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Whether it was the success of the Marvel comics film franchise, or just a desire by viewers for the comfort of old friends, there has never been a time in television when more programming was devoted to the reimagined and reinvented versions of classic shows from the past.
Insider reported this winter that there were no fewer than 31 shows under development as what networks call reboots. Whether it’s a new entry from a franchise player like this year’s Star Trek: Picard or Disney+’s forthcoming Lizzie McGuire (featuring a 30-something Hillary Duff living in New York City), the demand for content has brought a ton of familiar faces back to the small screen.
But even that sense of seeing an old familiar friend doesn’t guarantee success. Does anyone remember the 1995 iteration of Get Smart, which returned Maxwell Smart and 99 to their spy days and featured Andy Dick as their bumbling son? And last year’s return of Murphy Brown after a two-decade absence managed just a short 13-episode run before CBS pulled the plug.
But when reboots work, they bring a hugely devoted audience just as fiercely devoted as fans of the original. Here then, five of the most influential reboots of recent times.
With a new fab five, and a March 2020 renewal for a sixth season to be shot in Austin, TX, Netflix’s Queer Eye focuses on positive storytelling, with each episode featuring not a makeover but what the show calls a “make better,” featuring a “Fab Five” revamping a person’s fashion, grooming, entertaining, culture and living space.
The show’s runaway success was Netflix’s first foray into unscripted television, and has inspired the streamer to expand its reality-based programming. Its run included a four-episode special arc shot on location in Japan. But the formula—each week, the team visits a person whose physical transformation is often accompanied by an emotional one. It’s not uncommon for episodes to provoke a lot of tears, from both the cast, the person receiving the “make better”, and the audience.
The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone is one of the few television series in history to appear in multiple incarnations. Following the 1964 cancellation of the original series, its creative leader, the legendary Rod Serling, sold the rights to the show to CBS Television. A late 1980s reboot, featuring theme music and the occasional score from the Grateful Dead, lasted just three seasons; a 2002 iteration—despite a huge list of well-known guest stars—lasted just one season on UPN.
The current version, driven by a creative team led by executive producer Jordan Peele, builds on Serling’s legacy. The BBC called Peele, famous for thought-provoking films that blend horror with social commentary, the perfect caretaker for Serling’s legacy. Peele appears in each episode as the narrator as well, an obvious nod to the influence of Serling on his own work.
While many shows try not to stray too far from their predecessors, the 2004 version of Battlestar Galactica was one of the first reboots to take the framework of the original series in a completely different direction.
Appearing in the United States a little over three years after 9/11, the new series had a contemporary feel and abandoned much of the faux mythology of Glen A. Larson’s original ABC series of the 1970s. The contemporary Battlestar was darker, more character driven, and featured a writing staff led by Star Trek veteran Ronald Moore; the result was Hugo and Peabody Award winning episodes, and an Emmy nomination for outstanding writing, a rarity for a science fiction series.
The four seasons of the show, with a cast led by Academy Award-nominated actor Edward James Olmos, are available to stream for free on https://www.syfy.com/battlestargalactica.
It’s hard to talk about successful reboots without starting with television producer Peter Lenkov. Lenkov, who also shepherds the contemporary versions of Magnum PI and MacGyver, is the visionary behind Hawaii Five-0. This month, after ten seasons and 240 episodes, viewers will say goodbye to the police procedural, making it one of the longest running and most successful reboots in the history of series television.
From the moment of its 2010 premiere, Five-0 was both new and familiar. There may be no more recognizable television theme song than the pounding surf drum and brass intro to the original Hawaii Five-0, a cross between ‘60s surf music like the Ventures and more orchestral sounds. The reboot used an updated version of the same theme song, reimagined many of the original characters, and even featured a cameo by the Mercury once driven by original Five-0 actor Jack Lord.
While the police procedural draws heavily on showrunner Peter Lenkov’s fondness for fast-paced action, what sets the reimagined Five-0 apart is the family vibe of its cast. Australian actor Alex O’Loughlin stars as Steve McGarrett, a former Navy officer recruited by the Governor of Hawaii to head an elite, no-rules police task force dedicated to stomping out organized crime in the islands. O’Loughlin’s McGarrett, however, is both written and portrayed with the kind of depth usually found in feature films; he’s driven by a sense of loyalty and the cast, including Scott Caan as Danny and veteran TV actor Chi McBride, radiates the kind of chemistry that is the hallmark of all of Lenkov’s 101st Street Productions shows.
One Day at a Time
Maybe the most surprising entry on the list is Norman Lear’s One Day at a Time. Relaunched by the venerable (and venerated) TV producer in 2017, the show lasted three seasons on Netflix, driven by a powerful cast that included the legendary Rita Moreno. But when Netflix announced its cancellation in 2019, the uproar from grassroots fans was strong enough that Pop TV moved in to acquire new episodes, which began airing just last month.
Created and written in part by Lear, the guiding hand behind legendary shows like All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Maude, the original series, which ran on CBS from 1975 to 1984, focused on a divorced woman raising two headstrong teenage daughters in an Indianapolis apartment.
The new iteration stars Justina Machado as a Cuban-American Army veteran raising her children in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park. One Day manages an artful blend of comedy and drama, touching on such front-page issues as post-traumatic stress, mental illness, immigration, homophobia, sexism and racism. But the real star of the show is Moreno, in her role as Machado’s mother.
At age 88, she still has the verve of the younger dancer-actress who had star turns in The King and I and West Side Story. Moreno is one of only two women to win an Emmy, Oscar and Tony Award for acting, and it is her deft touch as an actress, especially in scenes with Machado, that provides both the show’s dramatic and comedic spines.
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