Edmonton Journal

Play it again, Sam, or maybe not

Copycat TV shows rarely make the grade

- ALEX STRACHAN

Imitation, it has been said, is the sincerest form of television. And nothing says imitation quite like a remake. If at first something succeeds, why not try again and again?

Even as the cable specialty channels embrace a new golden age of compelling, original adult drama — Mad Men, Game of Thrones, The Americans and True Detective are a few of the dramas to unveil new seasons in 2015 — the broadcast networks, like the Hollywood movie studios before them, know that if something has been tried, it must also be true.

In TV, nothing succeeds quite like excess.

The Hollywood studios are known for bringing back old stories with new actors in familiar roles, sometimes successful­ly — Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan as Steve McGarrett and Danny “Danno” Williams in the rebooted Hawaii Five-0 — and sometimes not so successful­ly, as witness 2011’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels, with Rachael Taylor, Minka Kelly and Annie Ilonzeh.

Remakes on the drawing board for 2015 include Thunderbir­ds, Sliders, All in the Family, Bewitched, Greatest American Hero, Married with Children, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, with Willie Garson, and The Odd Couple, this time starring Thomas Lennon and Matthew Perry in the roles made famous by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman and, before them, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

Hope, like hype, springs eternal. The studios are gambling that a TV remake in 2015 will remake prime time as we know it — even though, Hawaii Five-0 aside, there’s evidence to suggest that, as with movies, remakes hardly ever outperform the original.

Television, a business where 84 per cent of all new series fail, is littered with the wrecks of “can’t miss” reboots, from 2007’s Bionic Woman and 2011’s Charlie’s Angels, to would-be neo classics such as The Fugitive, L.A. Dragnet and Ironside.

A quality pedigree is no guarantee of success the second time around. The BAFTA-nominated BBC drama Life on Mars failed to translate across the Atlantic. As compelling as The Killing was, the AMC/Netflix drama paled in comparison to the Danish original, Forbrydels­en. The Bridge, freely adapted from the Danish-Swedish original Broen/Bron, lasted just two seasons on FX.

The ITV serial drama Broadchurc­h, now in production on its second season in the U.K., failed to touch the popular nerve in its Americaniz­ed remake Gracepoint, despite starring the same lead actor, David Tennant, and following much of the storyline in the original. Gracepoint’s pilot episode was written and directed by the creators of the original, but something about it didn’t translate to a North American TV audience.

That isn’t stopping A&E from remaking the Internatio­nal Emmy Awardwinni­ng French series Les Revenants as The Returned, however, with an American setting and a North American cast that includes Mark Pellegrino, Jeremy Sisto, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Sandrine Holt.

Remakes are popular with the Hollywood studios because they make good business sense. Audiences respond to familiarit­y. A remake’s story, setting and characters don’t have to be explained. A snappy, familiar title, coupled with a snappy, familiar TV theme song, sell themselves. The recognitio­n factor is built-in.

The downside is that fans of the original will turn quickly if the remake fails to live up to expectatio­ns. In the new age of social media, word of mouth has taken on heightened importance. A fan spurned can become a dangerous fan indeed.

A remake that doesn’t appeal to fans of the original can still survive, and even thrive, with a new audience. Successful examples are few and far between. For every Office, there are a dozen Couplings and Men Behaving Badly. A popular YouTube video titled Top 10 Worst TV Remakes begins with the teaser, “They say lightning never strikes twice, and here’s a list of TV shows to prove it.”

The compilatio­n includes Aussie redo Kath and Kim, the Canadian-made Skins, 1992’s Red Dwarf and misfires such as The IT Crowd, Spaced, The Inbetweene­rs and The Prisoner, with Jim Caviezel in the role made famous by Patrick McGoohan.

Betting on what worked in the past doesn’t always work in the future.

But even failure can have a silver lining. The YouTube video notes that, when The IT Crowd failed to draw a crowd, it made room for a little show

 ?? ED ARAQUEL/ FOX ?? David Tennant and Anna Gunn in Gracepoint — a remake of the U.K. hit Broadchurc­h that didn’t do well in North America.
ED ARAQUEL/ FOX David Tennant and Anna Gunn in Gracepoint — a remake of the U.K. hit Broadchurc­h that didn’t do well in North America.
 ?? WILLIAMS MARIO PEREZ/ CBS ?? The rebooted Hawaii Five-O with Alex O’Loughlin, left, and Scott Caan turned out to be a hit with television audiences.
WILLIAMS MARIO PEREZ/ CBS The rebooted Hawaii Five-O with Alex O’Loughlin, left, and Scott Caan turned out to be a hit with television audiences.

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