First, Twin Peaks popped back up on Showtime. Then Fox reopened the X-Files, NBC put Coach back in the game, and Netflix was in talks to refurbish Full House.
The ‘90s are back on TV, and Internet entertainment writers aren’t impressed. Over at Time, Dan D’Addario declared that “TV just keeps getting more boring.” Esquire’s Stephan Marche wrote that even reboots of great shows are a bad idea. Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson, citing the Full House reboot, writes that “this is ‘90s nostalgia gone horribly wrong.”
I say, keep the ‘90s reboots coming! They’ve always been a part of the industry, they can still spin new stories, and because of technology, they’re not robbing you of your original shows, either. Here’s what I mean.
Hollywood has never been about originality
A lot of the reboot outrage takes the “kids these days” position that reboots are a recent phenomenon. But are they?
The term is relatively new, but the process of adapting already existing-material is a trademark of Hollywood. Hollywood has never been that original, and that’s a good thing. For a post on my personal blog, I decided to take a look at the two “best” years ever for movies – 1939 and 1946. Thirty-nine is considered a high-mark because of all the movies from that year still talked about today as all-time greats (like Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind). Forty-six is the year that more Americans went to the movies than at any other time in our nation’s history. My conclusion: Even back then, Hollywood would much rather adapt pre-existing material than produce something completely original. (See the above examples of Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.)
The only difference between now and then is that Hollywood now has more than books and plays to draw from. It only makes sense that as the libraries of films and TV shows in studio vaults grow, so will the desire to re-exploit them.
Room for everyone
People who decry TV’s “lack of originality” are viewing the entertainment industry through a dated prism. When the X-Files, Twin Peaks, and, yes, Full House, all first aired, TV was dominated by just four networks, and each network’s programming slate was limited by the number of hours in the evening. That’s simply no longer the case.
The number of outlets for quality, scripted entertainment has exploded. Programming is no longer dictated by scheduling blocks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m. TV production is no longer a zero-sum game. If Netflix does pick up new Full House, that doesn’t mean the end of The Orange is the New Black. And if a new Full House succeeds in bringing in new subscribers for Netflix, that’s good for all of Netflix’s shows.
Set it and forget it
One of the reasons TV reboots are attractive to networks and studios is because most of the development is already done. You don’t need to stick them in the oven for an hour to cook. You can just stick them in the microwave to reheat. TV reboots are, well, the TV dinners of Hollywood. (Kids, if you don’t know what a TV dinner is, ask your parents.)
TV reboots are the TV dinners of Hollywood.
So we’re not missing a season of an original show because we’re getting a season of a reboot instead. TV reboots don’t supplant so-called “original” fare at a one-to-one ratio. If they were as much work, you wouldn’t see as many of them making news. As infomercial king Ron Popeil used to say about his kitchen products: “Set it and forget it!”
Not the same Bat-Channel
Episodes of the campy ‘60s Batman TV series would end with a cliffhanger and a voiceover instructing viewers to “tune in tomorrow at the same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.” That’s a promise few shows can keep these days can keep these days.
Of all the TV reboots mentioned thus far, only one (The X-Files) is airing on the show’s original home. Twin Peaks is moving from ABC to Showtime, Coach from ABC to NBC, and Full House from ABC to Netflix.
But this show swap is a good thing. Because there are so many outlets now, there is greater competition than ever for content. The TV reboots might get a lot of attention, but that’s only because more people have heard of Full House than all the original material currently in development. The headlines are hardly indicative of what’s really going on.
Yesterday’s teens are today’s powerbrokers
It’s no coincidence that Michael Keaton’s Batman came two decades after Adam West’s, or that The Brady Bunch Movie came two decades after that series’ original run. Twenty years is as long as it takes for a teen to be a thirty-something – i.e. for a kid to become a development executive at a studio or network.
Children of the ‘90s are now taking the reins of production companies. Even if they aren’t in charge, they have the ears of those who are. We’re talking about Twin Peaks and Full House today, but in ten years we’ll be talking about reboots of Monk and Lost. This has nothing to do with creativity (or lack thereof) and everything to do with passion. Whenever you see a 20-year-old piece of material get the reboot treatment, you better believe that there’s a thirty-something with a real love for the material who pushed to make it happen. And I think that’s great.
Original fare isn’t that original
I’ll take a successful reboot of a TV show from my youth any day over a “new” show that is just a thinly-veiled clone of something else. (I’ll let you figure out which TV shows currently airing fall into the latter boat.) In fact, reboots are breeding grounds for some of the most creative – and original – work coming out of Hollywood right now. Just because the source material is familiar, that doesn’t mean the expression of it has to be. Good stories might start with a good premise, but great stories exist in the details – details that can change every time a story gets retold.
Back to Batman (because everything is always about Batman). Is Fox’s Gotham merely a reboot of the ‘60s Batman TV series? Heck no. Same source material, same location, a lot of the same characters, but no one would ever connect the two (except me, right here).
That’s what I love most about TV reboots. Yes, people cheered the return of X-Files because it’s a chance for Chris Carter to (hopefully) give those characters some closure. But even when shows get new talent behind the camera (which is apparently the case with the new Twin Peaks), that’s a chance for new writers and directors to put their spin on the same source material. If the new take succeeds, that’s great. If it doesn’t, it still serves to highlight what was special about the original.
If I have to take a couple Full Houses for every Battlestar Galactica that comes along, that’s a very small price to pay. Especially since you can never have enough Stamos in your life.