Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lame Remakes Of Great Television Shows

As is blatantly obvious, television quite often looks to the past when searching for new series ideas. This situation occurs for two different reasons.

1) The network has a current hit and wants to capitalize on that popularity by creating a spinoff.

Spinoffs have long been a popular and successful (for the most part) tactic for the networks. Some shows have been so finely crafted that they were the genesis of several spinoffs. For example, ALL IN THE FAMILY gave us THE JEFFERSONS, MAUDE, and GOOD TIMES. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW gave us LOU GRANT, RHODA, and PHYLLIS. And we can't overlook the entire LAW AND ORDER franchise with the most recent being LAW AND ORDER LOS ANGELES and the highly successful CSI franchise. And, of course, JAG begat NCIS which begat NCIS LOS ANGELES

2) The network is looking for a ratings boost so it turns to hit series from the past and hopes that reviving them will be a ratings winner.

And in that department they have come up with some significant blunders when trying to capture that elusive lightning in the bottle for the second time. Far more remakes have been total disasters rather than a once again successful television series.

One remake that seems to be paying off for the network and one I'm enjoying is HAWAII 5-0.  They've updated the characters and given them more interesting backgrounds and interactions than the original but they were smart enough to keep the original theme song and the style of the opening main titles. A good mix of the old and comfortable along with the new.

But let's take a look at some remakes that just didn't work at all.

DRAGNET (2003):  Law and Order kingpin, Dick Wolf, tried to bring back Jack Webb's classic cop drama. It wasn't a bad idea. The original Jack Webb series had a very specific style that was totally Jack Webb's vision right down to the almost wooden dialogue. "Just the facts, Ma'am." It was an iconic style everyone knew. The remake, however, fell victim to the decision by committee mentality of constant tinkering by TV executives and it became a jumble of needless characters.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE (2002):  An attempt by UPN to remake one of the most creative and interesting series on television was a colossal failure. Without the guiding hand and creative genius of Rod Serling, including his iconic physical presence as the host introducing each episode, it was a dismal failure. They even went so far as to replace those great musical notes that made up the theme song with an updated version. All you need to hear is "do do do do" for the first eight notes and the theme song is not only recognized but its message is clear.

GET SMART (1995):  Fox brought back the classic spy spoof comedy originally created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. And they brought it back with the original cast and it still failed. This remake picked up where the original left off with Maxwell Smart bumbling his way to the top of Control as the chief. But instead of letting Don Adams continue with the role that made him famous, the secret agent work was handled by his nerdy son which made the whole series feel like a lukewarm second rate attempt.

THE PRISONER (2009):  The original classic British series starred Patrick McGoohan as Number six in The Village…a place that seemed to shift and change before our eyes and before the eyes of the main character so that not believing what you're seeing and hearing was the only rule that seemed to be true. The original had a subtext that said it never really took itself seriously. The remake had a bigger budget, larger cast, and better production values but somewhere in there it lost the feeling of the original.

THE FUGITIVE (2000):  CBS thought they could not only cash in on the highly successful original series, but also the hit movie starring Harrison Ford. But with a series and also a movie, everything about THE FUGITIVE was known. Who the characters were, their motives, and even the outcome. They didn't try to reinvent the wheel, they pretty much exactly copied it. No surprises, no edge of the seat action, nothing to hold the audience's interest.

FAWLTY TOWERS (every remake ever attempted):  Don't screw around with perfection! There were only twelve episodes made of John Cleese's FAWLTY TOWERS and each one was the epitome of what a sitcom should be—brilliant writing, marvelous characters brought to life by an excellent cast. There have been so many attempts to capture the success of this British sitcom with one remake after another in several countries. Even here in the U.S. we gave it three attempts before finally realizing that it can't be done.

With successful American translations of British sitcoms (All In The Family from the British Till Death Do Us Part, Sanford And Son from the British Steptoe And Son, and Three's Company from the British Man About The House), we obviously thought we could strike gold again. The first one starred Harvey Korman and Betty White and never got beyond the pilot stage. The second one tried a switch by putting Bea Author in a female Basil Fawlty role and it was cancelled after one season. The third attempt starred John Larroquette in a show that copied the original plots but not the characters. Another failure. The original FAWLTY TOWERS was done in the late 1970s and is as funny today as it was then. I have the twelve episodes on DVD and each time I see them I break up even though I know what's coming.

Are there any television remakes that you found particularly disappointing?


Toni V.S. said...

And let's not forget the spate of Hollywood remakes. I just read that they want to remake The Wizard of Oz (Let's hope it never goes past the "wanting to" stage.) Some things just need to be left alone. I consider myself a TV addict, although lately I've found myself deleting after 5-10 minutes a lot of things I would've plowed through when younger; however, some of the remakes you mention I don't even remember and I'm certain I watched them. That says a lot for them, doesn't it?

Samantha Gentry said...

Toni: Yes, the Wizard of Oz is one of those that should be left alone, also Gone With The Wind.

LOL. You're right. If you can't remember watching it, that speaks for itself.

Celia Yeary said...

SAMANTHA--I can't think of any right off, but I thoroughly enjoyed your list. Anything about old TV shows and old movies--I usually really enjoy. Thanks for doing so much with this topic. I loved it! Celia

Samantha Gentry said...

Celia: Me, too, on anything about old tv and old movies. I love all the old tv stuff. Having grown up in Los Angeles, we had several tv stations before parts of the country had any tv at all. But then, I'm old! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! Your post sounds like a Hollywood insider or critic. Nice round-up. For all the reasons you state, I rarely watch remakes. I feel they are not seriously aimed at us first-timers but at new viewers who did not see it the first go-round. They stand a better chance of succeeding if you don't have the previous actors/shows already imprinted in your brain. Personally, I don't like H5-0 as much as other people. Now, I did LOVE the recent BBC remake of Sherlock Holmes on Masterpiece theatre a few weeks ago. If you missed it, set aside any prejudices and watch for it to be repeated. Splendiferous!
Liz Arnold
"Stories you will love!"
The Wild Rose Press

Samantha Gentry said...

Hi, Liz: Yes, I did see the Sherlock Holmes episodes on PBS. I was dubious about a 21st century Holmes, but they pulled it off. Holmes with cell phone, texting, computer, and dna concerns was interesting. And the character still retained all the ideosyncracies (sp?)Conan Doyle originally gave him. Several years ago someone did a remake of Murder On The Orient Express with an updated Hercule Poirot. It didn't succeed, in my humble opinion. Poirot on the train with his laptop computer just didn't work for me.

Fiona said...

How about TV shows that get made into movies? I HATE the Mission Impossible movies! Peter Graves was so terribly suave and cool...Tom Cruise is just a joke. He's too wimpy and certainly not suave. And the idea that they wanted Jim Phelps to be played by Peter Graves as a bad guy in one of the movies? Honestly! Tom Cruise isn't man enough to start Peter Graves' tape player!

Samantha Gentry said...

Fiona: YES!! I agree with you one thousand percent! I was a big time Peter Graves fan. Have no interest in Tom Cruise. I have not seen any of the Mission Impossible movies. Had no desire to. Only saw one Tom Cruise movie, Far And Away. And what I went to see was a Ron Howard film that happened to star Tom Cruise.

Jan said...

Hmm Dukes of Hazard and A-Team come to mind...I like the new Hawaii 5-0 but not as much as the old one....I like Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville(both known for their comedic value) but Bo and Luke were not like that, Luke being the serious cousin and Bo loved more than his car, he was the ladies man.....and do NOT get me started on what they did to Daisy Duke....BIG FROWN HERE!! They did a remake of Dr Who that has been successful.


Samantha Gentry said...

Jan: Yeah, the original cast on the A-Team was a great ensemble group. There was a chemistry between them that really came across on the screen, even between BA and Murdock when BA was threatening to pound him into the ground. Dwight Schultz was fantastic as Murdock, the way he could turn the "crazy" on and off in the blink of an eye.