From Gossip Girl to Frasier to Sex and the City: Are reboots driven by nostalgia – or desperation?

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From Gossip Girl to Frasier to Sex and the City: Are reboots driven by nostalgia – or desperation?


EEarlier this year, it was announced that Kelsey Grammer would be returning to television in a new take on the hit ’90s comedy Frasier. Grammer, which has struggled to find success since the series ended in 2004, may have been delighted with his return. However, his official statement hinted at industry maneuvers as well as career satisfaction – before sharing how he “happily” anticipated the new series, he made sure to check out the name Paramount. twice and to congratulate the studio on “its entry into the world of streaming”.

This was just the latest ad to bring a sense of déjà vu to TV, as it follows the movies resurrecting old hits after old hits, the big stars of the 90s and 00s are just pawns in a more war. wide between streamers and traditional television. Last week, the BBC announced that it had gotten the UK premiere of the highly anticipated Gossip Girl reboot. Schedules have increased in recent years with comebacks and re-imaginations of old shows, from Will & Grace and Arrested Development in the US to Cold Feet and Spitting Image in the UK, with other huge hits including Dexter and Samantha. -free Sex and the City all in the pipeline.

“It gets to the point where there are different kinds of reboots,” says Peter White, editor of the entertainment industry publication Deadline. “You have shows like Sex and the City where you get most of the original cast for a continuation of the show. Then you have others where they just take the brand name – so Gossip Girl comes back with a new cast. Some of them can actually be very creative. Everybody Hates Chris is coming back to the cartoon. The Wonder Years is being rebooted, still focused on the 1960s like the original show was – which was made in the 1980s – but with a black family instead of a white one, which is more interesting. than just updating it.

There are, apparently, three main reasons for this trend. The first is Roseanne Barr. When her comedy Roseanne returned to ABC in 2018, it was America’s most-watched show of the year, averaging 20 million viewers – unprecedented numbers for a networked sitcom in the modern age. . In the end, the series burned in a flame of controversy and Barr was banned from ABC because of a racist tweet. But the networks had seen the power of nostalgic revivals. The show was then rebooted as The Conners, who killed the character of Roseanne in the first episode and followed the rest of the family as they faced her death. It is currently ABC’s biggest sitcom.

A second reason is the rise of the streaming wars and SVOD (subscription video on demand services). Netflix realized early on that it could attract nostalgic subscribers by restarting shows from other networks. They are said to have paid Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham $ 750,000 per episode to return for a four-part coda to mother / daughter sitcom Gilmore Girls, famous for its incredibly fast-paced dialogue and coffee-addicted child characters. . Likewise, enticing price tags have been attached to Netflix’s covers of Full House and Arrested Development.

The third reason is a seemingly risk-averse television industry – perhaps even more so during the pandemic. But, despite the seemingly low potential for a flop, the history of TV reboots isn’t littered with success stories. Shows such as Heroes Reborn in 2015 (a reboot of the Heroes superhero series) and the revival of Prison Break in 2017 debuted with low audience figures and disappointed reviews. And is anyone talking about the revamped version of Saved By the Bell or the failed Reno 911 and Punk’d versions of YouTube competitor Quibi?

Unprecedented… Roseanne Barr and John Goodman in Roseanne’s short-lived but hugely successful 2018 reboot. Photograph: Adam Rose / AP

An article in the journal Art in America pointed out that the Quibi reboots were “all somewhat mean in their original incarnations” but had been “sterilized beyond recognition”. He saw this as the product of a culture “so obsessed with proving its morality that it searches for any sign of spontaneity, then polishes it until it is gone.” So if reboots are meant to be a safe bet, why are they rarely among the most watched or critically celebrated TVs?

“It’s a financial question,” White says. “An average restart can be better for the bottom line than a new innovation. Streaming services want something shiny that people recognize and that sets them apart from their competition. Traditional networks can offer advertisers something new and recognizable. Everyone on the networks says they want to find the next Fleabag, an original script that rolls out of left field – but two minutes later they ask Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Donald Glover to reboot Mr. and Mrs. Smith. (The 2005 film, which is reworked into a TV series by Amazon, starred Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as two married killers tasked with murder.)

White says that at the end of the day, tying a show to an existing TV brand is often the only way to make it happen. “If anyone has a great new idea for a high school teen show, it might be as good if not better than Saved By the Bell, but that nostalgia factor is a quick and easy way to get in. ”

The future Mr. and Mrs. Smith… Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Donald Glover. Photograph: Frazer Harrison / Bafta LA / Getty Images

Nostalgia also fueled another, even less imaginative, category that emerged during the lockdown, when new content was scarce. Parks and Recreation, The West Wing, and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air all staged “reunion” episodes that were in effect dull re-readings of old episode scripts, Zoom hammy calls, or interviews. lukewarm casting. Meanwhile, the much-publicized reunion of friends was little more than a long trip down memory lane, with unlikely contributions from Justin Bieber. Yet even that seems like a big draw to streamers – HBO Max has been touting it for over a year.

Adesola Thomas is a television critic and screenwriter who has worked for Netflix and the TV development department of independent distributor A24. Earlier this year, she wrote an essay for Paste magazine on whether a Sex and the City reboot could successfully transcend her white feminism. “I don’t think reboots have to be inherently regressive,” she says of Zoom. “But regressivity is sort of a consequence of trying to revive something from a bygone era.

“Hope the Sex and the City reboot is awesome. I’m just wondering what it means to focus our energy on this when, right now, we’re trying to focus less on television about the rich whites and the excesses they are doing. Reboots provide comfort and convenience to viewers in an uncertain world. But escaping to a familiar place can mean updating old stories for a world they weren’t created to anticipate.

“Dark and Dramatic”… The Fresh Prince spin-off, Bel-Air, has been commissioned for two seasons.

She mentions stories that would never air on HBO today, “like the episode where Samantha wants to sleep with a black guy because she thinks he has a big penis.” And I think my generation would look at a character like Big and say, “Oh sure, he’s avoiding, that’s his attachment style. I don’t think there would be the same kind of intrigue about the mess of their relationship. But he was an authentic character in the spirit of the show at the time. How will they translate this identity in 2021? “

Thomas says his generation of young screenwriters are aware that many available writing jobs are now being rebooted and most will be delighted with the work. “High Maintenance, for example, a show that I love from the bottom of my heart. They didn’t bring it back for a fifth season, but if they asked me to be in the writers room, I would absolutely go! Because there are still a lot of stories to tell there. This is my thing with reboots, I don’t think they’re all bad, but we should be critical as to why they’re happening. Who are they for? “

That doesn’t appear to be an issue that showmakers are too worried about, given that the golden age of TV reboots shows no signs of stopping. In addition to Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, next year will see reboots or planned spin-offs of Battlestar Galactica, Criminal Minds, True Blood, Beavis and Butthead, Game of Thrones, a “dark and dramatic take on The fresh prince of Bel-Air ”, and many others. who are they maintain? The answer is not clear, but one thing is certain: if the film industry is something to do, television could restart reboots soon.

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