In case you haven’t noticed, what we watch and how we watch it is changing. Filmmakers are headed toward TV en masse; movie franchises like Marvel, "Transformers," and "Star Wars" are adopting long-form serial formats and even television-style writers’ rooms; and as storytellers, directors, producers, writers and innovators begin to work in both mediums, taking the best ideas of both worlds with them, their defining boundaries are starting to blur.
In recent years, many have claimed that TV is where the best creative work is happening. Shows like “Breaking Bad,” “Game Of Thrones,” “The Walking Dead” and “Empire” have captured the public imagination in ways that few movies can rival, and we’ve all found that, with more and more outlets producing scripted shows, there’s more and more great television being made. But this creative renaissance could be under threat, and it’s thanks to networks taking a page from movie studios and developing more and more reboots of pre-existing properties.
Reviving an old TV favorite is nothing new. Beloved cop show “Dragnet” was brought back in 1967, eight years after its original run ended (further reboots aired in 1989 and 2003). "Mission: Impossible," “Perry Mason” and “The Odd Couple” all returned to television in the 1970s and 1980s, to name but a few. But it might have been “Battlestar Galactica” that started to put the small-screen reboot on trend. Just as “Batman Begins" and “Casino Royale” provided models for the cinematic redo, this widely acclaimed remake of a low-rent 1970s sci-fi series proved that an old brand name could be successfully dragged into the 21st century, capitalize on the nostalgic appeal of the original, and yet still win over new fans.
The decade or so since has seen the arrival of numerous revivals or small-screen versions of movies, to a varying degree of success. New versions of “Hawaii Five-0,” “Beauty And The Beast,” “90210,” “Parenthood,” and others made it to multiple seasons, while Netflix helped to make their original content name by reviving cult comedy "Arrested Development," and more recently, "Fuller House." But rebooted takes on “The Bionic Woman,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Ironside,” “Kojak,” "Knight Rider" and more all flopped.
And the mixed bag of success hasn’t slowed development. The last 12 months or so have seen networks or streaming services going hard with redos as “The Muppets,” “Heroes Reborn,” “Minority Report,” “Ash Vs. Evil Dead,” “Scream,” “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Rush Hour,” “The Mortal Instruments,” “School Of Rock” and “Omen” rejig “Damien” all debuted. In some cases, they come after failed attempts to reboot or sequelize the properties as a movie. Some have done better than others, but even if they’d all tanked, we’d probably be looking at plenty more to come down the pipeline because of the success of Fox‘s “The X-Files” earlier this year.
Though ratings dropped significantly by the end, the return of the ’90s paranormal mystery in January debuted to blockbuster ratings, and fared very well over its run. Just as "Jurassic World" and "Star Wars" did at the movies last year, it’s likely helped convince networks both at Fox and rival networks that looking back is better than looking forward. The result is a ton of new reboot shows in development.
We’re in the era of “Peak TV,” lots of programming is needed, and on the plus side, it provides room for diverse new voices and allows space for filmmakers to pursue the adult drama that has largely evaporated from mainstream cinemas. And that’s resulted in some of the best work, both in comedy and drama, that the medium’s ever produced. But on the downside, it means that there are a huge number of hours of programming that need to be filled across not just the four networks, but across cable and streaming services too, with more and more players getting in the game. An enormous 325 scripted series aired on U.S. TV in 2015, and that number is likely to continue going up before it goes down. And it’s not difficult to see why reboots are appealing to executives right now. A familiar brand name is sometimes a good route to filling up your development slate as the starving beast devours more and more content.
It’s also a time when TV ratings, particularly on the traditional broadcast networks, are nosediving. Shows can now survive on demographic ratings of a kind that would have seen them swiftly cancelled just two or three years ago, and even the hits have been halving their ratings year on year (a long-running stalwart like “Grey’s Anatomy” attracts roughly a third of the audience it had at its peak). With a business model that still relies on selling advertising for live viewers, this hemorrhaging of audience is leading to the same kind of dilemma that movie studios have been facing, and the TV networks are starting to respond in the same way: namely, by placing an emphasis on brand names. The logic is that in an ever-more-crowded marketplace, people are drawn more to a title that they recognize.
TV is already something based on familiarity, given that you’re meant to return to a show week after week for new episodes (or at least stay where you are while Netflix continues to pump new episodes into your brain). And that’s supported by the success of long-running franchise series like “Law & Order,” “NCIS” and “Chicago [Insert Public Service]” among others, although they perform overwhelmingly with older audiences outside the most valuable demographic to advertisers. And both “The Walking Dead” and “Game Of Thrones,” cable’s biggest hits, are based on pre-existing material (and the former has already launched a spinoff series, "Fear The Walking Dead").
That said, the list of the top-rated TV shows right now is, unlike that of the cinematic box office, surprisingly free of franchises and reboots right now. Of the top 50 shows among the crucial 18-49 demographic in 2015, over half were original shows created specifically for television (and that’s even with NFL, reality and singing shows, and adaptations like "Game Of Thrones" and "The Walking Dead" excluded). The lone reboot among the top 50 is "The Odd Couple," a show that’s hardly setting the culture alight.
Many of those top-charting shows are original, and several follow a procedural formula of some kind. And it’s possible that one of the upcoming reboots catches on and becomes the next "Empire" or "Walking Dead." But with every "X-Files" or "Hawaii Five-O" being followed by a flop like "Minority Report," "Heroes Reborn" or "The Muppets" (which started well, but has now lost two-thirds of its viewers and looks sure to be cancelled), it doesn’t seem that there’s much hard evidence that trying to recapture the magic of an old hit necessarily does any better than rolling the dice on some talented creatives. Just because audiences tuned in once, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily will again.
Nevertheless, for now, the networks are greenlighting reboots left, right and center. So head over to the next page for a guide for the ones that are in development right now.
What It Was: The popular buddy-cop franchise starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover that lasted for four entries. 1998’s “Lethal Weapon 4,” which added Chris Rock and Jet Li to the series, failed to revive a flagging series and it’s laid dormant since, with Gibson’s personal life making it unlikely that it would be resurrected on the big screen.
What Is It Now? Fox have commissioned a pilot, to be directed by McG and starring Damon Wayans Sr. and “Rectify” actor Clayne Crawford in Glover and Gibson’s old roles. Will there be much to differentiate it from the countless other police procedurals, though? We’ll know in a few months if Fox decide to pick the show up.
What It Was: A charming comedy-drama about a young single mother and her teenage daughter, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s show was never a huge hit, but had a consistent and loyal audience that’s only grown over time (it’s become a nostalgic favorite for those who grew up with it). The creator left the show after the sixth season when it moved to the CW, and it was cancelled after the seventh year in 2007.
What Is It Now? Netflix, having revived “Fuller House” and others, are bringing it back as something potentially called “Gilmore Girls: Seasons,” with four movie-length episodes currently in production, with most of the original cast (bar megastar Melissa McCarthy) returning.
What It Was: A thunderously stupid, undeniably watchable action-adventure series about an engineer who tattoos the blueprints to a prison on his body and gets himself sent to the jail in order to free his brother, who was wrongly convicted of murder. The show ran for four seasons on Fox between 2005 and 2009, at which point the already over-stretched premise ran out of steam.
What Is It Now? Despite lead actor Wentworth Miller’s character being killed off in the finale, both he and co-star Dominic Purcell are back for a fifth run, which, in the mold of Fox’s “24” and “X-Files” reboots, is intended as a limited series. The show was never an “X-Files”-style cultural phenomenon, though, so this could turn out more like “Heroes Reborn.”
What It Was: Spy thriller about the indestructible Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and his attempts to take on various terrorist threats, with each season told in an approximation of real time, with an hour-long episode covering an hour in a single day. The show wrapped up after eight seasons (and a TV movie) back in 2010.
What Is It Now? Unlike any of the rest of these, “24” has already been rebooted once, with the “Live Another Day” miniseries airing in the summer of 2014. It was middlingly successful, but Fox won’t leave it alone, casting “Straight Outta Compton” star Corey Hawkins, Miranda Otto and Jimmy Smits in a new Kiefer-free version called "24: Legacy." The pilot films shortly, and the show would debut in the next season if Fox pick it up.
What It Was: The 2000 sci-fi time travel film starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel that saw a father and a son attempting to track down a serial killer by communicating through time with a radio.
What Is It Now? Yeah, even this is getting a reboot for some reason, a somewhat forgotten Gregory Hoblit movie. It remains to be seen if the CW, who’ve been developing it for a while, will pick it up: It’s somewhat off-brand for the network.
What It Was: David Lynch’s beloved cult hit, which aired for two seasons on ABC between 1990 and 1991, about the Washington town of the title and the investigation into the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer. Interest dropped off quickly in the second season and the show was cancelled, but it was followed by a movie, and it’s now seen as one of the greatest TV shows ever.
What Is It Now? Showtime commissioned a new limited series follow-up from Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost in 2014, and filming is underway now to air in 2017. Given that it’s the first thing that Lynch has directed properly since “Inland Empire” a decade ago, we’re pretty pumped.
What It Was: A Gold Rush-era Western from “NYPD Blue” creator, writer, producer, showrunner David Milch. Generally recognized as one of the greatest shows produced in television in the modern, second-phase golden-age era of TV, but cancelled in 2006 by HBO after three seasons.
What Is It Now? Rumors of a return have been brewing for a while, but HBO recently confirmed that a TV-movie return is being developed to wrap up the story.
“Time After Time”
What It Was: A 1979 Nicholas Meyer film, based on a story by Karl Alexander, which starred Malcolm McDowell as sci-fi author H.G. Wells, who uses a time machine to pursue Jack The Ripper (David Warner) to modern-day San Francisco and falls in love in the process.
What Is It Now? For reasons that don’t appear to immediately apparent, “Scream” and “Dawson’s Creek” creator Kevin Williamson is working on a pilot reboot of this, with blandly handsome English actors Josh Bowman and Freddie Stroma playing Jack and Wells respectively.
What It Was: A seven-season action-adventure show about the titular secret agent (Richard Dean Anderson) who uses his crafty improvised inventions rather than guns and violence. The show wrapped up in 1992, though two 1994 TV movies followed, along with a parody in the shape of comedy cult classic “MacGruber.”
What Is It Now? CBS are developing a new take. Details are thin on the ground, though “Furious 7” director James Wan was going to direct, but has stepped away from the pilot for now.
What It Was: The 2001 cop movie written by David Ayer and directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Ethan Hawke as a fresh-faced cop and Denzel Washington as his partner, a charismatic veteran who turns out to be deeply corrupt. The film was a box-office hit and won Washington an Oscar (with Hawke picking up a nomination).
What Is It Now? “Gangster Squad” writer Will Beall has developed a TV show, planned as a direct sequel, which sees a young black cop (not yet cast) with a morally nebulous mentor (Bill Paxton). Original plans were for Antoine Fuqua to return to direct, and Hawke to reprise his role, either as the older bad cop or as the new chief, but Fuqua had a schedule clash, and the actor sensibly doesn’t seem to have wanted anything to do with it.
What It Was: William Peter Blatty’s novel about a young girl possessed by a demon became William Friedkin’s blockbuster movie, which adjusted for inflation is still one of the most popular of all time, despite its button-pushing, taboo-breaking nature.
What Is It Now? While “Martha Marcy May Marlene” director Sean Durkin was developing a take at one point, this is a more traditional version, with Geena Davis and “House Of Cards” actor Ben Daniels stepping into surrogates of the roles played by Ellen Burstyn and Max Von Sydow. “Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes” helmer Rupert Wyatt will direct the pilot of the Fox show.
What It Was: This 1999 teen favorite updated “Dangerous Liaisons” to an upper-crust private school, with Ryan Philippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar as the flirtatious step-siblings and Reese Witherspoon as their innocent target.
What Is It Now? This is the only show this year to have pulled off the legacyquel concept that “Training Day” and the aborted “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Rambo” series were attempting: namely, by retaining a member of the original cast, with Gellar returning to her villainess role 15 years on. It’s actually the second attempt at a TV spin-off (Amy Adams starred in the first, which wasn’t picked up). NBC are developing the pilot, which will follow both the original characters and their children.
What It Was: Beginning with the 2008 original, this trilogy of action films saw Liam Neeson as an ex-CIA agent trying to rescue his frequently kidnapped idiot of a daughter in Paris, Istanbul and Los Angeles. The first two were huge global hits, the third film slightly less so, but was still healthy enough.
What Is It Now? With Neeson swearing off further films, this takes the prequel route, with “Vikings” actor Clive Standen playing a younger version of the same character back in his CIA days. The show’s been picked up straight to series, with original writer/producer Luc Besson exec-ing.
“A Series Of Unfortunate Events”
What It Was: It was hoped that Brad Silberling’s 2004 film, based on the books by ‘Lemony Snicket’ (actually author Daniel Handler), would follow the success of the Harry Potter films. Despite the presence of Jim Carrey and Meryl Streep, the film was an odd duck and failed to connect much with audiences.
What Is It Now: The movie had only adapted the first few books, but there are over a dozen of them, and this new Netflix show promises to do the whole saga. “Men In Black” director Barry Sonnenfeld will direct the pilot, and Neil Patrick Harris steps into Jim Carrey’s shoes as the villainous Count Olaf.
What It Was: One of the longest-running sci-fi franchises ever, the original 1960s show saw Kirk, Spock and the crew of the USS Enterprise exploring the final frontier. The show ended after only three seasons, but it went on to spawn four spin-off shows and, to date, 12 movies (with the 13th, “Star Trek Beyond,” hitting this summer).
What Is It Now? Long-time Trek fan Bryan Fuller (“Hannibal”) is developing this new series, which is unconnected to the new movie reboot franchise for rights reasons (it’s a long, complicated story). It’ll begin next January, and will be exclusive to CBS’ new online streaming service.
What It Was: Ben Edlund‘s superhero spoof about a hulking blue idiot fighting crime began as a comic, became an animated show, and then was a short-lived live-action show in the 1990s starring Patrick Warburton. The show had a cult audience, but never crossed into the mainstream, and was cancelled during its first season.
What Is It Now? With superheroes everywhere, it seems like the perfect time for The Tick to return, and Amazon announced just last week that they’re developing a new live-action pilot for the show. Edlund is writing, Christopher Nolan‘s DoP Wally Pfister is directing, and "Vinyl" actor Griffin Newman will play sidekick Arthur.
And that’s just a taste: A third Marvel show is coming to ABC, CW have an “Archie” reboot called “Riverdale,” Netflix are working on a Hispanic take on “One Day At A Time,” Spike are doing “The Mist,” Amazon are developing a “Galaxy Quest” show, and much more. Anything else you’re excited about? Or that you’re dreading? Or that you want to see rebooted? Talk about it in the comments.
– with Rodrigo Perez