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TV Remakes: Been There, Seen That — Not That There’s Necessarily Anything Wrong with That
June 4, 2018  | By Alex Strachan  | 1 comment

To hear some people tell it, the upcoming 2018-19 network TV season is the Year of the Remake — and they’re not far wrong. Boldly going where others have gone before are Murphy Brown (CBS), Will & Grace (NBC), Magnum, P.I. (CBS), FBI (CBS, late of ABC’s The F.B.I.) and Charmed (CW, late of The WB), fast on the heels of a 2017-18 season that also gave us new versions of Dynasty (CW, late of ABC), Will & Grace (NBC), Lost in Space (Netflix, late of CBS) and Roseanne (late of ABC, and late twice now).

Not every remake cuts it, of course, despite the obvious advantages as a business model (name recognition, curiosity factor, an already established template that guarantees, in theory anyway, that the producers won’t lose the plot before the second or third episode). Remember Melrose Place? Charlie’s Angels didn’t exactly soar the second time around, and the new Ironside ran off the rails virtually from the moment it came tumbling off the assembly line. The revamped Bionic Woman went dark, even though going darker seemed a good idea at the time. The coolly re-imagined Battlestar Galactica was, after all, on an entirely different plane of existence, quality-wise, from the 1978 original, and lasted four full seasons. A revamped Wonder Woman never made it out of the gate, despite the efforts of TV veteran David E. Kelley — until, of course, The Killing’s Patty Jenkins remade it in her own image for the big screen. A new Dragnet and Prime Suspect failed to stick beyond a couple of abbreviated seasons on ABC and NBC respectively, but new versions of Dallas and 90210 fared somewhat better.

It’s no accident, of course, that CBS has the lion’s share of remakes lined up for the fall 2018 season, as the network’s Hawaii Five-0 (right) and MacGyver have established the template for how to remake an old favorite for a new TV audience without alienating those who liked the original in the first place.

By finessing Hawaii Five-0 and MacGyver onto Friday nights — a problematic night of the week with historically low viewing numbers compared with, say, traditionally high-rated Thursdays — CBS shrewdly hedged its bets. The revamped Hawaii Five-0, unburdened by unrealistic expectations, didn’t have to prove itself opposite, say, The Voice or This Is Us, or even cable’s Walking Dead for that matter.

More goes into a viable remake than when and where it airs, of course. Hawaii Five-0 played on its eye-filling Hawaiian setting and charismatic lead actors to grab the audience’s attention and, more importantly, keep it, just as the new MacGyver (from the same producer) understood that without a compelling leading man who is at least the equal of Richard Dean Anderson in the original, there was no point in even trying.

MacGyver and Hawaii Five-0 producer Peter Lenkov hopes to prove three times lucky with his new Magnum, P.I. To that end, Lenkov and fellow P.I. producer Eric Guggenheim are gambling that Montebello, Calif. native Javier Manuel Hernandez, Jr. — aka Jay Hernandez — is their new Tom Selleck. And while there’s little to suggest that Hernandez’s past work in Nashville, Scandal, and The Expanse puts him in the same league as the Blue Bloods leading man and the original Magnum, only a fool would bet against them.

I’m not fond of Hawaii Five-0 as a rule — either version. I’ve lived on and off on the island of Kauai over the past few years, and I agree with a friend there, a friend who’s more native Hawaiian than haole: that Five-0 depicts the islands as a deceptively easy-on-the-eyes overrun with crime and small-time crooks; we agree that the late, still lamented Lost reflected a more accurate picture of what the islands look like and feel like, even though Lost had nothing to do with Hawaii. But my opinion doesn’t count for much; it’s hard to argue with the numbers. And whatever Hawaii Five-0 is doing, it’s succeeding (18th in the Nielsen weekly charts, with an average 11 million viewers). And while MacGyver (right) isn’t in the same league, it’s doing respectably well (38th in the Nielsens with 8.5 million viewers), especially given everything else a TV viewer could be doing on Friday nights.

“It’s always a tricky thing with a remake, especially when it’s something that’s well-loved,” one-time Doctor Who and Broadchurch leading man David Tennant said recently. “You’re coming to something that has a built-in fascination, but with that comes people ready to feel disgruntled that it’s being remade at all.”

The veteran film critic Leonard Maltin, the man behind Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide — for years the go-to guide for millions of film buffs looking to catch a movie on late-night TV — said remakes appeal to studio bosses because everyone is looking for a sure thing, especially in an uncertain economy when there are no guarantees and a run of bombs can sink an entire studio. A remake is a way of hedging one’s bets, Maltin said. It’s a proven quantity, and quite possibly something you’ve already seen. It’s still no guarantee, but there are fewer unknowns.

As Battlestar Galactica (right) proves — Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica and not Glen A Larson’s Battlestar Galactica — that’s not necessarily a bad thingI’m not sure the new Magnum, P.I. will make me forget the old one, but as Battlestar Galactica showed, it’s worth a try.

“We remake Hamlet all the time,” The Killing leading man — and occasional Vancouver resident — Joel Kinnaman said, not so long ago. “That’s sort of what we do, humans.”

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The big story still remains Roseanne,as stories abound about a Sara Gilbert-centered version that could keep John Goodman & Laurie Metcalf,as well as many of the behind-the scenes-jobs. I don't see it happening without a huge payout for Roseanne Barr,as credited creator:here's a boatload of money for your insane remarks so you shut up and go away. There is something perverted about that.
Jun 4, 2018   |  Reply
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