The owls are, again, not what they seem. Coffee has returned to being damn good, and hot too. The gum you like is back in style once more. And my decision to always and forever refer to my voice recorder as “Diane” is suddenly hip and topical rather than a little bit tragic. Unless you live under a pet log, you will probably be aware that some truly momentous news broke recently and is currently echoing through forests and diners and sawmills and Black Lodges: seminal 90s TV series “Twin Peaks” will be reborn in 2016, with original series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost on board for a nine-episode return on Showtime to the world’s most exquisitely fucked up logging town.
Trying to step back from the genuine swell of joy the news first gave rise to is hard: as it was for many people around my age, “Twin Peaks” was so epochal a moment in my development that one can credit it with about 23% of my subsequent personality. Its mix of weird, visionary, quirky, sexy, soapy and scary had never been seen before, and only occasionally in Lynch’s subsequent films has it never really been achieved since. And, as a thousand think pieces have already suggested, you can trace a pretty straight line back from the current Golden Age crop of prestige TV titles through the past couple of decades, until it comes to a stop on April 8th 1990, the eve of the pilot’s first airing. “Twin Peaks” inarguably expanded the very concept of what was possible to achieve on episodic TV, and it proved that audiences were willing to be challenged and confused and provoked if the storytelling was strong enough. “Twin Peaks” didn’t inspire fandom so much as evangelism — I should know. I’m one of the evangelists.
However, there are reasons to take a breath, aside from the possibility of asphyxiation. Season Three of “Twin Peaks” will be born into the world of its offspring, of “Breaking Bad” and “Lost” and “True Detective,” so expecting it to have the same punch that it did back in 1990 is unreasonable. Even Season Two of the original series was divisive (and recall that Season One was just eight episodes, though the pilot was feature-length), and was widely believed to constitute a severe step down from the heights of the first (what on earth was that whole Nadine-with-superstrength thing about?). And Lynch, who is committed to co-write and direct every single episode, is coming off a long hiatus from feature filmmaking, his last foray being “Inland Empire” which the Playlist may have liked a lot more than most, but not even we would suggest it was close to his best.
But pleas for the tempering of expectations aside, we certainly think that anything that gives mass audiences access again to Lynch’s brilliant, uniquely batshit brain is a damn good thing, and it’s a much better use of his time than esoteric electronic music or opening up Parisian nightclubs or whatever (although we could stand to watch him nominate Vladimir Putin for the Ice Bucket challenge a few more times). And it’s not like it’s at all unprecedented for a TV show to return to the airwaves —“Twin Peaks”’ hiatus may be longer than most at a whopping 25 years (as mandated by Laura Palmer herself, of course), but the uniqueness of its vibe makes it more timeless than most. It always existed in a kind of never-never world anyway.
Which is all a long way of saying: Harry, I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.
Meanwhile, let’s take a look at eight other shows that have been revived after seemingly ending for good, and see what lessons their successful and not-so-successful reincarnations can teach us, as we embark on about eighteen months of speculation, debate and feverish anticipation for a TV event 25 years in the making: “Twin Peaks,” Season Three.
Original Run: 3 seasons (1966-1969)
Renewed Run: (“Star Trek: The Next Generation“) 7 seasons (1987-1994)
Length of Gap: 21 years
Why was it cancelled/revived? Hard to believe as it might be, the original William Shatner-starring series was not a hit while it aired. Critical reaction was distinctly mixed, and its Nielsen ratings were so low that NBC could well have cancelled it mid-way through season one. However, with demographic analysis of viewership an emerging science at that point, it seemed to be scoring highly among the desirable sections of the audience, so NBC renewed it instead. But they also shifted it to a later time slot, meaning its youth audience was reduced, and the second seasons saw ratings slide further. But a passionate letter campaign from fans (reportedly instigated by series creator Gene Roddenberry) so surprised the network that they renewed it once more, even taking the unusual step of announcing as much on air. But another time slot shift and a further slump in viewership followed, and not even another letter campaign could save it from the chop the third time. Then a funny thing happened. In syndication throughout the ’70s, “Star Trek” became the kind of hit it had never even remotely been during its first run, more or less spawning the whole phenomenon of cult TV fandom, with heralded by the emergence of the “Trekkie.” Ten years after cancellation, “Star Trek: The Movie” would be a hit in cinemas, to be followed by five further films starring the original cast. And 21 years after the show had been cancelled on the small screen, it returned in a new incarnation, designed to capitalize on the Paramount property’s enduring popularity, yet doing so cheaply and without cannibalizing the still profitable film franchise, by employing an entirely new cast.
How did it do? ‘The Next Generation‘ is, along with “Doctor Who,” perhaps the gold standard for TV show revivals, certainly within the sci-fi field, and is one of the few instances of a revival that ran much much longer than the show that spawned it. Not only did it itself lead to three further shows (‘Deep Space Nine,’ ‘Voyager‘ and ‘Enterprise’) it made a huge star of Patrick Stewart and gave rise to four theatrical features of its own, starting off with the Original Series crossover ‘Generations.’ It was also critically successful, at least after a wobbly first season, and at its best showcased truly brainy, philosophical storylines as only the best sci-fi can. And it also gifted TV writers with the phrase “growing a beard,” which is the opposite of “jumping the shark” and refers to the moment when a show becomes good after a poor spell, signified here by the beginning of Season 2 when Jonathan Frakes‘ Commander Riker shows up for the first time bearded.
Original Run: 3 seasons (2003-2006)
Renewed Run: 1 season (2013)
Length of Gap: 7 years
Why was it cancelled/revived? Despite six primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe, the first three seasons of “Arrested Development” never did particularly big numbers for Fox. Critical adoration, however, came quickly and never really abated throughout the show’s original run. Yet by the mid point of Season Three, the viewership figures had slid and Fox’s nervousness had manifested itself (in curtailed season orders and shifting slots) to such a degree that the writing seemed to be on the wall. Still, rumors that the show had been picked up by a cable network, most likely Showtime, abounded, and gave hope to the show’s vocal fanbase. However it was Mitch Hurwitz himself who quashed those hopes, and when the cancellation order became official, he went on record to say that with the show’s cast being increasingly in demand for other projects (and indeed we haven’t been able to move for Jason Bateman films since), and being himself unsure if he could continue to guarantee the quality of the show’s writing, perhaps it was time to turn the lights off. Tears were shed by the show’s loyal devotees, but it found renewed life on DVD, and quickly became a touchpoint for the “shows cancelled way before their time” meme. With a seeming built-in audience prepped and primed, and with Hurwitz back on board, it was simply a matter of finding the show a new home, and, most crucially, of working around the actors’ schedules.
How did it do? Having that built-in audience no doubt made it an ideal fit for Netflix, which was then new to producing original programming and anxious to make its mark. But that last factor about the actors’ availability proved to have a big impact on the shape of the show’s fourth season. With the stars unwilling/unable to commit to the schedule that regular episodic programming would have demanded, Hurwitz engineered a new structure, with each episode being told largely from one character’s point of view. Reactions were mixed with many fans feeling that, especially in the earlier episodes, the zippy, loopy energy that the original run had dealt in was gone, and the jokes came less thick and fast when everything was being approached in this more linear fashion. But it’s a season that grows in complexity and cleverness as it proceeds, and the “Rashomon“-like structure is easier to enjoy when the show is consumed, as Netflix’s model allows, at a gallop rather than week-in, week-out. Which is enough for us to hope that another season (which Netflix have intimated they’d go for), or the oft-mooted film version, does come to pass.
Original Run: 2 seasons (1966-1968)
Renewed Run: (“The New Monkees“) 1 season (1987)
Length of Gap: 19 years
Why was it cancelled/revived? A meta-sitcom starring a manufactured pop group playing a Beatles-esque band who live together in a beach house while trying to make it big in the music industry? Safe to say that the original TV show was conceptually considerably ahead of its time. And executionally too: introducing a variety of filmmaking techniques that owed more of a debt to New Wave filmmaking than to the staged and stagey TV sitcom style of the era, “The Monkees” was an original and unusual TV show. And it was recognized as such at the time, winning 2 Emmys in 1967, including Best Comedy Series, for which it beat out the likes of “Bewitched,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” Inspired originally by “A Hard Day’s Night” and with a pilot episode co-written by Paul Mazursky, the show’s other avant-garde elements included fourth-wall breaking, a loose, unstructured vibe, non-narrative musical moments (that now resemble video promos), jump cutting and the gradual abandonment of a laugh track. However, this last quality was widely cited as one of the reasons for the show’s decline in popularity and ultimate cancellation by NBC— coupled with, as the story goes, the band’s desire to change the format for season 3 to an hour-long variety show instead. The show did well subsequently in syndication, but it wasn’t until the buzz created around the 20th anniversary of its debut that it really occurred to anyone to push the button on what, many years before “90210” or new-style “Battlestar Galactica” we would now call a reboot.
How did it do? “The New Monkees” seems to have been a bit of a debacle, despite replicating the formula of the original to the point of also launching a nationwide search and series of auditions for its stars, and even going the further step of insisting that musical talent be a prerequisite. But whether it was the Mr Mister-inflected synth pop that the new Monkees played (and the TV shows were really designed to flog albums, let’s not forget), or the relocation to a mansion complete with butler and talking computer, the show failed to find an audience, and was pulled after just 13 of its projected 22-episode first season were shot. And exactly how much it really had to do with the original show is also questionable: the original Monkees ended up suing the New Monkees over rights to the name, and settled out of court.
Original Run: 1 season (2006-2007)
Renewed Run: 1 season (2008)
Length of Gap: 9 months
Why was it cancelled/revived? Perhaps falling slightly uncomfortably between the younger-skewing, pop-culture likes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and more grown-up shows like “The Wire” that had defined the TV landscape of the era, the post-apocalyptic drama “Jericho” never quite carved out an audience for itself. Which is a shame, because it now feels like a precursor to a lot of the shows that came after, quite a few of which it was undoubtedly superior (ahem, “Under the Dome“). Co-created by Stephen Chbosky, who also wrote the novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” as well as adapting and directing the excellent big-screen version, “Jericho” ran into ratings problems halfway through its first season, with a gradual slide setting in even before its three-month hiatus. When the remaining eleven episodes of the first season continued the downward trend, the show’s cancellation was announced, despite the fact that the last episode had featured a major cliffhanger. What then happened was an online fan campaign to get the show reinstated, the likes of which was quite unprecedented for the time and which flooded the inboxes of the CBS execs and, in a memorable nod to one of the show’s iconic moments, saw over 20 tons of nuts sent to CBS headquarters. Taking the unusual step of bowing to fan pressure (and providing unfounded hope for many similar subsequent campaigns), CBS agreed to bring “Jericho” back as a mid-season replacement, with a seven-episode order with the option to extend should viewership warrant.
How did it do? Sadly, for all the noise the fan campaign created, the returning “Jericho” attracted even lower audiences than before, not helped by the first two episodes of its season two, which addressed the cliffhanger ending of season one, being leaked from a screener copy onto the internet prior to airing. Reportedly, two season two endings had been shot, one which wrapped everything up hastily and the other which was to lead into a potential third season. In the event, the former ran (and very unsatisfying it is too), and this time the fan outcry fell on deaf ears.
Original Run: 26 seasons (1963-1989)
Renewed Run: 8+ seasons (2005-present)
Length of Gap: 16 years
Why was it cancelled/revived? A staple of British television for three and a half decades (trivia: its first episode aired the day after President Kennedy was assassinated), by 1989 it seemed as though the great, mysterious Time Lord’s time was up. The show had failed to shake off its fusty, old-fashioned associations, and the nostalgia of its older fanbase did not prove sufficient when it was failing to draw in younger fans, which is the audience that “Doctor Who” had always performed best with. Technically, the BBC never actually cancelled the show, but simply failed to commission the 27th season. For over a decade and a half. In the meantime, a film was mounted in 1996 that was hoped to kickstart interest in both the UK and the U.S. for another season, but it didn’t succeed in that aim, giving poor old Paul McGann, whose only lead outing as the Eighth Doctor it would be, the rawest deal of all the Doctors. Novels and audio plays based on the property continued, but it wasn’t until 2003 that work began again in earnest on bringing the show back, this time with respected TV writer Russell T Davies, the man behind “Queer as Folk” and also the excellent Christopher Eccleston-starring miniseries “The Second Coming” as the showrunner and the man responsible for reinvigorating a beloved but dormant property for a new generation.
How did it do? It’s probably safe to say quite well. Eccleston’s single season as the Ninth Doctor catapulted the show back to being the centerpiece of BBC1‘s scheduling where it has remained ever since. Shown now in over 50 countries weekly, “Doctor Who” has also attracted a loyal U.S. fan base through Syfy, and while some concern was expressed over whether the new version could survive the loss of Eccleston, who famously has refused to return even for cameos ever since, in fact it went from strength to strength. David Tennant and then Matt Smith both made the role their own (and made their own careers in the process) and the fevered speculation and debate that pre-empted the announcement of Peter Capaldi as the latest Doc just goes to show what a major pop-cultural touchstone the reinvigorated show has become.
Original Run: 5 seasons (1957-1962)
Renewed Run: (“Bret Maverick“) 1 Season (1981-1982)
Length of Gap: 19 years
Why was it cancelled/revived? “Maverick,” a show about the devious, wisecracking charmer and poker player Bret Maverick, has a pretty storied history in terms of its evolution, even before its long period of absence. Originally slated to star James Garner as the sole Maverick, tinkering began during its eighth episode with the introduction of Jack Kelly as Bart Maverick, Bret’s brother and, except in shows in which they appear together, more or less surrogate. In essence a convenience-led decision based on the fact that it took more than a week to film each episode, this way Garner and Kelly could alternate as leads, and indeed it would be Kelly who would be the only lead actor to appear in all five of the original seasons. This is because Garner quit the show after season three in a contract dispute with Warner Bros. and his character was replaced by that of Beau Maverick, played by Roger Moore, who slotted in neatly due to his similar knack for debonair comedy, where Kelly’s talents were more in the dramatic arena. But Moore quit during the fourth season, citing declining script quality, and indeed the sliding ratings bore him out. And the introduction of another brother in Brent Maverick (Robert Colbert) did nothing to arrest the slide; they didn’t renew his character to appear in the fifth season at all. In fact, season five comprised Kelly episodes alternating with reruns of the Garner years, and it was no great surprise when it was cancelled in 1962. Garner’s ongoing popularity and presence due to “The Rockford Files” though, made the return of the oft-retooled show seem like a viable option, and in 1978, he flipped his stetson back on his head again to play Bret in the TV movie “The New Maverick” which was to serve as the pilot for a new TV show “Young Maverick” to which none of the original cast returned in any meaningful way and which lasted just five episodes. A few years later, though, Garner was back in the role that made him famous in “Bret Maverick” and I think I’ve just used the word “Maverick” more times in one paragraph than I have in my entire life to this point.
How did it do? The show attracted fairly good ratings, but was nonetheless cancelled just one season in, despite plans to reunite the brothers (which ocurrs at the very end of the last episode) and have them embark on another series of misadventures, albeit slightly more sedentary ones as this incarnation of Maverick has settled down. Garner would also appear in the Mel Gibson-fronted big-screen version in 1994, but other than that, if you want to see Garner as Maverick, it’s either to the DVD collection with you, or you could head out to Garner’s hometown of Norman, Oklahoma which is graced by a ten-foot bronze statue of the character.
Original Run: 8 seasons (2001-2010)
Renewed Run: (“24: Live Another Day“) 1 season (2014)
Length of Gap: 4 years
Why was it cancelled/revived? It’s hard to countenance now, but the first season of “24” aired just a couple of months after the 9/11 attacks. As obviously over-dramatic and fictionalized as the show was, it did strike a note of paranoiac high-level conspiracy. And the threat of terrorist actions happening on home turf seemed both prescient in locating its action in a counter-terrorism unit and also oddly comforting in the idea that there might be heroes as selfless and resourceful as Jack Bauer at work as such. But if it truly found its moment, it wasn’t only because of real-world events: “24” pushed the envelope in terms of format too, in its real-time structure, its knotty plot, and its juggling of the intimate and personal with the massively public. It felt fresh and new and innovative; eight seasons later, not so much. By then we’d become accustomed to its rhythms (the way at the halfway point, the bad guy is revealed not to be the real Big Bad at all), its faked deaths and false alarms, and even the interpersonal relationships, like that between Bauer and the ever prickly, spectral Chloe O’Brian had started to feel overfamiliar. And so the decision not to do another season (it’s not a show that was cancelled per se), especially in light of waning viewership figures, seems understandable. In fact, less charitable viewers could suggest that it could have beeped farewell somewhere around season five with no great loss. During the 2007 Writers Strike, a TV movie titled “24: Redemption” had been made to tide over fans jonesing for some more split screen action, but it was really due to the collapse of plans for a “24” feature film, coinciding with the cancellation of star Kiefer Sutherland‘s other TV show “Touch” that suddenly made everyone think a new season might be the way to go.
How did it do? I’m sorry, did we say “season”? What we actually meant was Limited Event Television Series, in that the show that aired in June of this year comprised only half the episodes of a standard season, which therefore represents a pretty fundamental shift from the show’s original 24-hours-in-real-time premise. However, it’s not how it differs from the show we knew and at one point loved that is the issue, but how very much the same it is: Jack may now be in London and he may reference hot-button topics like drone strikes, and it may even leap ahead in time by 12 hours (in fairness, at the end of the last episode) but mostly it feels like it suffers from the same staleness as the last few seasons. TV has moved on since 2001; “24” has not.
Original Run: 4 seasons (1999-2003)
Renewed Run: 3 seasons (2008-2013)
Length of Gap: 5 years
Why was it cancelled/revived? As early as the second season, the signs were clear that Fox weren’t quite sure what to do with this Matt Groening show, shifting its time slot around several times over, before it finally landed a Sunday spot that itself would frequently shift due to sporting events. Despite this, the show built up an extremely dedicated fan base, and while its tone was loopier and weirder and less accessible than Groening’s other cash cow for Fox, “The Simpsons” it still demonstrated some of the sharpest writing that satirical sci-fi has really ever given us. But Fox didn’t outright cancel the show; it simply failed to buy any further episodes, and production stopped in 2003. For a long while Groening discussed the possibility of a feature film, but in the meantime he produced four straight-to-DVD features while Comedy Central acquired the syndication rights. With those four films being carved up into 16 episodes that were subsequently aired as the fifth season of the show, a working relationship with Comedy Central was already in place and, to the great relief of fans and of Groening himself who always wanted to return to the “Futurama” universe, a 26-episode sixth season was commissioned in 2009.
How did it do? The first episode of season 6 of the show broke all sorts of records for Comedy Central and it progressed to completion of its full 26 episode order, being renewed for a seventh season to air in the 2012/2013 period. However, in April 2013 the shows non-renewal (aka cancellation) was announced, all of which contributes to the fact that “Futurama” has four episodes that are now, or at one time were, dubbed series finales. Given the show’s history, there’s no telling if it’s gone for good, though many fans are angling for it to return again (which might make it the most Lazarus-like show of all time) even if it’s in a different format, be it a feature film, DTV movies or a web series. No word on any of that as yet, but for those of you pining for a glimpse of Bender et al: next month on November 9th, a crossover episode of “The Simpsons” will air, titled “Simpsorama” in which a time capsule buried by Bart causes a future disaster and the crew of the Planet Express Ship are sent to kill him to prevent it from happening. Good news, everyone!
In addition to the hundreds of other shows that have been brought back from the dead, there are a few whose zombiefied return is imminent aside from “Twin Peaks.” “Heroes” will try to prove that the diminishing returns of its subsequent seasons can be arrested with a 13-episode miniseries “Heroes: Reborn“; Dan Harmon‘s beloved “Community” has been rescued from NBC‘s chopping block by Yahoo, meaning it may still attain its oft-stated refrain of “Six seasons and a movie”; “The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret” is back after three years in 2015; and the Lisa Kudrow vehicle “The Comeback” gifted headline writers everywhere an hour off by coming back to HBO after a nine-year absence. These and other shows new, returning, revived and otherwise will no doubt do their best to fill the gaping maw of 2015 until “Twin Peaks” returns. In the meantime, we’ll be practicing this: