TV News

“Getting a Chance to Finish the Story”: In Defense of TV Reboots/Revivals

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. MoreauFox 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 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.

Source: KCRW


  1. I think most shows are not really made for a reboot, because they came to a particular time and wouldn’t really work in our current world – either that or the show really hinged on the actors. This in mind there are exactly two shows I really want to see one day:
    Leverage International:
    Now, I know the show isn’t off the air for long, but I really want to see this. I might want a new spin on this, though. For example, the audience watches a heist to unfold every week, but from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know who are the ones which are supposed to be tricked and which ones are the tricksters (perhaps with one or two exceptions).

    But the show I really have on top of my lists of “I want this!!!!” is “The Sentinel”. This was a show which was on air way before it time, and would be very suited to a serial approach. And with the current craze for Superheroes, well, it is a really nifty concept. You can even say that the first show is still canon, and spin the story even further.

  2. “These are characters that have continued and live and haven’t all died.”

    This is a great point. I agree with swanpride above that many TV shows are part of their time — but if the show grows with the times, then I say go for it. Changing formats slightly, as Arrested did with its rotation through characters and as Gilmore Girls is rumored to be planning with seasonal episodes, also seems like a way to stake out new formal territory while retaining whatever it is about the original that still works. Anyway, great post!

    1. The challenge with charting new formal territory, though, is that while it promises to give audiences something slightly new those audiences might just want more of the same. Arrested Development tried that very experimental season format, tailored to the streaming experience (and unruly actor availability), and the result was an insanely divisive batch of new episodes, one which demanded patience in ways the show never used to. Now, Gilmore Girls, a TV series, is going to make 4 TV movies. That is often the solution to the challenge of working around actor’s schedules when reviving a show, but it is a fundamental change in format, regardless of how easy it might seem to simply assume, “Well, they’ve probably done two-part episodes before, right? They’ll just do that again for the movie.”

      That all being said, I’m a big fan of the new Arrested Development, and I think that Amy Sherman Palladino knows exactly what she’s doing and the Gilmore Girls movies will probably be great and take full dramatic advantage of its unique story structure. Like you said, they’ll “retain whatever it is about the original that still works” just as I’m sure the new X-Files will be modernized yet still recognizably X-Files (e.g., I doubt there’ll be as much incidental music simply because almost no TV shows have that literally constant underscore of music anymore).

      1. “while it promises to give audiences something slightly new those audiences might just want more of the same. ” Yes, this! I have to admit I’m one of those — if it doesn’t feel exactly like vintage Gilmore Girls I will be disappointed in my heart of hearts. But I do trust Amy Sherman-Palladino and I am excited to see what new things she mixes with the old. 🙂

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