Television reboots: Is there a point? Will they destroy TV?

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Television has been following an unfortunate trend from feature films lately: the reboot. Instead of continuing the much-lauded "Golden Age of Television" with new ideas and properties, TV executives seem to be -- in increasing numbers -- looking to existing shows for their "inspiration."

This is not necessarily the best idea. A quick peek into the world of TV reboots of recent years shows that bringing back the old isn't always the best way to get new viewers. Just ask "Ironside."

With the networks going on a full-throttle reboot binge this development season -- everything from a "Broadchurch" adaptation to a reboot of "Murder, She Wrote" is in the works -- it's worth asking whether reboots are dooming both themselves and all of television.

To reboot or not to reboot?

What makes for a good reboot? It's not so much the name recognition as much as it is an original idea that can fit into an old mold. All of the programs that have worked strayed light years from their early concepts and origins. Despite having ties to the past, these reboots played for the present and looked to the future.

For the most part, it's the shows that don't know why they exist -- other than having a connection to the past -- that falter. This is, unfortunately, all too common a problem.

The good

Of course, some reboots work out just fine. "Battlestar Galactica" is the ultimate example of this. The original show was a cheesy bit of '70s science-fiction fluff, but it was fun and people liked it. Then came the reboot: Dark, gritty and a piercing look at social, religious and political themes, many consider the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot to be one of TV's best shows.

Rebooting often works fairly well for science fiction and fantasy in general. "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (and all the rest) are a great example of this. Current adaptations and reboots like "Beauty and the Beast," "Being Human" and "The Tomorrow People" also enjoy success (even if only on a limited scale).

Similarly, premium cable has done pretty well with adaptations of foreign dramas -- the darker, the better. "Homeland," "Shameless" and "In Treatment" all fall into this small but successful category of television.

Leaving behind the genre shows and cable heavy hitters, however, reboots begin to falter. "Hawaii Five-0" has done respectably well for CBS, and "The Office" brought comedy gold for years. But those two examples are almost drowned in a sea of reboot mediocrity and failure.

The bad

It's hard to make a TV show a success. That's the thinking that often seems to be behind the idea of a reboot. But are reboots any help? Looking at their recent history, the answer may be a resounding no.

Straight dramas have fared especially poorly. "Ironside" was one of NBC's first cancellations in 2013. Do you even remember the recent incarnations of "Charlie's Angels," "Knight Rider" and "Prime Suspect"?

Comedy reboots haven't done much better. "Coupling" and "Kath and Kim" (based on British and Australian shows, respectively) were somewhat epic failures. Fortunately, it's proved difficult to even try to adapt or bring back most comedies from overseas or from the past.

The ugly

That question brings us to the current development season. Networks are working hard right now to buy and shoot the pilots that will hopefully make it onto the air in the next year. While there are plenty of other ideas floating around ( "Wizard of Oz" adaptation, anyone?), reboots are figuring even more prominently than they have in the past.

In various stages of development (some just existing as strong rumors) there are reboots and adaptations of the following in Hollywood right now:

  • "Murder, She Wrote"
  • "Remington Steele"
  • "Star Trek" (a rumored Roberto Orci project, based on the movie reboots)
  • "Love, American Style"
  • "Falcon Crest"
  • "Girl Meets World"
  • "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"
  • "Peter Gunn"
  • "Cuckoo"
  • "Broadchurch" (just aired on BBC America, being adapted for FOX with David Tennant -- the same star)

Not to mention all of the movie adaptations in development -- everything from "12 Monkeys" to "American Psycho" to "Reality Bites" to "Outbreak."

Sure, it's possible that some of these shows will bring in originality and offer something new. But, given the history of reboots on television, it's not a great bet. Should every one of these projects make it to series next fall, "new" won't be a good descriptor for the new season.

Photo/Video credit: NBC