Trotting out familiar characters may not be enough for a show to survive in 2019

Why This Matters: Viewers want a mix of the familiar and the timely in today’s TV offerings.

The reboot trend has been going on for years, long enough that a revamped version of the strategy behind them has emerged. Whereas the initial group may have been happy just to dust off characters who were intimately familiar to viewers, the latest redux shows push uber-relevant themes as well as fresh storytelling.

“The shows that are successful are the ones that figure out why they resonated in the era when they first ran,” said Mary Dalton, professor of communication at Wake Forest University, “and adjust in one way or another to be relevant today.”

Amy Lippman and Chris Keyser created Party of Five, which aired on Fox 1994 to 2000. It centered on five children left on their own after their parents are killed in a drunk-driving accident. Lippman said they had considered bringing the show back for years. Only when she saw page-one stories of immigrant families torn up by deportation did she envision the new Party of Five.

“We weren’t interested in going back and telling the same story 25 years later,” she said. “We began to see families dealing with many of the same issues our initial family dealt with.”

The reboot, about five children getting by after their parents are deported, looks to premiere on Freeform in 2020. “The immigrant storyline is a way of reimagining the show that makes sense,” Dalton said. “That may have some relevance.”

Beverly Hills, 902.0

Fox’s reboot of Beverly Hills, 90210, called BH90210, begins Aug. 7. It brings together castmates Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering, Gabrielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green and Tori Spelling.

Beverly Hills, 90210 aired on Fox from 1990 to 2000. “90210 is obviously a part of the DNA of our network, just a part of our history,” said Michael Thorn, Fox entertainment president.

The producers are trying a unique method of storytelling in the remake. The cast members play what Fox calls “heightened versions of themselves.” Thorn said the show will offer a taste of the actors’ real lives, with some fiction tossed in.

“It’s a really unique take on a reboot,” he said.

Fox is on board for six episodes. Dalton suspects BH will poke fun at the reboot trend itself. “If they can do something that feels fresh and original, they may stake out a different sort of space,” she said.

Charter’s Spectrum Originals has grabbed Mad About You, which ran on NBC from 1992 to 1999. Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt are on board for the remake. Sony Pictures Television will produce and Peter Tolan will run the show.

Katherine Pope, head of original content at Spectrum Originals, said when the project was announced that the characters will “explore modern marriage through the eyes of two people who have just become empty-nesters.”

Spectrum Originals would not comment. As the competition heats up among both cable providers and OTT platforms, Charter’s originals strategy is bold. Its first original series, LA’s Finest, debuted in May.

“Having exclusive content for their subscribers is a very smart impulse,” said Evan Shapiro, National Lampoon president and former chief of cable networks Pivot, IFC and SundanceTV.

One Season at a Time

Recent reboots include Will & Grace on NBC, Murphy Brown on CBS, Dynasty on The CW and Roseanne on ABC. One Day at a Time ran for three seasons on Netflix before it was cancelled in March. Amidst an outcry among viewers, Pop TV grabbed the show for season four.

The comedy, a rethink of Norman Lear’s series about a divorced mother, her daughters and her mustachioed building superintendent that ran from 1975 to 1984, depicts an Army veteran raising a Cuban-American family. Brad Schwartz, Pop TV president, described it as a “culturally significant series that deals with important themes one minute while making you laugh the next.”

In a world with so many original series, programmers love reboots for offering a known quantity amidst so much unfamiliar stuff. The current reboot load is lighter than it was in recent years, and these days revived shows do better with timely themes. Reboots “just can’t seem nostalgic,” Party of Five’s Lippman said. “They need to stand on their own in a way.”

Related