TV pilot season in full bloom, and so are TV revivals. Everything from potential updates on crime solvers Magnum, P.I., Cagney & Lacey and Get Christie Love and sitcoms Mad About You and The Office to new versions of The Greatest American Hero, Charmed and Party of Five are in the works. Updated versions of Roseanne and American Idol are launching on ABC in March. Candice Bergen will reprise her multi-Emmy Award winning role as Murphy Brown on CBS. And even Jerry Seinfeld has hinted of a potential re-gathering of the gang of four from that little show about “nothing” (which did appear in a revival, of sorts, on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2009).
The concept of the revival series is nothing new, of course. Countless favorites from yesteryear (including recent new versions of Will & Grace, Dynasty, Star Trek and Twin Peaks) have surfaced. In this age of “Peak TV,” where finding an audience is more of a challenge than ever before, broadcasters are hoping the familiarity of the concept and the characters will stand out. But most revivals do, unfortunately, pale in comparison to the originals. And most—save a handful of entries—tend to fade into TV darkness after the first season.
Since there are exceptions, let me offer my picks for the four best and the four worst TV show revivals in the history of the medium. The eight shows in total are reboots (translation: new versions of past series, with or without the original cast), not spin-offs (such as that disastrous trio of Brady Bunch follow-up series: The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, The Brady Brides and The Bradys. But when we do eventually tackle the crème and crud of the spin-off category, make room for the Bradys!).
Programming Insider Editor in Chief Marc Berman, author of this piece, and PromaxBDA Editorial Director Paige Albiniak chatted about TV reboots and revivals in this episode of the Daily Brief Podcast. Listen to the episode here:
Read on for Marc’s picks:
Dragnet (NBC): 1967-70
Technically, there have been three series revivals to date, plus the 1987 film of the same name with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks for police procedural Dragnet, which was originally featured on NBC from 1951 to 1959 and was based on the popular radio show. The version that ran from 1967-70 starred Jack Webb as straight-laced Sergeant Joe Friday (“Just the facts, ma’am”) and, initially, Barton Yarborough as his sidekick Sgt. Ben Romero.
Two other characters in the initial series ultimately replaced Ben Romero, but it was Harry Morgan (pre-MASH) as Officer Bill Gannon that the baby boomer generation fondly remembers opposite Jack Webb in NBC’s reboot. By sticking to a formula that works, viewers welcomed back Dragnet with open arms.
Although still popular, Webb decided voluntarily to discontinue this first revival of Dragnet after four seasons to focus on producing and directing other projects.
Did You Know?
The most recent series revival of Dragnet was an hour-long version from Dick Wolf on ABC with Ed O’Neill (pre-Modern Family) as Joe Friday. It began in 2003 and changed its name to L.A. Dragnet in the second – and final – season.
Hawaii Five-O (CBS): 2010-present
At 12 seasons, the original version of crime solver Hawaii Five-O was a staple in primetime from 1968 to 1980. Just the thought as someone other than Jack Lord as Detective Captain Steve McGarrett instructing his subordinate to “Book ‘em Danno!” seemed incomprehensible. But, now in season 8, this second version of the picturesque crime solver (starring Alex O’Loughlin and featuring the original theme song), is the ideal ingredient on perennially crime-drenched CBS. While original fans of the series may still miss Jack Lord, there is now only one Steve McGarrett to anyone under age 40, Alex O’Loughlin. And, at this point, this current TV show version of Hawaii Five-O could outlive the parent series.
Did You Know?
Al Harrington, who appeared as Detective Ben Kokua on the original Hawaii Five-O, now has an recurring role as Mamo Kahike on the current series.
One Day at a Time (Netflix): 2017-present
Considered groundbreaking in its initial run, what sets this new version of the classic Norman Lear sitcom apart from the typical array of revivals is the foundation for originality. In its current version, One Day at a Time focuses on a newly single ex-military Latina mom (Justina Machado) raising her teenage daughter (Isabella Gomez) and son (Mercel) with the help of her mother (Rita Moreno) and the building manager (Todd Grinnell). Like the original, this update also tackles serious issues (including racism, sexism, homophobia, immigration and mental illness), mixing these topics with comedic overtones.
Unlike the array of revivals that try to recreate the past, One Day at a Time stands on its own, with a funny and honest portrayal of a Cuban-American family trying to make it in today’s world.
Did You Know?
In a storyline originally planned for the original One Day at a Time, Bonnie Franklin as Ann Romano was going to be attacked by a rapist. But Norman Lear decided to make Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker on All in the Family the unfortunate target to show that rape is a crime of violence against women of all ages.
Will & Grace (NBC): 2017-present
Considering the level of absurdity towards the end of the original Will & Grace, what was once groundbreaking became downright obnoxious. So, you might have assumed revisiting this childish gang of four—Will (Eric McCormack), Grace (Debra Messing), Jack (Sean Hayes) and Karen (Megan Mullally) – would be completely senseless. Now in their 50s (or close to it), each episode of this revival sitcom is chock full of over-the-top nonsense and a continued lack of character development. Yet, 11 years later, and in today’s political climate perhaps, I find myself laughing out loud at the antics of this group. And I bet you do too. Will & Grace remains a great escape each week.
Did You Know?
Shelley Morrison as Karen’s feisty maid Rosario was originally slated for just a one-episode guest spot on the original series. But Morrison, who is also remembered as Sister Sixto on inane 1960s sitcom The Flying Nun, was immediately upgraded to a supporting player. Morrison, who has retired from acting, turned down the opportunity to reprise her Rosario character in the revival.
Charlie’s Angels (ABC): 2011
“This was not Shakespeare,” I remember legendary producer Aaron Spelling telling me about the original Charlie’s Angels on ABC in a conversation we had. “We just wanted to have some fun and offer some escapism.”
That said, Charlie’s Angels from 1977 to 1981, featuring Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith, was the definition of “Jiggle TV” and a massive hit, rising as high as No. 4 overall in the rankings in its first season. After two theatrical movie remakes (in 2002 and 2003, respectively), optimistic ABC decided the fall of 2011 was the time to offer a new TV series version, this time with Annie Ilonzeh, Minka Kelly and Rachael Taylor in the lead roles. Following a barrage a negative reviews (confusing and useless were two common words used) and limited interest by the audience, ABC pulled the plug after just four episodes.
Did You Know?
Robert Wagner was offered the role as the voice of Charlie in this failed remake, but had to exit the project due to scheduling conflicts.
What’s Happening Now!! (syndication, 1985-88)
Let’s face it, the original sitcom, What’s Happening!!, was not exactly brain surgery. Loosely based on 1975 theatrical Cooley High, What’s Happening!! followed the lives of three working-class African-American teenagers (Ernest Thomas as Raj, Haywood Nelson as Dwayne, and Fred Berry as “Rerun”) living in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. In this revival, Raj was married and part owner (with Shirley Hemphill as Shirley) of the local restaurant the gang frequented; Dwayne and “Rerun” were roommates; and Danielle Spencer as Raj’s smart-mouthed younger sister Dee was in college and downgraded to sporadic appearances. In need of some comical sass, Raj and his wife Nadine (Anne-Marie Johnson) became foster parents to a young girl who spit out the endless generic wisecracks.
At a time when syndication was gutted with first-run comedies, What’s Happening Now!! was nothing more than a mindless excuse for a local station to fill a half-hour each weekend. When Fred Berry exited following a contract dispute in the first season, it should have also been curtains for this revival.
Did You Know?
When What’s Happening!! began in 1976, Ernest Thomas and Fred Berry were 27 and 25 years old, respectively, in real life. At age 16, Haywood Nelson was the only true teenager.
Love Boat: The Next Wave (UPN): 1998-99
If you happen to be in my demographic, watching The Love Boat on ABC from 1977 to 1984 meant you were without a date. True confession: I have seen just about every episode! So, imagine my delight to know I could watch the revival of the kitschy Aaron Spelling classic, Love Boat: The Next Wave on UPN in 1998 without any pressure as a married man with kids. It even featured the late Robert Urich in place of Gavin MacLeod as the captain (who I always thought was miscast), and it had an updated opening theme song, set to a reggae beat from the islands the ship toured around. Like the original, a rash of D-list guest stars would enter the ship with a generic problem (or two) that was miraculously solved by the episode end.
What was oddly addictive in the original series, however, translated into an immediate bore in this unnecessary revival. Not even an episode titled “Reunion” featuring original cast members Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Ted Lange, Lauren Tewes and Jill Whelan could keep this Love Boat from sinking.
Did You Know?
In a career spanning four decades, Robert Urich appeared as a regular in 13 primetime scripted series, which is more than any other actor in the history of television. In order of start date: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (ABC, 1973), S.W.A.T. (ABC, 1975-76), Soap (ABC, 1977), Tabitha (ABC, 1977-78), Vega$ (ABC, 1978-81), Gavilan (NBC, 1982-83), Spenser For Hire (ABC, 1985-88), American Dreamer (NBC, 1990-91), Crossroads (ABC, 1992-93), It Had to Be You (CBS, 1993), The Lazarus Man (TNT and syndication, 1995-96), Love Boat: The Next Wave (UPN, 1998-99) and Emeril (NBC, 2001).
The New Odd Couple (ABC): 1982-83, and The Odd Couple (CBS): 2015-17
Considering the failure of The New Odd Couple, featuring Demond Wilson and Ron Glass as Oscar Madison and Felix Unger in the 1982-83 season on ABC, you might have assumed there would be no further attempts to revisit these iconic characters. But along came Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon on CBS in 2015, which did not benefit from the inane jokes, the canned laughter, and what felt just plain stale from the inception. While credit does go to the more recent version for at least producing new scripts (8 of the 18 episodes of the ABC reboot was a retelling of episodes from the 1970s version with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall), the double lesson to learn here is to sometimes just leave well enough alone.
Did You Know?
Jack Klugman is fondly remembered in his two-time Emmy Award winning role as sloppy Oscar Madison in the first sitcom version, which featured Walter Matthau in the Broadway play and movie adaptation. But two actors considered for the role on The Odd Couple prior to Klugman were Mickey Rooney and Martin Balsam. Mickey Rooney also was considered for the part of Archie Bunker on All in the Family.
Honorable Worst Mentions:
Bionic Woman (NBC), Dark Shadows (NBC), Ironside (NBC), Melrose Place (CW), The Munsters Today (syndication), The New Leave it to Beaver (Disney Channel / TBS), The New Gidget (syndication), The New Monkees (syndication), The New WKRP in Cincinnati (syndication), Saved By the Bell: The College Years (NBC)
[Images of One Day At A Time courtesy of Mike Yarish/Netflix]
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