Desperately seeking hits
All is not well inside the weird business of cranking out reboots of hit 80s and 90s shows
GILMORE GIRLS, the dramedy following a witty mom-daughter duo in smalltown Connecticut, was never close to a TV smash. At its peak, in 2002, the seven- season series ranked 121st in US viewership, behind Fox’s Temptation Island.
But in the eight years since its cancellation, the show has traced a surprising ascent to cult stardom, inspiring viewer binges, a newly rabid fan base and key interest from streaming giant Netflix, which is reportedly pursuing an original reboot.
Gilmore will become only the latest in a series of revivals of turn-ofthe-millennium niche TV shows like Full House, Twin Peaks and The X-Files, which networks hope will help them stand out among the vast glut of things to watch on air and on the Web.
None of the early experiments in reheated TV has become a breakout hit. But in TV, where every meagre success is broken down into a formula, the reboots are seen as cheap bets, with often low- risk premises, washed- up stars and built-in cores of superfans.
For networks, the 1990s reboots offer another prize: The viewers who grew up on these shows are now making the decisions on cable budgets of their own.
“Nostalgia is bankable now,” said Demi Adejuyigbe, whose episode- discussing podcast, Gilmore Guys, counts more than half a million listeners and released an “emergency podcast” to discuss the reboot news.
“The fans are being louder, and way more accessible, in terms of what they want,” Adejuyigbe said. “Everyone’s going for the great American TV show,” he said, but it’s not enough for a show to be good: “It has to be an event. It has to do something to get people talking.”
TV revivals have focused mostly on recognisable names unveiled during a simpler time, before bingewatches and spoiler alerts.
Netflix, which previously revived the noughties comedy series Arrested Development, will next year launch a 13-episode reboot of 1990s family sitcom Full House. Fox is resurrecting 24, Prison Break and The X-Files; CBS is bringing back Star Trek; and Showtime has vowed to return to the surreal 1990s cult obsession, Twin Peaks.
The networks have also mined for gold among yesteryear’s cult cinema. Netflix unveiled a prequel series of the 2001 satire Wet Hot American Summer, Starz rolled out the camp zombie serial Ash vs Evil Dead on Halloween, and ABC and NBC have committed to pilots based on late-1990s cultural phenomena like My Best Friend’s Wedding and Cruel Intentions.
Analysts say TV’s titans have swiped Hollywood’s sequel-centric playbook largely out of despera- tion: With about 400 original scripted series set to air this year – up from 213 in 2010 – networks today see a name-brand reboot as one of the most direct ways to draw in fans.
“With so many new series being premiered every year, good ideas are at a premium,” said Tim Westcott, a TV programming analyst with industry researcher IHS. “The fact is a lot of dramas are being made now that would never have seen the light of day before things got so competitive.”
That these cult classics stem almost entirely from the 1990s and the noughties is no coincidence, but a way of nabbing a slippery audience of young viewers who are nevertheless eager for something to watch. Four out of 10 US homes now subscribe to Netflix or another streaming service, and the oldest person in half of those households is 45 or younger.
It’s “a coming of age of those who were heavy TV viewers” before mobile and internet viewing took hold, said Kaan Yigit, president of SRG, a media research group. “These shows are a kind of puberty connection… (to) millennials who are sexy to marketers but harder to catch via TV.”
When Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings was asked of the company’s biggest challenge, he said it was “being the service that people want,” adding, “if we could have 10 more ( Orange is the New Blacks) and five more Narcos –I know I’m putting a lot of pressure there – that would be really transformative.”
But the cost of finding, filming and marketing that many originals has added pressure to networks’ budgets, and created a problem that reheating TV’s leftovers can help solve. Rebooting an older venture – especially with cheaper actors, out of the spotlight – can be financially less risky than, say, crafting a gritty, award-winning crime drama from scratch.
The TV rehash “is like a sequel. You don’t have to market it, it sells itself ”. said Brad Adgate, media researcher with Horizon Media. “But you also open yourself up to criticism: The storyline wasn’t as good, the acting wasn’t as good.”
Nostalgia, as Mad Men’s Don Draper would say, is “delicate but potent”, but getting it right is no simple task. CW Network reboots of 1990s soaps like 90210 and Melrose Place were derided, and Netflix’s Arrested Development’s revival polarised viewers.
“The title may help get people in the door, but I don’t think nostalgia is enough for any show to be successful. It still has to earn its audience,” said David Madden, president of Fox Entertainment.
Time also waits for no reboot. Alexis Bledel, who at 20 first played brainy high-schooler Rory Gilmore, is now 34, while the actor who played her grandfather, Edward Herrmann, died last year. The show’s charm, fans worry, may have also arisen from a time that may not track as well into the modern day. As Gilmore Guys co-host Adejuyigbe said, “Why raise the dead and risk birthing a Frankenstein?” – Washington Post
FACING CHANGES: Lauren Graham as Lorelai and Alexis Bledel as Rory in