In May 1988, CBS bid farewell to two long-running procedurals, Magnum P.I. and Cagney & Lacey. Three decades later, both are eyeing a return with pilot orders for reboots at CBS. In addition, the network last week gave a 13-episode series order to Murphy Brown, whose original debuted on CBS in fall 1988.
They are part of a wave of reboots and revivals this season as a trend that has been gaining momentum in the past few years is reaching a peak on the heels of the success of series like Will & Grace and Star Trek: Discovery.
CBS already has reboots of 1980s series MacGyver and 1970s Hawaii Five-0 and S.W.A.T. on the air, which are doing well enough to be in serious contention for renewal. So next season, if both Magnum P.I. and Cagney & Lacey are picked up, CBS may end up with six series that are reboots/revivals of old shows, including five procedural dramas. Add to that Mr. Magnum himself, Tom Selleck, who stars on another long-running CBS procedural Blue Bloods, and that is a large chunk of CBS’ primetime lineup rooted in nostalgia.
CBS corporate siblings the CW and CBS All Access also are betting heavily on reboots: The CW, which made a big move in the space last year with Dynasty to so-so results, is staying firmly in it with two more pilots this year, for Charmed and Roswell. CBS All Access brought back one of the CBS TV library’s most iconic titles, Star Trek, to help launch the service as an original programming player. It also has a reboot of The Twilight Zone on deck with Jordan Peele. MGM is using a similar strategy, rebooting its Stargate franchise to launch its planned OTT service.
ABC has The Greatest American Hero, Get Christie Love and American Idol reboots, while sibling Freeform is rebooting 1990s Fox drama Party of Five. Netflix is developing a new version of Lost In Space.
CBS led the way in the current wave of drama reboots with Hawaii Five-0 as one of the first successful ones, while the success of Fuller House, followed by One Day at a Time, on Netflix paved the way for the slew of sitcom reboots. (And likely gave ABC pause for not being more aggressive in pursuing the sequel to its TGIF comedy Full House.) Another sequel to a TGIF favorite, Girl Meets World, had a three-season run on Disney Channel.
The combination of nostalgia pull and potent IP driving viewership is driving the reboot boom. CBS All Access reported record signups fueled by Star Trek: Discovery. The sci-fi series, along with the Dynasty reboot, scored lucrative international distribution deals with Netflix. Most rebooted titles have global recognition, which makes them strong international sellers and profitable financial propositions for U.S. TV studios, which rely less and less on network license fees amid declining linear ratings, and on weak domestic off-network market.
Additionally, built-in awareness helps launch reboots and revivals, which tend to draw sizable crowds for their premieres. Even CBS’ MacGyver, which had a troubled development with a slew of behind-the-scene changes and completely retooled pilot, had a strong ratings premiere despite less-than-stellar reviews.
And, in a business with such high failure rate, going with a concept that already has proven itself once as a success provides an advantage.
Fox added a new wrinkle to the reboot trend — a revival of the original series with the original cast as a limited series with 24: Live Another Day, Prison Break and The X-Files. They were followed by Netflix’s Gilmore Girls movies. NBC’s Will & Grace expanded the trend to sitcoms, followed by Roseanne on ABC and now Murphy Brown on CBS.
A number of revivals/reboots are being shepherded by the originals’ creators, including Will & Grace, Gilmore Girls, The X-Files, Prison Break, Murphy Brown and Roseanne, with One Day at a Time‘s Norman Lear executive producing the new series.
Having the original writers and stars provides networks with an extra reassurance that the new series will have the look and the voice of the original, and it gets fans engaged too.
The strategy has worked. The Will & Grace revival 11 years after the end of its original run has become NBC’s highest-rated series by a mile this season and the network’s second highest-rated scripted series behind only hot drama This Is Us. It also has been garnering awards recognition, something broadcast comedies have been struggling to get recently. Additionally, the first installment of The X-Files revival was one of Fox’s top ratings performers during the 2015-16 season.
Fox, which also tried rebooting 24 with 24: Legacy, has scaled back on redos and reportedly passed on the new Party of Five. But it is doing a take on the trend this development season with comedy Revival, executive produced by Nahnatchka Khan, which received a put pilot commitment at the network. It chronicles the revival of a fictional ’80s family sitcom.
NBC, which has been eyeing a reboot of Emmy-winning comedy The Office in addition to its successful Will & Grace revival, has a high-profile Miami Vice reboot in the works produced by Vin Diesel and Chris Morgan. Pilot greenlight-wise, NBC has an offshoot of the Bad Boys movie franchise starring Gabrielle Union.
Movie franchises have also been frequent target for TV reboots in the past couple of years. NBC has Taken on the air, Fox has Lethal Weapon and put in development a True Lies series this season, while CBS tried Rush Hour and Training Day TV series. Disney is betting on one of the biggest movie franchises of all time, Star Wars, for a TV series reboot to launch its streaming service.
Giving reboots a cultural/gender makeover, often with an immigration twist, also has been trending this season. Following Netflix’s redo of One Day at a Time with a Latino family, the CW’s Roswell reboot centers on the daughter of undocumented immigrants from Latin America, while Freeform’s Party of Five revolves around the five Buendias children whose undocumented parents are deported back to Mexico.
Meanwhile, in ABC’s Greatest American Hero reboot, the original central character of Ralph Hinkley is replaced by Meera, an Indian-American female. Similarly, CBS’ Magnum P.I. will feature the same central quartet of characters as the original but, instead of four guys, it will consist of three men and a woman, with Higgins (played by John Hillerman in the original) reconceived as Juliet Higgins.
Reboots extend beyond U.S. series and movie franchises. CBS has drama pilot Murder, a remake of the British miniseries, and comedy I Mom So Hard, based on the popular web series. Fox has comedy pilot Our People, based on the Israeli format Nevsu: A Young Multi-Cultural Couple.
Nets continue to bet on book IP too. Fox has drama pilot The Passage (rolled), based on the fantasy book series. The CW’s The End of the World as We Know It and Skinny Dip both are also based on books.