Too Many Revivals May Spell Trouble for TV and Film
The voracious need to populate the schedules of hundreds of cable channels, streaming video services, and the silver screen has come to mean that nostalgia is being strip-mined in an effort to create enough familiar properties to attract people’s attention.
Over the last few months we’ve been told that revivals of Star Trek, the Six Million Dollar Man, Baywatch, Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, the Greatest American Heroes, Xena, and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Each is destined for a new home.
Beyond that, we have films being remade or film franchises getting rebooted with increasing speed, the fastest may have been Spider-Man and is already being given a second makeover. Do we really need a new iteration of Point Break?
On the one hand, the familiar means marketing gets easier and audiences may be tempted to buy a ticket, adding a streaming service, or sit through the advertisements. On the other hand, it crowds out original works, leaving a smaller inventory of properties to be remade in the future.
I was thinking about this for a while, shuddering with each announcement when I came across a warning from CLSA analyst Vasily Karasyov, who said, “The nature of any IP re-exploitation cycle (be it DVD, CDs, iTunes or superheroes) is such that despite how long it lasts, it ultimately fades.” His report suggests that 16 of 2015’s top grossing films will be drawn from pre-existing properties, just one shy of 2011’s record.
Hollywood is still smarting over the failure of Entourage. The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Jem and the Holograms, this year.
Karasyov ‘s sobering report focuses on Disney which is banking on sustained popularity for Marvel’s heroes, Pixar’s children’s characters, and Lucasfilm’s galaxy far, far away. Of course they are also churning out live-action versions of their animated classics atop these.
Now, I admit to feeling a thrill when something special to me gets announced, such as Gilmore, but one reason I think it’ll work is that it features the series creator and original cast. Jem on the other hand, seems entirely wrongheaded given how little the film used the source material. This was a lesson I thought Hollywood had learned back a decade or more ago. Apparently not.
Every now and then a studio protects its intellectual property, realizing it cannot or should not be updated, remade, or gain another installment. Universal was the latest, claiming they will never remake Back to the Future.
On television, producers should be encouraged to find new themes, topics, and characters to explore. Obviously, there’s a place for revivals but they need to special and more often than not, limited in duration so they do not wear out their welcome. The messy Heroes Reborn is capped at 13 episodes and The X-Files a six-episode event so these should be the model, as both use the original cast and the revivals are therefore more welcome.
Movies have to recognize that despite familiarity there has to be plausible storytelling. The fourth and fifth Die Hard films were hard to take and I am glad to hear they’re looking at a prequel to extend the franchise because that’s more fertile ground. On the flipside, this season’s Creed wisely moves ahead and we see Rocky Balboa training his rival’s son; again, new territory to tread.
Better yet, take a page from Sylvester Stallone who went out to write Rocky when he couldn’t find work as an actor. It had a fresh story, and more important, it had heart and soul.
We need a lot more of that.