In olden days, you had to turn on TV Land or find a local channel to see your favorite antique series in syndication: “Roseanne,” “Murphy Brown,” “Magnum P.I.,” even “Will & Grace.”
Ambitious writers such as Steven Bochco, Tom Fontana, David E. Kelley, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and John Wells were still at their creative peak, filling prime-time lineups with versatile shows. But now things are different. Most of the hitmakers have left for Netflix and the old shows we used to watch occasionally are now the new shows.
TV has either turned into its own museum — or we are in the middle of a very long episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
This week the broadcast networks announced their fall schedules, designed to keep advertiser dollars pouring in, even while viewers continue to flee to the greener pastures of streaming services. The sense of deja vu one experiences while looking at the lineups is intentional. TV is going backwards, literally and creatively. Last year, the reboot of “Will & Grace” cheered up liberals demoralized by the Trump election. The ensuing social media orgasm prompted NBC to renew the series for a second season before the first even premiered. So what do the suits do? They go even further back in time, 30 years ago to 1988, and revive Dan Quayle’s favorite sitcom, “Murphy Brown”!
Talk about “Antiques Roadshow.” The original cast was depressingly available.
TV is going backwards, literally and creatively.
Two years ago, CBS launched a reboot of “MacGyver” that angered critics but maintained enough of an audience to make execs wonder, “What other cherished, retro he-man show can we totally ruin with a shiny new cast?” And by gum, they came up with “Magnum P.I.,” which premiered in 1980 with Tom Selleck, so identified with the role that any recast seemed sacrilegious. CBS pulled a fast one here. To atone for its appalling lack of diversity, it gave the iconic role to Jay Hernandez, an American actor of Mexican descent. Hope he’s wearing his armor because Selleck fans will be gunning for him.
This spring, ABC pulled off the magic trick of the year, reviving another vintage hit, “Roseanne,” which drew over 20 million viewers to its premiere. Thunderstruck that people in the flyover states like watching shows with characters they can relate to, the suits wondered: “What other conservative comedian with a TV track record can we save from doing reverse mortgage commercials?” Ladies and gentleman, we give you Tim Allen, whose stale, man-in-a-woman’s-world comedy “Last Man Standing” was canned by ABC only a year ago.
Don’t we get a break from the conveyor belt of repackaged shows and people whose sell-by date has passed? The answer, of course, is no. Brace yourself for another round of Nathan Fillion, Scott Foley and even Mark-Paul Gosselaar (whose last show, Fox’s “Pitch,” bombed) starring in new ventures where they will likely be as bland as the products sold during commercial breaks.
Not all the news out of Hollywood is discouraging. It’s encouraging to see actors who were lower on the call sheet, like Ryan Eggold (“The Blacklist”), move up to first position with NBC’s medical drama “New Amsterdam.” And it’s rewarding to see the networks taking diversity marching orders seriously, with lead roles going to Cedric the Entertainer, Damon Wayans Jr. and Russell Hornsby, among others. It’s also nice to see Robin Tunney back; she’ll star as an LA DA in ABC’s “The Fix.”
But do we need a remake of “Lost,” aka NBC’s “Manifest,” or “Medium,” which is what you might as well call NBC’s “The InBetween”? Or a “Big Chill” remake, which could be ABC’s “A Million Little Things”?
In the TV museum, everything old is new again.
And that’s too bad.
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