Recently, I watched an extended trailer for the rebooted version of Dynasty, which is coming this fall to The CW. Enjoyed it too. I was thinking that personally and professionally, I'd watch that. It's camp, outrageous and it seems there's a sharp satirical edge to its treatment of two Trump-like families.
It has become glaringly obvious that mainstream TV is awash in reboots, remakes and revivals. The reasons for this trend are many and complex. It's not that everybody in the TV racket has run out of ideas. There is a lot of new and original TV being made. One reason is simply business – in a time of so much TV, a familiar title and concept will get more attention than an entirely new story.
Another is the complicated social-media environment we live in today. People love to talk about TV and they do it online. The reason why Netflix saw fit to revive Gilmore Girls is because of online chatter, not because the show was sorely missed when first cancelled. Anyone who has covered TV for more than five years knows that Gilmore Girls was never a hit show. It went from minor cult show to pop-culture phenomenon because interest in it was nurtured for years by a small fan base spreading the word online.
See, the main reason for the onslaught of remakes and reboots is this – people like it. We all like to feel part of a community of like-minded people and the revival of an old series instantly creates an online commonwealth of nostalgia, speculation and debate. A revival has built-in promotion.
Me, I can barely remember watching Dynasty in its original form. It ran from 1981-89, and was ABC's response to the huge CBS hit Dallas. It was the No. 1 most-watched show in America in 1985. The only aspect of it that registered with me, from seeing it once or twice, was Joan Collins doing her trademark ostentatious chewing of the scenery.
But I can understand the impetus behind the revival. Far as I know, a reboot was in development for some time and was put on the fast track after Donald Trump's election victory. Probably because the template of the old Dynasty plot is an excellent way into the public's fascination with the current crop of superrich families running the country, and one family in particular. The new Dynasty looks cheeky and scurrilous – much of it seems to be about the dynamic between the new, younger wife to a billionaire and his existing children. They see a gold digger. Meanwhile, in a Downton Abbey-type twist, the younger daughter of daddy billionaire is having a passionate fling with the chauffeur.
Much the same thinking applies to the upcoming version of Will & Grace, coming to NBC this fall. (We'll all find out who will carry these shows in Canada when Canadian TV executives write the cheques to buy them.) It's a 12-episode event, not a full-blown revival, and it has the original cast of Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally reprising their roles as Will, Grace, Jack and Karen. If you need reminding, the original featured two gay men. Will (McCormack) is gay, a corporate lawyer, obsessively precise and neurotic about cleanliness. His best gay friend is Jack (Hayes), who's far more flamboyant and camp.
Given the shift in public attitudes to the gay community since Will & Grace first aired, there is ample opportunity to use the show to explore that shift. It's promised right there in NBC's promotional announcement: "That's right, honey! A decade after their unforgettable eight-season run, comedy's most fabulous foursome is back, in this exclusive 12-episode event. There's no doubt that with this crew's indelible bond and all the happenings in today's roller-coaster world, the banter will be on point."
Perhaps there is a similar motivation behind ABC's revival of Roseanne. (It will get eight episodes and will reunite the original cast of Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalf.) That is, take the blue-collar Conner family and have them deal with the reality of now. There is also the possibility that mainstream American TV is simply trying to reach Trump voters and supporters. As a story in the Hollywood Reporter pronounced, "The pickup comes as networks, including ABC, have worked hard to better appeal to working-class middle America in the wake of Donald Trump's stunning defeat over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election."
Obviously multiple motivations are at work. The revival of Twin Peaks is not driven by the same engine that drives the return of Star Trek or the reboot of The X-Files or the prequel to Big Bang Theory or the return of American Idol. What's behind everything is this one thing – the public appetite for it. We like it.