Let’s face it. Original TV content these days is not all that original. Rarely a day passes where news of a new revival or reboot does not surface. (Last week: thirtysomething. Today: Punky Brewster.)
Sometimes it works. Think The Conners on ABC, which itself is a continuation of the first revival season of Roseanne. And then there is Hawaii Five-O (now in season 10) and MacGyver on CBS; and Fuller House and Queer Eye on Netflix.
More often than not, however, you have to wonder why there is a need for rumored upcoming new versions of comedies Bewitched, Alf, Designing Women, Sister, Sister and The Jetsons (the latter in a live action form), and dramas like Northern Exposure and Nash Bridges. A new Sister, Sister I can see; today’s youth will probably still enjoy that bubblegum type of humor. But the others I am just not sure about.
This week, my goal is to focus on what series I think should make a comeback and which should absolutely not. On an optimistic note, let’s start with those shows that I think could return.
1. Family Matters (ABC: 1989-97; CBS: 1997-98)
If the Tanners on Full House and can morph into Fuller House (not to mention Boy Meets World into Girl Meets World), why shouldn’t there be interest in a new version of that other long-running ABC TGIF comedy of that era, Family Matters?
Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams) could be married to Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), and could spawn a little Uber-geek of their own, Steve Jr. I can just picture Steve Jr.’s interaction with grandparents Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) and Harriette (Jo Marie Payton). Richie (Bryton James, the then-young son of Rachel (Telma Hopkins), is now an adult hunk with a family of his own. And Steve Jr.’s Uncle Eddie (Darius McCrary) is back too.
Interesting fact: When Family Matters began, the Winslows had three children — Eddie, Laura and Judy (Jaimee Foxworth). After four seasons, youngest child Judy disappeared without a word of mention and remains a part of the “Chuck Cunningham” missing TV show children club.
2. Frasier (NBC: 1993-2004)
Rumors of a reboot of Emmy darling Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammer, have been circulating for the last few years. Recently, Grammer fueled the speculation, citing in an interview, “We’ve got it hatched. We’ve hatched the plan, what we think is the right way to go. We’re sort of on standby a little bit. Working out a couple of possible network deals that we’re circling. Frasier is sort of in a second position to that at this point. So, there’s still stuff going on. But a revisit to Frasier’s world is I think definitely going to come.”
Grammer has not divulged specifics of the rebooted plot, only saying his character would be looking for love in a new city. Nor is there any confirmation on who might be returning. John Mahoney, who played the Crane patriarch, Martin, passed away in 2018. But there was more to Frasier than Grammer — David Hyde Pierce (Niles), Jane Leeves (Daphne) and Peri Gilpin (Roz), to be exact. And a revisit with the beloved character, which Grammer played for 20 years (9 on parent series Cheers and 11 on Frasier), sounds like a potential winner.
Interesting fact: Kelsey Grammer made four trips to the Emmy podium as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Frasier. In 1992, one year before Frasier began, he was nominated as Frasier Crane in the same category, but for a guest appearance on NBC sitcom Wings. He lost to Coach star Craig T. Nelson.
3. The Wonder Years (ABC: 1988-1993)
In the final episode of comedy The Wonder Years, we learn that Kevin (Fred Savage) is married with an eight-month-old son. But, alas, it is not to beloved Winnie (Danica McKellar). Kevin’s father (Dan Lauria) has passed away, his mother (Alley Mills) is now a businesswoman, his brother Wayne (Jason Hervey) has taken over their father’s furniture business, sister Karen (Olivia D’Abo) gives birth to a son, and Paul (Josh Saviano) studies law at Harvard. It was a satisfying ending to this Emmy Award winning series, but 26 years later I personally want to know where these characters are now.
Interesting fact: The Sopranos creator David Chase was in contention to join The Wonders Years as a writer in a later season. ABC wanted to make the show edgier as Kevin matured, and Chase wrote a script where Kevin reads “Catcher in the Rye” and begins drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. But the script was rejected and Chase was never hired.
4. Married With Children (Fox: 1987-97)
At the time, the fledgling Fox network was in search of its own identity, and this comical suburban Chicago-set tale of the Bundy clan — Al (Ed O’Neill), a high school football star turned sluggish women’s shoe salesman; lazy wife Peggy (Katey Sagal); dumb and popular daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate); and perpetually horny son Bud (David Faustino) — was unlike any other sitcom ever seen before.
Now, with Ed O’Neill about to wrap up 11 seasons on Modern Family (and former TV wife Katey Sagal only an occasional guest star on The Conners), I can see the pair return, now as grandparents, to Kelly and Bud’s kids in the retitled Married With Grandchildren.
While the more generic Fox of today is not necessarily a contender, I can envision this on a streamer, or perhaps on one of the other broadcasters, like NBC, which is in dire need of a breakout hit comedy.
Interesting fact: Terry Rakolta of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, led a boycott of the show at its inception due to content she did not deem appropriate on network television. Rakolta began a letter-writing campaign to advertisers, demanding they boycott the show. But the end result was significantly more attention to the series, which resulted in an 11-season run. “We used to send Terry Rakolta flowers at the beginning of each season as a gesture of thanks,” Ed O’Neill once said. “What she set out to do against the show ultimately gave us a huge boost.”
5. The White Shadow (CBS: 1978-81)
Set at the fictional Carver High School in Los Angeles, The White Shadow, from Bruce Paltrow and starring Ken Howard, was touted for tacking the real issues his students faced. While never a so-called hit by the traditional Nielsen ratings at the time, The White Shadow, nonetheless, is cited for paving the way for realistic dramas like Hill Street Blues and My So-Called Life. And a streamer like Netflix would be the ideal platform to tackle a series showcasing a diversified array of high school students and the issues these teenagers tackle at present.
Interesting fact: Bryon Stewart, who played Warren Coolidge, reprised his role as an orderly on Bruce Paltrow’s second noteworthy drama, medical-themed St. Elsewhere. The explanation was that Coolidge had to give up basketball because of an injury while in his sophomore year at Boston College. Due to his injury, he lost his scholarship, dropped out and took a job at St. Eligius Hospital.
6. Hill Street Blues (NBC: 1981-87)
Cited as the series that changed the face of TV drama storytelling, Hill Street Blues, from Steven Bochco, chronicled the lives of the staff of an inner-city police station located on a fictional Hill Street, in an unnamed large city. Unlike primetime crime dramas known for a single lead character (a la Mannix, Kojak and Columbo), the focus was on the large ensemble, with their work and personal lives adeptly combined to ultimately result in four Emmy Award victories for Outstanding Drama Series (amongst many other trophies).
While the network broadcasters (CBS, in particular) are more focused on more generic crime-themed reboots like Hawaii Five-O and Magnum, P.I., a new version of Hill Street Blues could be produced the way it should at present (minus any censorship) on one of the digital streamers.
Interesting fact: Jeffrey Tambor had the recurring role on Hill Street Blues of a cross-dressing judge named Alan Wachtel. Years later, he played transgender parent Maura Pfefferman on Amazon’s Transparent.
7. Wiseguy (CBS: 1987-90)
Crime drama Wiseguy from Stephen J. Cannell featured Ken Wahl as Vinnie Terranova, a Brooklyn native and deep cover operative for the FBI under the supervision of senior agent Frank McPike, played by Jonathan Banks. While it was never a hit by the traditional Nielsen ratings, Wiseguy was the recipient of water cooler buzz before the arrival of social media. And the critics took positive notice.
ABC revived Wiseguy in the form of a TV movie in 1996 with the possibility of a reboot series. And there was talk of a new version on NBC in 2011.
Since Wiseguy dared to be different from the traditional cookie-cutter crime solvers on the broadcast networks, a new version on a streamer like Netflix could indeed be the more appropriate home for this type of storytelling.
Interesting fact: Ken Wahl left Wiseguy at the end of season three over a dispute with CBS about the direction of the show. Steven Bauer was brought in to be the new lead character, a former U.S. Attorney named Michael Santana who’d recently been disbarred. But the already modest ratings took a tumble and Wiseguy was canceled after four seasons.
8. Touched by an Angel (CBS: 1994-2003)
Given the success of feel-good Touched by an Angel, it is no surprise that CBS has tried to follow a similar formula with inspirational dramas Joan of Arcadia, which aired from 2003 to 2005, and, at present, God Friended Me, which is in season two. But neither series can match the impact of Roma Downey, TV’s most prominent angel. Series creator Martha Williamson seems to be free following the recent demise of Signed, Sealed, Delivered on Hallmark Channel.
Interesting fact:Touched By An Angel spun-off CBS drama Promised Land, which aired from 1996 to 1999 and featured Gerald McRaney as Russell Greene, who decides to travel the country with his family in their trailer after being laid off from his factory job.
9. The Rockford Files (NBC: 1974-80)
Considering the interest in CBS’ trio of crime/detective dramas from that era — Hawaii Five-O, MacGyver and Magnum, P.I. — The Rockford Files is another returnee that could be of potential interest to an older-skewing audience. As I always say, viewers over age 50 can be of great value to advertisers. And if CBS can find new actors to step into the shoes of Jack Lord, Richard Dean Anderson and Tom Selleck in these current reboots, even James Garner as Los Angeles-based private investigator Jim Rockford can be replaced.
Interesting fact: The character of Jim Rockford was originally written in an unproduced pilot script for the ABC detective drama Toma with Tony Musante in 1973. When Musante called it quits after one season, Toma morphed into Baretta, starring Robert Blake.
10-11. Desperate Housewives (ABC: 2004-12) / Knots Landing (CBS: 1979-1993)
I know, I know. Desperate Housewives only ended seven years ago. And, yes, the recent reboot of the parent series of Knots Landing, Dallas, was not all that successful on TNT. You can blame much of that to the passing of Larry Hagman after the first return season and the poor scheduling by TNT.
Overall, Desperate Housewives was really nothing more than an updated version of Knots Landing to begin with. And shifting the focus to the now 30-something offspring of Gary (Ted Shackelford) and Val (Joan Van Ark), twins Betsy and Bobby, along with a new set of couples plagued by anguish at that classic cul-de-sac, Seaview Circle, could be a recipe for interest. The question, of course, is what do you call it…Desperate Landing?
Interesting fact: Emily Ann Lloyd and Christian Cousins, who played Betsy and Bobby Ewing on Knots Landing, were also featured as Mary Ellen’s (Judy Norton) children Katie and Clay in TV movie A Walton Thanksgiving Reunion in 1993.
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5 shows that absolutely should not be rebooted
1. Sex and the City (HBO: 1998-2004)
Personally, I am surprised there is no news yet on a revival of beloved Sex and the City. After all, what outlet would not want to create this Darren Star mega-hit? Of course, no combination of actresses can recreate the magic of Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon. And since Cattrall already put an end to a third Sex and the City movie, the only way you will probably get the remaining trio back together is if they are mourning the death of Cattrall’s character Samantha Jones.
Interesting fact: Sharon Stone’s name has been in contention to replace Kim Cattrall. While that may not be the worst idea, no actor stepping into an established role of another performer is ever as successful.
2. The Office (NBC: 2005-13)
After Steve Carell as Michael Scott exited in season seven (he moved to Colorado to be with his fiancée Holly), sitcom The Office lost its center and was just never as good again. With talk circulating in recent years of an updated version on Netflix featuring a mixture of new and returning actors, when even bother doing it if one of the them is not Carell?
Interesting fact: Rainn Wilson as oddball Dwight Schrute was featured in a backdoor pilot called The Farm towards the end of the series run of The Office. Featured was his farmer brother Jeb (Thomas Middlemarch), his single mom sister Frannie (Majandra Delfino), and his bearded cousin Zeke (Matt Jones). But NBC decided not to move forward with it.
3. The A-Team (NBC: 1983-87)
Cartoonish strongman Mr. T (aka Laurence Tureaud) became a household name as Bosco Albert “B.A.” (aka “Bad Attitude”) Baracus on this immediate action/adventure hit for NBC. The A-Team followed the four members of a former commando outfit, who after being court-martialed for a crime they did not commit, escaped from military prison and, while still on the run, worked as soldiers of fortune. In addition to Mr. T, there was George Peppard as John “Hannibal” Smith, Dirk Benedict as Templeton Peck, and Dwight Schultz as Captain H.M. (“Howling Mad”) Murdoch.
While there was a theatrical reboot in 2010, with Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper as two members as the team, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson had big shoes to fill as B.A. Baracus (do you remember him?). And a new series so dependent on that character would need Mr. T. back front and center.
Interesting fact: One year after The A-Team concluded, Mr. T was back on TV on a weekly basis on syndicated Canadian crime drama T and T. Mr. T played T.S. Turner, a man framed for a crime he didn’t commit who eventually teamed up with a young crusading lawyer (Alex Amini) to work together as private detectives.
4. Hogan’s Heroes (CBS: 1965-71)
Unfortunately, there is already talk of a reboot of this German prisoner of war sitcom, which had to already be the worst idea for a “comedy” in the history of television. The proposed reimagined version will be a single-camera action-adventure comedy series set in present day, focusing on the descendants of the original heroes, now scattered around the world, who team up for a global treasure hunt. I do not make this stuff up!
While I do understand that original Hogan’s Heroes star Werner Klemperer only agreed to play Col. Klink on the condition that Klink would be portrayed as a fool who never succeeded, the setting was bizarre for a sitcom. And this reboot sounds even more ridiculous.
Interesting fact: Werner Klemperer (Klink), John Banner (Schultz), Howard Caine (Hochstetter) and Leon Askin (Burkhalter), who portrayed the chief Germans on Hogan’s Heroes, were all Jewish. They all served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. Robert Clary, who played LeBeau, was also Jewish and a survivor of the Holocaust.
5. No other Norman Lear comedies on a regular basis
Yes, the One Day at a Time reboot aired for three seasons on Netflix and will remain in production for Pop TV. And, yes, that Live in Front of a Studio Audience special on ABC from Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel, initially featuring a rebooted episode each from All in the Family and The Jeffersons, will be back with Good Times and another reimagined installment of All in the Family.
But One Day at a Time worked creatively because it was inspired by the original sitcom and was not an imitation. And the operative descriptor for Live in Front of a Studio Audience is “special.” Instead of a weekly revival, an occasional special makes these sitcom retellings worthy of revisiting.
Interesting fact: The premise of the original Good Times, which was spun-off from Maude (itself a spin-off from All in the Family), made no sense. How did Florida (Esther Rolle), after all, go from being Maude Findlay’s (Bea Arthur) housekeeper in suburban Tuckahoe, New York on Maude to a homemaker with three kids living in the projects in the South Side of Chicago? And why was John Amos as her husband Henry on Maude now named James on Good Times?
Marc Berman is the founder and Editor-in-Chief for Programming Insider. He also covers the broadcasting landscape, at present, for Forbes.com, Watch!, Newspro and C21 Media in London. His work has appeared in Campaign US, The New York Daily News, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Los Angeles Times and Emmy Magazine, among other outlets.