Sunday, September 21, 2014

Remakes Of Successful TV Series

With the start of the fall television season (at least the start for shows on the broadcast networks), I thought it might be a good time to look at the shows the television industry has presented over the years that have been remakes of previously successful series.  I guess it's the concept of if it worked once it obviously will work again.

As is blatantly obvious, television quite often looks to the past when searching for new series ideas. This situation occurs for two primary 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, L&O SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT and L&O CRIMINAL INTENT.  Then there's the highly successful CSI franchise that included CSI MIAMI and CSI NEW YORK.  And, of course, JAG begat NCIS which begat NCIS LA and this season the new NCIS NEW ORLEANS.  And, of course, we can't overlook the highly successful STAR TREK franchise…the original TV series (three seasons 1966-1969) was very low in the ratings so that only a concerted viewer write-in campaign got it renewed beyond the first season.  That three season, low-rated series gave us a string of very successful theatrical movies and more television series such as STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, etc.

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 than once again successful series. Some of the remakes that have worked are HAWAII 5-0 which kept the original iconic and immediately recognizable theme music and also the style of the opening main titles. Some other successful remakes include BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, DALLAS, and V.

But it's more fun to take a look at some remakes that just didn't work at all, some of the blunders.

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 as personified by that iconic phrase—"Just the facts, Ma'am." It was an individualistic style everyone knew. The remake, however, fell victim to the decision by committee mentality of constant tinkering by TV executives which resulted in a jumbled mess.

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 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.  All you need to do is come out with 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 the comedic genius of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. And they brought it back with original cast members and it still failed. This remake picked up where the original left off with Maxwell Smart having bumbled his way to the top of Control as the chief. But instead of letting Don Adams continue with the role that made him famous (apparently the powers that be must have decided Don was too old to reprise the role), the secret agent work was handled by his nerdy son played by Andy Dick which made the whole series feel like a lukewarm second rate attempt. The remake lasted only 7 episodes.

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 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 the original television series and also a successful movie, everything about THE FUGITIVE was already known—who the characters were, their motives, and even the outcome for Dr. Kimball and the one-armed man. They didn't try to reinvent the wheel, they pretty much exactly copied it. In spite of the popular Tim Daly from WINGS in the starring role, there were no surprises, no edge-of-the-seat action, nothing to hold the audience's interest.
FAWLTY TOWERS (every remake ever attempted):  Don't try to duplicate 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 in several countries to capture the success of this British sitcom with one remake after another. Even here in the U.S. we gave it three attempts before finally realizing that it couldn'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 attempt starred Harvey Korman and Betty White. Despite proven and popular talent in the leads, it 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, fresh from his successful and popular role in NIGHT COURT, in a remake attempt 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 literally laugh out loud even though I know what's coming.

Some other major blunders in the remake department are: the 2011 CHARLIE'S ANGELS which lasted 4 episodes, the 2008 KNIGHT RIDER, the 2007 BIONIC WOMAN, WONDER WOMAN which never made it past the pilot, ROCKFORD FILES which never made it past the pilot, and the 2013 attempt at a remake of IRONSIDE which lasted only 3 episodes. My personal opinion on the IRONSIDE remake—colossal blunder moving the setting from San Francisco to "the gritty streets of New York" (as the publicity release referred to the location).

Are there any television remakes that you found particularly disappointing? Or surprisingly enjoyable? Any series you'd like to see revived with a remake attempt?


orelukjp0 said...

Family Affair was pretty bad. I like Tim Curry (Rocky Horror Picture Show) but he couldn't help with this one. Also Love Boat: The Next Wave was really one of the worst.

Samantha Gentry said...

oreluknp0: There are tons of shows that the networks tried to remake that really fell flat. I had forgotten about Family Affair and Love Boat. Now that you've mentioned it, I do recall the Love Boat one. You're right, it was really bad.

Thanks for your comment.