In the age of peak TV, networks are desperate to cut through the marketing clutter, and making something everyone’s already heard of before is the easiest way to do that. However, this trend has so overtaken the past couple of TV development seasons that Chris Carter recently tried to distance himself from it. He’s making a new 6-episode season of The X-Files, but he wishes we’d stop calling it a reboot, telling an audience at the EW Fest, “Reboot sounds cheesy. I don’t like any of those words-reboot, revival, miniseries. I call it ‘programming by feather duster.’ If you’ve liked this before, you’ll like it again.”
Ah, Chris. Don’t be ashamed of what you are, although technically a reboot is usually a completely new start for an old property (like the recent Fantastic Four movie) whereas a revival is something which remains in continuity with its predecessor. Therefore, the new X-Files should be considered a revival. The same generally goes for Minority Report and Limitless.
But that’s semantics. Carter has the essence of it right with, “If you’ve liked this before, you’ll like it again.” It’s easy to be cynical about that, though, for the simple fact that there are just so many dang reboots/revivals in development right now. As THR’s Lesley Goldberg recently summarized in her report about ABC rebooting Fantasy Island, “CBS is rebooting Nancy Drew, MacGyver, Training Day and H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau; Fox is readying Behind Enemy Lines; The CW is prepping The Notebook and Friday the 13th; and studio 20th Century Fox Television is shopping a reboot of The A-Team, while Norman Lear is rebooting One Day at a Time (though there is no network yet attached). Fox also has revivals of The X-Files and Prison Break in the works after recently rebooting 24.” All of that before news broke of Netflix’ potential Gilmore Girls revival.
That’s just in this current development season. Last year we were talking about In the Heat of the Night, a race-swapped Uncle Buck, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Real Geniuses, Rush Hour, Twin Peaks and The Greatest American Hero, to name a few. Some of those are still in development. Some aren’t. Some were picked up but haven’t made it to air yet (e.g., Uncle Buck, Rush Hour, Twin Peaks).
None of these are slam dunks. In this current TV season, Heroes Reborn, Minority Report and The Muppets have all been disappointments. Limitless, on the other hand, is a hit for CBS.
Joe Adalian of Vulture.com looked at all of this on the most recent episode of KCRW’s The Spin-Off and had a refreshingly positive take on it:
I don’t have a problem with this new incarnation of remakes and reboots for television because this is something that’s been done forever in television. During the 80s, there were multiple versions of The Bradys that were revived. Get Smart was revived. Gilligan’s Island had those awful movies. Back then, they were just cheap nostalgia plays, and they weren’t done very well. What’s happening now most of the time, Full House at Netflix being a distinct exception, is that creators are getting a chance to finish the story or re-tell the story. Showtime is doing this with Twin Peaks, of course, because David Lynch has more to say.
The same goes for Gilmore Girls. Amy Sherman Palladino and Lauren Graham have repeatedly expressed regret that the show never went out with as much closure as they would have liked, mostly because the final season was made without Palladino. Now, she can finish the story on her terms.
And why not? Television is not the movies. When movies reboot and remake it’s usually a complete cash grab. It’s all about, “This is a franchise. This will get butts in seats. This can cut through the marketing clutter.” That’s partially what’s at play when it happens in TV, but TV is a continuing story. These are characters that have continued and live and haven’t all died. Why not revisit them 20 years later? Why not go back and re-open The X-Files? To me, it seems fundamental. Television is about creating shows with characters with which we form a relationship, and you don’t just say goodbye to your family after 8 years, “Sorry, son, you’ve been canceled.” As long as it’s done right, I don’t have a problem with it.
Sometimes a TV reboot/revival is a blatant marketing hook. Other times it’s the result of someone thinking there was legitimately more story to be told. That hasn’t worked out so well for Heroes Reborn so far and definitely divided fans with the Netflix Arrested Development, but it’s turned Girl Meets World into a powerhouse performer for Disney and could give X-Files, Gilmore Girls and Twin Peaks the good endings they always deserved.