Lately, television networks have flocked to remakes and reboots as much as the cinema has. Sometimes, it works well; other times, it’s a disaster. What could or should be remade, and how do those projects that deserve to see the light of day proceed?
Crime procedurals are typically easy to redo. There are a million CSIs and NCISs on the air, so it’s clear the genre is still popular, as puzzling as that is to many critics, myself included, who quickly grow bored with formula.
Hawaii Five-0 is entertaining because it’s set in a beautiful locale and has humorous dialogue mixed with big action. Ironside is a flimsy concept whose only real departure from the norm is that the main character is in a wheelchair, not exactly a novel twist. One of these is popular and has run for years, the other is likely to get canceled in the very near future.
NBC wants to bring back Murder, She Wrote, this time starring Octavia Spencer in the role made famous by Angela Lansbury. One one hand, Spencer is a fantastic actress (though so is Blair Underwood on Ironside) and deserves her own TV series. On the other, Lansbury is iconic in the role, still stuck in our minds many years after her cancellation. As good as Spencer is, overcoming the shadow of the great lady that came before her seems a daunting task, and thus I am not optimistic about the show lasting.
Angsty dramas are a mixed bag. Melrose Place showed us how not to do it, and 90210 lasted a few years not because it tapped in to the nostalgia of the previous generation who watched the original, but because it found a new (somewhat limited) audience and didn’t rely too heavily on history. Yet, Dallas has been my favorite in this category, continuing a familiar story, mixing beloved characters with new blood in a way that gives the series new life. The only question is if it can survive without star Larry Hagman, which remains a lingering mystery.
Sci-fi also can work, but rather than continuing, like Dallas does for its drama, the series must reinvent itself. Star Trek: The Next Generation and the other spin-offs built upon the original Star Trek, but also added a lot of new elements, coming into their own. V was interesting, and had it had stronger writing, it could have lasted longer than two years. Battlestar Galactica was fantastic, re-imagining the old version completely, and surpassing its origins.
The real reason I sat down to write this column today, though, is because of the news that the History Channel is redoing Roots. In my opinion, this is a horrible idea.
Roots was an extremely popular miniseries, which won a ton of awards. History, which has only recently entered the scripted fare market, has gotten good attention with its efforts so far. From the standpoint of its brand, I could see why they would pick this property as a contender to continue to build its slate.
However, have you watched the original Roots lately? It still holds up extremely well. And being as widely viewed as it was, and continues to be in high schools across America, it is still relevant in the public conscious. Most of the people tuning in to watch the new version will remember the old, and comparisons will be inevitable. Considering the very high quality standard the original set, this seems like playing with fire.
It’s a big risk, and one I would not recommend making, as much as I think it’s great when television takes risks. It’s like if someone decided to remake the Back to the Future films, or even the Harry Potter movies, in the next few years. It just isn’t a smart idea. The payoff, should it be accomplished successfully, could be pretty good, though it’s unlikely to reach the heights of the earlier broadcast, which aired at a time of much fewer channels and competition. It seems doomed to always be pegged as the lesser edition. And that’s the best case scenario. If it sucks, it could set History back considerably.
So I have a question for you, gentle readers. Actually two. What could History do to make Roots a win in your book, and what shows would you like to see remade?
My answer for the first is to cast LeVar Burton as the older version of Kunta Kinte, which would only be a smart move for Burton is the new project is awesome, but him signing on would automatically give it gravitas and attention. For the second, besides another Star Trek series, I’d like to see a grittier, more realistic, dramatic version of Gilligan’s Island. How about you? Weigh in in the comments below.