase “Danger, Will Robinson!” If it’s a hit, how long before the oeuvre of “master of disaster” Irwin Allen is mined still further, with the likes of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and “The Time Tunnel” getting reboots?
Although “Twilight Zone” is approaching its 60th birthday (much like many of Hollywood’s leading men), the reboot has landed one of the most in-demand contemporary talents: Jordan Peele, fresh from his success with the comedy-horror hybrid “Get Out.” This is actually the third “Twilight Zone” reboot, following previous redos in 1985 and 2002. As Alanis Morissette famously never sang, isn’t it ironic that TV producers show so little imagination by repeatedly rebooting the show that promised to take us to “the dimension of imagination.”
All of the shows being exhumed have one thing in common: None are from the canon of undisputed small-screen greats. Sure, “Buffy” was a lot of fun, but there’s a reason it never won a Golden Globe or Emmy in a major category. “The Sopranos” is most definitely in the TV pantheon, though, and creator David Chase knows better than to mess with his beloved gangster series – which is why he’s just announced plans to make a prequel set in the 1960s. The movie, called “The Many Saints of Newark,” seems a smart way of keeping the characters alive without potentially sullying memories of the original show.
Of all the reboots, the one that could prove the biggest game changer is the aforementioned “Lost in Space.” Why? Because 20 years ago, a lame movie version featuring William Hurt, Mimi Rogers and Gary Oldman bombed at the box office – like so many movie versions of TV series before and since. (Honorable exceptions: some of the “Mission: Impossible” movies, “The Brady Bunch” and “21 Jump Street.”)
If the new version of “LiS” proves a hit for Netflix, it may be the trigger to rehabilitate other series ruined on the big screen. I’m thinking of series like “The A-Team” (a super-dumb show, but something about it feels undeniably Trumpy and “now”); “The Avengers” (the Emma Peel-John Steed one, not the Marvel franchise); “Bewitched”; “Dark Shadows”; “Edge of Darkness”; “The Dukes of Hazzard” (again, very Red State, very Trumpy); “Maverick”; “Sex and the City”; “The Singing Detective”; and “Starsky & Hutch.” I’d include “Miami Vice” in this list, but apparently Vin Diesel is already working on a new version for NBC.
And here’s a long-term prediction. In 10 years’ time, we’ll be getting TV reboots of TV reboots. Don’t be surprised to see the likes of “Kojak,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Ironside,” “Rockford Files” (even though the initial reboot with Dermot Mulroney never made it past the pilot stage), “Dallas” and “V” back on our small screens – and don’t be surprised if CBS viewers with a median age of 71 are looking forward to watching them all.