Like Donald Trump, old TV shows are not going away; they’re teasing a big comeback success. What could possibly go wrong?
The other day it emerged that Paramount+, the renamed streaming service that was CBS All Access and is available in Canada, has persuaded Kelsey Grammer to return as Dr. Frasier Crane in a Frasier revival. It is reported that David Hyde Pierce is “in talks” about returning as his brother, Dr. Niles Crane. Jane Leeves, who played Daphne, says she’s sticking with her current gig on Fox’s The Resident. And it should be noted that the other key Frasier character, dad Martin Crane, is not returning, certainly not as he was portrayed in the original, because actor John Mahoney died in 2018.
The Frasier news is part of a whirlwind of announcements about revivals. HBO Max announced that Sex and the City will be revived, the new version called And Just Like ..., starring Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis and Sarah Jessica Parker, but not Kim Cattrall as Samantha. Paramount+ is also talking about possibly rebooting police procedural Criminal Minds and having a prequel to its series Yellowstone on the service.
Before you start muttering about boomers wanting to constantly relive landmark experiences in their lives, remember that this is all about business. It’s nothing personal. Nobody’s doing surveys of the middle-aged asking what TV shows they want to see revived. It’s about money, not your moony nostalgia.
See, Paramount owns the rights to Frasier and retooling what you already own is cheaper than investing in new, untested material. Criminal Minds was on CBS and ViacomCBS owns Paramount+. The company is loath to spend on new items, just as you are sometimes. Like when you drag the old lawn mower out of the garden shed rather than buy a new one. If you’re nostalgic for Sex and the City, you’ll remember it was a key show in establishing HBO as a premium-quality channel. HBO Max is just the streaming version of HBO, owner of the first version. It is being dug out of that place old stuff you might need again is kept.
Much of the media excitement about reboots is, of course, mere froth. Streaming services announcing possible revivals is an attention-seeking act. The act draws attention to a service that is trying to create a presence in a crowded field.
There is also the inescapable fact that many reboots are failures or merely short-term successes. Nobody remembers the revived Will & Grace with the affection they held for the original series. The reboot was, reportedly, plagued with friction between cast members. It’s a fact of life that sometimes you leave jobs and people behind and reviving the personal chemistry is impossible.
Another issue is the resistance of younger viewers to older shows and the contempt that younger creators have for the canon of great TV being set in stone by an older generation. Just as every generation of artists has its problems with the content of museums and galleries, a new generation of television creators instinctively rejects an imposed catalogue of greatness and excellence.
Then there is viewer’s remorse. Drawn by the allure of revisiting the good times and maybe finding the pleasure of familiar characters, viewers sometimes back away, realizing that the new version just can’t replicate the original. Doleful reminiscing is for tired old codgers and few people want to be tired old codgers before it’s absolutely necessary. Does anyone even remember the Murphy Brown reboot with anything but horror?
All that said, one of the new batch of reboots might work, by necessity, That’s Dexter, which is returning to Showtime later this year for an eight-episode run. Michael C. Hall returns as the strange but lovable title figure, a serial killer who only targets other murderers. Clyde Phillips, who was the showrunner on the original, also returns. A revived Dexter might succeed because it is presented as a second attempt at a final batch of episodes. The original series had a deeply unsatisfying, strangely limp ending, with Dexter working as a lumberjack, far from his Florida stomping grounds. You can see the need to try to finish it with more aplomb.
As for Frasier, one almost dreads it. The original won 37 Emmy Awards and a Peabody. Attempting to reach that level of excellence looks impossibly hard. Lacking core cast members, what could possibly go wrong?
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