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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Would it Work? Past TV shows brought to present

Remember when NBC brought "Knight Rider" back and the American viewing public gave a collective, "Really? That show?" Or perhaps you don't remember this because it is still so laughable that you've blocked it from your memory.

Either way, the television Gods are at it again. This time it's with the 1998-critically-acclaimed-hit "Cupid." You know, the show that was here and gone faster than one of Jeremy Piven's fake arrows of love in flight? Well, this time the role is being reprised by Bobby Cannavale and yet, it still begs a question from our "Knight Rider" past. Was it really that good to begin with? Can it really survive another round with different characters, but the same general plot? "Cupid" premiered Tuesday to a less-than-enthused audience and an even more harsh line of critics. But it got us thinking, could any other shows from TV's past have made a better comeback?

Cue this month's new segment on Channel Surfing: "Would it Work?" -- the blog post where we, your beloved Channel Surfers, examine shows in TV history (both good and bad) and give our take on whether or not it would work with today's viewing audience. Because let's be honest, as the TV line-up continues this depressing downward spiral -- and while casting news for "Melrose Place 2.0" starring Ashlee Simpson continues to trickle in -- it's only a matter of time that network executives go through their trash and start recycling.

"Full House"
When it aired:
Would it work today?: Possibly
Why it could: The basic premise of “Full House” still has some potential. I mean, let’s face it, there’s bupkis on TV these days for families … unless you count anything on the Disney Channel – which I do not. The story of “Full House” could work with today’s TV audience — the single dad trying to raise three young girls to the best of his neat-freak ability, all the while providing shelter for a mooch best friend and poor, loser brother-in-law. The thing is, the plots would all need to change. Viewers would not be amused with a storyline where the biggest event is that Joey and Uncle Jesse have to attempt to change a dirty diaper.

But it could work if it was brought into present time and perhaps, used the actors’ real lives as actual plotlines. For example, say Danny Tanner was more like the foul-mouthed stand-up comedian Bob Saget: dirty, disgusting and always talking about hookers. Say Jodie Sweetin played Stephanie Tanner as her real-life meth addict self. Or perhaps little Michelle Tanner develops an eating disorder and winds up hanging out with an actor before his tragic, all-too-soon death. The list goes on and on. Catchphrases like “How rude!” and “Cut … it … out,” would be replaced with “One more hit” and “Seriously, I’m not anorexic.” All you need is a teenage pregnancy and to downplay Candace Cameron’s evangelism. Now, there’s a family sitcom.

-- Sara Boyd

"Step by Step"
When it aired: 1991-97
Would it work today?: No
Why it wouldn't: The concept of a family that’s victim to divorce and remarriage, that totally still works today. But the concept that these forced-to-be-Brady-Bunch families would actually get along and be one happy family? Wrong. Sure, Dana and J.T. were quite the feuding step-siblings at first, but you always knew there was that deep-down brotherly-sisterly love going on. The show’s premise — a widowed woman with three kids and a divorced man with three kids, fall in love on vacation alone in Jamaica, get married and then join families back in Port Washington, Wisconsin (woop! woop!) — is a little far-fetched, to say the least. But to put this show on the air with today’s viewership, there’s no way it could work.

Sure, “Step by Step” (dang it, now I have New Kids on the Block in my head …) tackled its share of “tough topics” to relate to teens at the time — i.e., when Al gets near-raped and Karen toys with an eating disorder. But you would need more. Perhaps, if “Step by Step” moved from Port Wash to the Big Apple, and mirrored more closely to “Gossip Girl’s” blended families, it could work. But as is, they just can’t afford good drama in Wisconsin. And even so, all the characters were a bit too typical and boring. You have the bookworm older sibling, the ditsy sister with good looks, the younger tomboy sister, the sports nut, mechanic brother, the middle child who eventually left the show without explanation and the skinny, glasses-wearing nerdy younger brother. Where’s the comedy in that? Again though, take it out of suburbia and you've got a chance. Say instead of moving all the way to New York, they move to inner city Milwaukee. Then the family wouldn't just be three kids from one family and three kids from another. They'd be one kid from this baby daddy, one kid from who knows who and three kids from a deadbeat that don't pay no child support.

-- Sara Boyd

"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"
When it aired:
Would it work today?: Maybe
Why it would: Will Smith's popularity hasn't exactly waned since the show went off the air in 1996. He is consistently a box office star, even when the movies he makes are utter piles of poo (yes, "Hitch," I'm talking about you). The theme of the show -- yes, I promise, there was one -- was all about family and growing up. Situational comedies, "Two and a Half Men" included, still follow this age-old format. With our first black President, why wouldn't America embrace a situational comedy that features a well-to-do black family and their less-than-fortunate nephew?

Why it wouldn't: "Fresh Prince" is so quintessentially 1990s that it would fail with its timely references to Whitney Houston and "Benson." It's one thing to watch the show on Nick at Nite and fondly wax nostalgic like "awww, remember when oversized blazers were cool" and another to see those hideous tube skirts on prime time television. A teenager watching the show today wouldn't get the running gag that Hillary looked like pre-coke, pre-Bobby Brown domestic violence Whitney Houston. I barely get it and I lived through the Bodyguard era! Would the fact that Jazz lived in Compton make the same impact on us today? Do kids today even know where Compton is? I don't mean to sound like an old fogey here, but the show represented so much of that era, it'd be hard to divorce it from the times.

-- Malavika Jagannathan

When it aired: 1972-1983
Would it work today?: No
Why it wouldn't: It would be next to impossible to recreate "M*A*S*H"'s powerful combination of comedy and satire in today's world. Here's a show that was about the Korean War, but aired twenty years later as a thinly-veiled attempt to criticize the ongoing war in Vietnam. For one, people today barely remember the Korean War or even the Vietnam War. For another, the Iraq War -- War on Terror? Overseas Contingency Operation? Whatever it's called -- just doesn't have the everyday impact that Vietnam did on the minds and hearts of America as it did in the 1970s. Until this week, people didn't even see caskets of soldiers coming home, a constant feature in the media coverage of Vietnam. "M*A*S*H"'s anti-war message about the futility of war still rings true, but the power of that message gets lost when the context no longer exists for its audience. It went off the air in 1983 as one of the highest rated shows and the finale was watched by 77 percent of the households in the country. People still watch the show on TV Land (a marathon in 2007 netted almost 2 million viewers), but I highly doubt that Alan Alda's Hawkeye could compete with the likes of "American Idol" and "Grey's Anatomy" in today's prime-time climate.

-- Malavika Jagannathan

"Just the Ten of Us"
When it aired: 1988-90
Would it work today?: Yes
Why it would: One of the original members of ABC's TGIF lineup, "Just the Ten of Us" is little remembered today, save for dorks like me who at the time thought star Bill Kirchenbauer's impression of a koala bear using a spoon strategically placed on his nose was the zenith of comic prowess.

A spinoff of "Growing Pains," "JT10OU" (as I've just decided fans used to call it) was about a Catholic high school gym teacher, his wife, and their brood of eight children. It ran through the predictable sitcom trappings -- Dad tries to keep four hot teenage daughters from dating; precocious young son is a troublemaker -- but a running thread of the series also focused on the family's struggles with household finances, a topic also explored (in decidedly more realistic fashion, granted) by fellow ABC show "Roseanne," which debuted the same year. In fact, the money situation for the Lubbock family of "JT10OU" became so dire that later episodes featured the four hotties (who quickly became the focus of the show, and, fun fact!, one of whom was Heather Langenkamp from the original "A Nightmare on Elm Street") forming a pop group to earn extra income.

I'm not arguing that it doesn't sound completely quaint and cheesy. I'm not even arguing that it doesn't sound really really lame. (Yet so are "According to Jim" and "Two and a Half Men," and look how well they do.) But there are several reasons I think "Just the Ten of Us" would be a huge hit today. Just look at our national obsession with large families, for one. Brad and Angelina. The Octo-mom. "Jon and Kate Plus 8." We seem to love it when idiots can't stop spawning. A sitcom about a wacky Catholic deca-family? That's Nielsens gold. Plus, there's that nonsense about the teen daughters' pop group, which would lure all those fans who are a little too old for Hannah Montana, but not quite ready to embrace Lady Gaga.

Most of all, in this down economy of ours (a ridiculous phrase by the way, which makes it sound like our financial system just needs a hug and cup of hot cocoa), what would be more therapeutic than watching a family on TV dealing with real money troubles in a safe, sterile environment? Lose your 401(k) recently? Well so did Coach Lubbock, but he's also bald, fat, and has eight rowdy kids to wrangle! Don't you feel better already?

-- Adam Reinhard

"The Greatest American Hero"
When it aired: 1981-83
Would it work today?: Believe it or not, yes
Why it would: You can't throw a rock these days without hitting a superhero movie or TV show, and even then the rock would just shatter into a thousand pieces off their muscles of steel. But just because we already have "Heroes" and "Smallville" battling the forces of evil on the small screen, doesn't mean there's no room for Ralph Hinkley and his crazy alien super-suit.

Originally airing on ABC in the early '80s, "The Greatest American Hero" was a bit of an original: an hourlong comedy drama about a bumbling superhero. It's been reported that a movie is in the works, but why go that route when a new series would be so much more fun? Ralph (he never really had a superhero name, other than one episode where he called himself Captain Gonzo) had just about every power imaginable -- he could fly, he had X-ray vision, he could shrink himself, run really fast, even move things with his mind. With today's advanced special effects, a new "Greatest American Hero" would look awesome.

And yes, they would NEED to reuse the original theme song. No covers -- I'm talking the original Joey Scarbury classic. If you let The Fray or Avril Lavigne within 10 miles of that song, so help me...

-- Adam Reinhard

When it aired: 1977-1981
Would it work today?: No ... and they better not even try
Why it wouldn't: Before local church bulletins began issuing fire and brimstone alerts based on Dennis Franz's naked "NYPD Blue" ass or Bart Simpson's salty language as a self-professed underachiever, there was Jodie Dallas: gay menace to uptight '70s society. While other openly gay TV characters had been on TV before, nothing reached the level of amped-up controversy over one of "Soap's" principal characters, played by a then-largely unknown Billy Crystal. I know this because I've been told that the ABC comedy was banned from my grandma's house in Milwaukee, and considering that everything about this "oversexed" show seemed considerably tame by the time Comedy Central began airing reruns in the '90s, there's no way "Soap's" claim to fame would hold up in today's in-your-face, reality skank-a-thon climate.

Since "Soap" is a brilliant stand-alone show that tackled taboo topics like marital infidelity, same sex parenting, cross-dressing, inter-racial marriage, prostitution, impotence, demonic possession and even the seduction of a priest, there'd be no reason to re-create it now. It worked because it was a first-of-its-kind soap opera spoof, had a super talented cast (Crystal, Robert Urich, "Empty Nest's" Richard Mulligan, "Blossom's" Ted Wass, "Who's the Boss'" Katherine Helmond, Robert Guillaume's "Benson" served as a spin-off), employed a ventriliquist dummy, featured one of the best philandering husbands on TV (Robert Mandan's Chester Tate), and aired one of the most memorable finales in sitcom history -- a well-planned "screw you" that boasted several over-the-top cliffhangers that were never resolved. Plus, with Rod Roddy of "Price is Right" fame no longer with us, it'd be impossible to replicate the sheer awesomeness of the golden voice behind the show's trademark line, "These questions - and many others - will be answered in the next episode of "Soap!"

-- Thomas Rozwadowski

"Three's Company"
When it aired: 1977-1984
Would it work today?: No
Why it wouldn't: Nice try, Jack Tripper. But you wouldn't fool anyone in 2009, not even co-ed intolerant Stanley Roper. Since it was a slapstick comedy, "Three's Company" didn't really push the kind of buttons it may have originally intended. Plus, that quirky John Ritter was just too darn likable. But the somewhat controversial premise of co-habitation by a single, swingin' male and two sexy females was enough of a humorous angle for continued misunderstanding and misdirection back in 1977. After all, naughty roommate adventures (and let's be real, the thought of oh-so-real-orgies) doesn't exactly promote good ol' fashioned family values. Plus, every show needs conflict folks, so there you have it.

The back-and-forth between an only-gay-so-he-can-live-with-two-hotties Jack and stick-in-the-mud landlord Mr. Roper made for an original and risque plot mechanism. But a single dude living with two vivacious women today? Put them in a hot tub and you have your average "Rock of Love" or "Real World" episode. Also, who isn't gay or has a gay friend or dabbles in bi-sexuality on the tube these days, right?

As far as made-for-TV living situations are concerned, the topic isn't even remotely intriguing. Quite frankly, I can't think of a single premise where three people of any persuasion would lead to righteous indignation or even the slightest comedic misunderstanding (OK, maybe if Lou Dobbs were forced to live with two Mexican immigrants). Heck, in today's economy, Mr. Roper would probably be tripping over himself (tripping? Tripper? get it?) to score some of that sweet, sweet rent. Christ, he'd probably give Osama bin Laden safe haven for a few measly bucks. So while I'd be open to seeing foxy Suzanne Somers in short shorts again or at least promoting a few more visits to one of the all-time great TV hangouts, The Regal Beagle, "Three's Company 2009" would have to come out of the TV closet like everyone else. That doesn't sound promising. And besides, everyone knows Larry Dallas was really the gay one.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski

OK, we've only scratched the surface here. Got an old show that's just dying to get some CPR? Offer some more suggestions or evaluate why it would or wouldn't work below!

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How about Manimal? A-Team? Police Squad? Perfect Strangers?

Or if we want to go bigger -- because like it or not, Knight Rider was a big one, and I think if they had gone the fun route instead the serious route a remake could've worked -- why not look into redoing or reimagining or whatever to Magnum PI, Murphy Brown, Simon & Simon, Family Ties (imagine the cultural clash there with a right-wing Alex P. Keaton!)...

I agree, we definitely need to work on bringing family worthy comedies back to normal TV (and not relegated to family friendly cable channels) -- and a lot can be learned from these classics.

By Blogger CarrieLynn, At April 8, 2009 at 4:03 PM  

I had been toying with the idea of writing with "Murphy Brown" but quickly came to the conclusion it would fail in today's world. For on, people don't watch "news magazines" anymore. Would Murphy twitter? I doubt it. For another, the show was very much about the late 80s -- from the constant refernces to George H W Bush to those giant oversize blazers with shoulder pads that Murphy wore. Plus, I doubt anyone would make more than a mention of Murphy's single motherhood, let alone make a campaign issue out of it. (I mean we barely cared that Bristol Palin was 17 and preggers!).


By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At April 9, 2009 at 7:32 AM  

Valid points and yes, when you start thinking about it, lots of shows come to mind. That's why we hope this won't be a one-time-only bit ... though a few of our other ideas have been. Ahem, we'll get on that.

-- Sara

By Blogger Sara, At April 9, 2009 at 12:01 PM  

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