June 12, 2012

TV Tries to Reboot "Dallas", Will It Succeed Where Others Have Failed?

On June 13, 2012, one of the many prime-time soaps that aired from the late 1970's to the early 1980's is set to be re-introduced to TV viewers. In this case, I'm referring to "Dallas", which is scheduled to reboot on cable network TNT. Clearly, as basic cable competes with 200+ stations, more and more cable networks have turned to original programming, like TV Land with it's Betty White/Valerie Bertinelli (yes, I'm leaving the other two actresses out) show "Hot in Cleveland" or Fran Drescher's "Happily Divorced" just to name two. However, the remakes have met with varying degrees of success. None are completely original programming; and at least a few major network remakes of TV shows from the '70s and '80s have already bombed.

The original "Dallas" Theme Song

You can listen below, or by clicking HERE:

Today, I look at why some TV show reboots failed, while others did OK. You may note that I already covered how NBC's former chief believes "Must See TV" is history (see my post HERE), so I think it's pretty obvious that the definitions of success today aren't exactly what they used to be.  Still, a few TV show reboots (as they've come to be known) have done so poorly in terms of ratings they were taken off the air.

I have a few thoughts on why.

For example, back in 2007, NBC tried remaking "The Bionic Woman", which starred Michelle Ryan in the role that Lindsay Wagner effectively created. It failed. In 2008, NBC tried again with "Knight Rider" which also failed, while rival ABC tried a few years later with a remake of "Charlie's Angels" which also failed. Side note: NBC's "Bionic Woman" reboot didn't quite last a full season, although you can find the full season of that on DVD in the bargain bin of many retail stores for like $7.99 these days. However, interestingly, last year, Universal stuck gold by releasing the original "Bionic Woman" from the '70s on DVD, selling at a significantly higher price than the reboot (which was effectively already in digital format). On the other hand, some reboots like "Hawaii Five-0" (CBS) seem to be doing OK, and it's also rumored that CBS might also be thinking they can succeed with a reboot of "Bewitched" (see HERE).

Thoughts on Keys to Successful TV Show Reboots

I think there may be a few keys to a successful TV Show Reboot.

First, don't presume the original audience is going to automatically tune in. They may watch initially to satisfy their curiosity, but if the producer/network wants to keep the ones who watched the original shows coming back, they really shouldn't simply discard the show's entire heritage for the sake of making it better or more modern. For example, the reboot of "The Bionic Woman" did that; I saw almost nothing in that show which even hinted that another show by the same name ran 30 years earlier, no sound effets (modernized or original), no discussion of the "evolution" of bionic technology from the '70s (perhaps with flashbacks to the original), nothing. Instead, try to capitalize on the shows' many years of tevision heritage. Obviously, if the cast is no longer alive or unwilling/unable to participate, that can make things a bit more challenging, but good writers can still pay heritage to a show's long tradition without discarding it completely. Remember: viewers today have access to Google, and chances are, they alredy KNOW the show is a remake, so don't try to pretend that is isn't.

That may be one reason why the "Hawaii Five-0" reboot on CBS is surviving.  The show is a police drama in the 50th state, and there's no disconnect among viewers between today and the fact that another version of "Hawaii Five-0" ran from 1968 to 1980.  Police will always be around, even though they haven't brought back cast from the past, the premise of the series seems perfectly logical.

Also, depending on the changes the producers make to the show and it's basic premise, there's a genuine risk of drawing the original viewers in initially only to lose them if they try to be TOO alluring to younger viewers. But today, discarding a group of viewers as irrelevant won't work. The average viewer today has access to more than 4 stations, so every viewer group counts!

Next, it really goes without saying, but having a sexy cast is key to luring new viewers in. Indeed, I think this may be the one and ONLY thing virtually every reboot has gotten right, but remember: having a sexy cast still won't carry a show with lousy writing! The writers can make or break the show, yet too many seem to view this group as afterthoughts to the overpaid cast.

Finally, an important one seems to be competing in a time slot you can realistically compete in. The good news for the "Dallas" reboot is they're stepping in when the seasons for many shows just wrapped up, so audiences are eagerly looking for something new. TV Land launched it's new series "Hot in Cleveland" during a lull after the seasons had just wrapped up elsewhere, and it seemed to help draw in viewers.

NPR: "The Old With The New: Generations Clash In New 'Dallas'"

As I was writing this post last night, I had a few final thoughts and revisions I wanted to make, and as it turns out, NPR covered the "Dallas" reboot this morning. Their coverage seems to fit the theme of my thoughts, so it's worth sharing with my readers below, or you can catch it on NPR's website at http://n.pr/LXypVk:

I was never big Dallas watcher because I was a kid in junior high school who wouldn't be caught dead watching the same thing my parents watched, and campy soaps certainly fit the bill. But successful shows today actually DO lure several generations in.  In fact, parents actually did watch "Glee" with their kids, making it a big ratings success. Whether the "Dallas" reboot can manage the same thing remains to be seen, but they seem to have learned these lessons, so I think the prospects look pretty decent, but I'll have to see before I reach any conclusions.

My impression, if you look at the promo ads for the Dallas reboot, is that they're indeed trying to sex it up, and notice how the ads include the younger guys, shirtless, in front?  Hot women in towels, also in front?  The new guys in the cast are none other than Jesse Metcalfe, the hottie who is best known as the gardener who banged Gabrielle Solis (played by Eva Longoria) on ABC's "Deparate Housewives", and the other young addition is played by Josh Henderson.

But unlike some of the failed reboots, they are also including the original cast in, too, perhaps to try and lure some of the original viewers in as well.  Smart move on that.

What kind of pop culture blogger would I be if I didn't share one last piece with you?

As scary as it is for me to admit (and perhaps some of my readers), AARP magazine actually has some the original cast of "Dallas" on the front cover (see HERE), as they're doing publicity for the show's remake. It's hard to believe, but J. R. Ewing, portrayed by Larry Hagman, is now 80 years old! It seems like just yesterday when he was a young hottie in "I Dream of Jeannie", but I guess that was over 40 years ago! For the record, today, Larry Hagman is 80, Linda Gray is 71 and Patrick Duffy is 63 -- all certified AARP members, but apparently they still want to do TV!

If the reboot doesn't work for you, rest assured, most of the originals can be found on DVD or are available as streaming media so you can watch from your mobile device.  I, for one, will give the reboot a chance.  Who knows, maybe other characters like Lucy Ewing (played by Charlene Tilton) will appear on the reboot!

Author P.S., November 24, 2012: Just months after his appearance on the opening of the Dallas reboot, actor Larry Hagman, who was known for playing J.R. Ewing on the original version of Dallas passed away from cancer (this was his second experience with cancer according to the Los Angeles Times obituary for Mr. Hagman). Although his role on Dallas was the one he became most famous for playing, Larry Hagman arguably became a television star in the 1960's starring in the sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie" and that was a role that television viewers remember him best for.

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