Why TV is obsessed with rebooting your favorite shows

Neal Justin, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- A new streaming service is trying to drum up enthusiasm by promising to reunite six beloved "friends" who last flirted and fought their way into our hearts more than 15 years ago. But don't reserve a table at Central Perk just yet.

Peacock is bragging about bringing back "Saved by the Bell," the 1989-93 sitcom so tone deaf about teenage life that it made "Welcome Back, Kotter" seem like a documentary. The NBCU-owned newcomer, which launches in April, is also working on the further adventures of "Punky Brewster" and yet another reboot of "Battlestar Galactica."

Executives would obviously rather be promoting the return of Ross and Rachel, but these days programmers are eager to recycle any familiar titles they can get their hands on.

This week alone offers the updated versions of "The Soup," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and a Hulu adaptation of "High Fidelity." ABC announced last month that it plans to bring back both "Thirtysomething" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Either Hollywood is running low on fresh ideas or viewers have an unprecedented appetite for nostalgia. The gatekeepers are betting on the latter.

"In the climate we're living in, it feels like this show is the warm hug everybody needs right now," said Loren Ruch, senior vice president of production for HGTV, at the Television Critics Association press tour. HGTV has tapped Jesse Tyler Ferguson of "Modern Family" as the new host of "Extreme Makeover," which last aired as a regular series in 2012. "And who would you rather get a good warm hug from than Jesse and his team?"


Part of the strategy is that time-tested titles will help attract viewers bombarded with a staggering number of options. More than 500 scripted series debuted last year. The upcoming addition of new competitors like Peacock and HBO Max in 2020 is certain to blow that record out of the water.

"In a marketplace where it is very hard to launch new shows, having built-in familiarity is great," said Heather Olander, an NBCU senior vice president who greenlit reboots of "Temptation Island" and "The Biggest Loser" for USA Network.

To a certain extent, the strategy has worked. Many shows that got rebooted during the past five years -- "MacGyver," "Charmed," "Lost in Space," 'The Twilight Zone," "Queer Eye," "Dynasty," "American Idol" -- have done well enough in the ratings to remain on the air. Others, like "24: Legacy," "Ironside" and "Murphy Brown," were barely out of the starting gate when viewers were put out of their misery.

"As you can imagine, the bar is very high," said HBO Max's head of original content, Sarah Aubrey, who is developing a new version of "Gossip Girl" with the soap's original creators, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. "I think one of the benefits of having the original creators involved is that they are very clear on what the essential elements of the show are and are not. But they're also really excited to bring a modern lens to it 10 years later."


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