NBC Ushers in the Year of the Remake
And since there's next to zero footage from any of the new shows NBC has picked up, it's rather difficult (and pointless) to try to guess whether they'll be any good. So that leaves only the programming philosophy to judge. And based on what NBC co-chairman Ben Silverman told us yesterday, I'd have to give it a qualified "Eh."
The point Silverman and Teri Weinberg, the No. 2 person at NBC Entertainment, repeatedly made was that NBC in 2008-09 is going to be about escapism and inspiration. Real life is kinda bleak right now, they think we think, and they want to offer a respite from that when people turn on their televisions at night. "We've watched a lot of dark stuff not work, and we've learned from that," Silverman says.
"The world is filled with a lot of bad news and bad info, and we're looking to break through both in terms of making noise, but also in giving accessible entry points to heroic themes that we all believe in."
And how does one accomplish that? With a lot of remakes and updates and retellings.
I can just about guarantee that you'll see dozens of stories declaring 2008-09 the Year of the Remake between now and the start of the fall season, just like this year was (at least before the writers' strike) the Year of the Foreign Actor. Partly because of the strike, the networks are relying heavily pre-sold concepts in their development; more than a dozen pilots or series projects are based on other shows, or books, or, in the case of NBC's "Kings," a biblical story.
It's just that NBC is doing almost nothing but those kinds of shows. "Knight Rider" is a sequel/remake of its 1980s show. "Crusoe" is based on "Robinson Crusoe." "Kath & Kim" is an adaptation of an Australian hit. "The Office" spinoff speaks for itself.
Which may be why, of all the shows NBC announced Wednesday, I'm most intrigued by the Christian Slater show "My Own Worst Enemy." Which, by the way, isn't exactly a brand-new idea either: Silverman describes it as "Jekyll and Hyde meets Jason Bourne."
What "My Own Worst Enemy" at least seems to be trying to do, though, is use those well-worn tales as a jumping-off point rather than just putting them in new clothes. Slater plays a middle-class father with a boring job (efficiency expert) whose alter ego is a black-ops spy and trained killer. Neither identity knows much about the other until the wall separating them breaks down.
See, that sounds kind of cool to me (though I admit to being a bit of a sucker for both spy yarns and dual-identity stories). Unlike, say, with "Knight Rider" or "Crusoe," I don't quite know what I'm going to get if I watch that.
I do at least understand what Silverman and Weinberg are trying to do. They were very good Wednesday at staying on message about the escapist nature of their programming; heck, they even talked about re-establishing something of a family hour at 8 p.m. (whether "Chuck" or "My Name Is Earl" are truly family viewing, I'll leave to others to decide).
Silverman also declared himself a "huge geek" in perhaps the silliest moment of Wednesday's press conference (he was responding to a question about the number of sci fi-tinged and fantasy shows on the schedule). Hmm -- I thought he was a rock star.
Geek, rock star or otherwise, though, I don't know if what Silverman is pushing will work. I think "Knight Rider," which got pretty good but not great ratings against mediocre competition (and was pretty universally panned), looks like nothing more than this year's "Bionic Woman," which also debuted to strong ratings before going in the tank. NBC can pay as much lip service to taking its time to get things right as it wants, but I struggle to believe that the pent-up demand for a weekly "Knight Rider" series is strong enough to sustain those ratings.
More than once, Silverman referred to last year's box office rankings -- and big earners like "Spider-Man 3," "Transformers" and the final "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie -- as evidence that people crave the familiar. There may be something to that (though at least equally important is the fact that studios are unlikely to commit big money to a film unless it comes pre-packaged), but the box office for all three movies plummeted by at least 45 percent in their second weeks of release. That gets TV shows cancelled.