On Monday, the broadcast networks will announce their schedules for next season and, in the process, prove that they're running out of ideas and will have to learn the hard way about history.
That's because mixed in with all the cop and doctor dramas and formulaic sitcom conceits, the industry is re- embracing this notion of "re-imagining" old series. Or as you might remember the concept: remakes.
The term "remakes" sounds like you're out of ideas, while "re-imagining" sounds like you're pumping creative new life into a time-honored brand that will stick out from the crowd and allow your promotions people a way to "incentivize" a confused public to tune in.
This is America and we shouldn't mock people who are able to sell their bosses a bill of fraudulent goods and retain their jobs while those very bosses earn "management by objective" bonus points for keeping the lid on costly new ideas that may not work.
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But honestly, a remake of The Rockford Files? Does no one at NBC understand the concept of cool? You can't copy the cool of James Garner. And certainly not with Dermot Mulroney.
But proving, as only NBC can, that it doesn't cringe from the potential for embarrassing failure, the network is also going to remake one of television's greatest dramas and, arguably the best female character invented, in Prime Suspect. That shudder you hear comes collectively from savvy viewers across the country. The shriek comes from Helen Mirren, who made Jane Tennison such a richly nuanced and powerful character. And you thought Mulroney had it hard. (Nobody has been cast as Tennison yet. NBC pushed Prime Suspect until June. Hopefully some time in the sun will make them reconsider.)
Slightly more plausible is CBS's remake of Hawaii Five-O, simply because there was a lot more cheese to that one. Fun cheese, sure, but Jack Lord's hipness always came with a wink while Garner's cool was legit. And CBS owns the manufacturing plant that produces television's best procedurals (though it did botch The Fugitive, which is something to worry about. On the other hand, it wisely gave up on trying to remake The Streets of San Francisco a few years ago).
Of lesser concern is ABC's idea of remaking Charlie's Angels. The only question there is why? Is this some kind of post-ironic notion?
The CW, which already remade Beverly Hills 90210 (now just 90210) and Melrose Place, certainly has no qualms about, ahem, "re-imagining" something else. And it will remake La Femme Nikita (dropping the "La Femme" part because it takes too long for its hyper-young audience to text, one would assume). Now that's a series that can be redone, but judging from the CW's efforts so far in this arena, it won't be something to tweet about.
TNT was rumored to be remaking Dallas, which would cut significantly into its newfound credibility, but luckily news of this bad idea has been hard to come by in 2010.
It's too late for pretty much all the other players to rethink their plans, unfortunately. But you wonder about a cluster of short-term memory problems that seems to be plaguing Southern California. NBC already remade The Bionic Woman and Knight Rider, so you'd think the scars would be a fresh reminder. Not to mention Kath & Kim and Coupling, among others. The network did re-up Parenthood, but that was a movie first. And it did find success with The Office, proving miracles will keep programmers coming back to bad ideas like dreamers to lottery scratchers.
ABC might be thinking twice about green-lighting Charlie's Angels because V hasn't destroyed the Nielsens, movie-turned-TV series Eastwick (from The Witches of Eastwick) was ill-advised and lousy, redoing Cupid was a noble experiment in people not caring and then there's Life on Mars which is better left unmentioned (along with L.A. Dragnet).
If you're keeping track at home, The Rockford Files should be a definite no; Prime Suspect should be an oh-dear-God-no; Hawaii Five-O is a maybe; Charlie's Angels is a why bother; La Femme Nikita is a wish-someone-else-was-trying-this; and everything else is a murky why bother.
We'll find out next week what flies. But perhaps the networks should try to "re-imagine" this: Being original.