TV networks reinvent, reinterpret old shows

What next? A remake of the '60s sitcom My Mother the Car? (A driver hearing advice from his mom- reincarnated-as-wheels wouldn't seem so weird now. Cars already talk to us.)

Maybe TV will take another crack at that '90s musical drama bomb Cop Rock. (Call it Cop Hip-Hop. Gotta stay on top of trends.)

Finished TV series don't necessarily fade away anymore. More and more get reboot revivals. Sci Fi channel hit the jackpot with its more adult "reimagining" of the 1970s space fave Battlestar Galactica. Then NBC bombed out redoing same-era actioners Bionic Woman and Knight Rider. This year, TV's "creative" execs are fishing deeper into the dead-shows barrel.

Cupid re-emerges on ABC on Tuesday. Bobby Cannavale stars as the matchmaking love god/nutjob, played by Jeremy Piven on the same network for 15 episodes in 1998-99.

Parenthood is being developed into a series, again, by NBC, again. Twelve episodes ran in 1990 as a single-camera comedy with Ed Begley Jr. as a hapless modern dad.

V has been ordered to pilot by ABC. It's reworking NBC's 1984 sci-fi series about alien invaders and the human resistance, this time starring Scott Wolf and Morena Baccarin.

The Prisoner returns this summer on AMC. James Caviezel becomes the nameless Number 6 — played by Patrick McGoohan in the '60s classic about a former spy detained in an idyllic "village" prison by devious secrets — seeking Number 2 (now Ian McKellen).

TV series remakes are nothing new. But the current craze is more profuse, and it plumbs a different well. Instead of reusing iconic hits, beloved characters or anthology brand names, these reboots find inspiration in lesser-known shows that to most viewers should seem entirely new.

In the strangest twist, the original creator of Cupid is doing the remake, too. Rob Thomas — who in the meantime hit the big time with cult obsession Veronica Mars — couldn't have been more pumped at last summer's press tour. "I loved writing the show 10 years ago. It's that thing you get yanked away from you," he told TV critics, "and I feel like I've got more stories to tell." Lucky for him, ABC felt the same way.

"We really liked that show," said ABC programmer Steve McPherson, who wasn't at the network when 1998's Cupid was scheduled in the little-viewed 10 p.m. Saturday time slot. Despite TV critics' enthusiasm, audiences failed to find this romance-of-the-week saga driven by an apparently troubled young man who insists he actually is Cupid and the young female psychiatrist who wonders whether her engaging patient is being truthful about being the god of love. When Thomas pitched similar concepts to today's ABC execs, they suggested he simply take another shot at his idiosyncratic original.

With a few changes, of course. "I think it had a very specific angle on the casting," McPherson said at the press tour. "We just felt like, rather than try to fabricate something new on that," Thomas might want to reframe the same characters. And so quirky Sarah Paulson (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) joins romantic favorite Cannavale (Third Watch, Will & Grace), inhabiting the roles created by offbeat dynamo Piven and harder-edged TV mainstay Paula Marshall (Gary Unmarried).

The Prisoner ran only 17 episodes when CBS imported it from the United Kingdom in 1968, but that was all McGoohan intended. The creator-performer wrapped up his enigmatic tale with a hallucinatory finale. That and McGoohan's recent death seem to leave the remakers of AMC's summer series plenty of room to maneuver, even as their work stokes debate among the '60s version's devotees.

"We're all total huge fans of the original," producer Trevor Hopkins said at the press tour, "but we realized very early on that what we couldn't do was copy it. What Bill Gallagher wanted to do was reinterpret it." But still, said director Nick Hurran, "there's the Village, an ideal world where everything will be provided for you — as long as you don't ask questions."

The new Prisoner does reflect a more global society. The British production crew cast Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) as an American protagonist, and the Village locale is meant to be less specific. (Locations were used in Namibia and South Africa.)

But its meanings might be more explicit. McKellen, the new Number 2, told critics that, by the end of the six-episode season, "you know everything about the Village — where it came from, where it's going to, who created it, why they did it, and what it's like to actually live there."

McKellen respects the original Prisoner, he says, "with a lot of affection. But this, what we've done, is its own thing."