Many of the complaints I hear about TV reboots are from film majors and enthusiasts. They could have a point. Or they could be exaggerating the “creative deficit” in the entertainment industry, so that their time and energy and money spent studying it seems justified.
It’s a social issue that needs fixing, and they’re prepared to meet that challenge. Popular culture is only capturing the scum of human creation! The business executives will exploit human’s basest instincts if it sells their products! And nostalgia is one of those instincts! So send in the culturally educated film majors to change the whole industry. No more reboots allowed.
From the TV producer’s perspective, rebooting or rerunning a largely successful television series from a couple decades ago seems like a safe bet. Fans will be at least curious to see how the show has developed.
Even if the new show’s writers fail to match the charm the series had in the past, the viewers still have a fondness toward the familiar characters and setting.
If a show ran for eight or nine seasons, like Will and Grace for example, those engaged in the show had time to get to know the characters so well they could predict how the characters would react in any given circumstance. The amount of information the viewer knows about the character is probably more than they know about most of their friends. A powerful bond is formed between viewer and character, one in which the viewer probably misses and wants to revisit when the show reboots. Will and Grace rebooted in 2017 and according to Entertainment Weekly, it was the network’s most-watched Thursday premiere in nine years.
Usually, when movies or TV shows repeat the formula of their high rated or box office successful predecessors and add a modern twist, audiences eat it up. Let’s take Star Wars as an example. The reboot in 2015, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ did face criticism because of its obvious duplication of the plot from ‘Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope. However, box office sales didn’t reflect this disappointment. Neither did Rotten Tomatoes.
The plot of Star Wars is timeless. But in order for the producers to convince audiences they are watching something new, they not only have a completely different cast, but the cast reflects how society has progressed socially. Taking Luke Skywalker’s place is Rey; a female junk scavenger turned Jedi. The male lead, Finn, a stormtrooper deserter who joins Rey to fight the New Order, is British Nigerian. It’s exciting to see the screen reflect social movements; we are starting to see people of color and women play not only more roles, but roles that depict them as empowered individuals. This excitement might be enough to distract from the unimaginative plot.
In the book “Hit Makes: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction,” Derek Thompson finds a pattern in the creation of pop culture hits, from the design of the first automobiles to the composition of Barack Obama’s speeches. It’s familiar plus the new. He argues people are often afraid to accept something too different from what they already know. People will also not pay your product any attention if it doesn’t stand out from what they’re used to seeing. Something that is familiar with a twist both catches the consumer, or viewer’s attention, and without making them feel unsafe.
TV reboots use this method to keep audiences watching. While plots and sometimes characters stay the same, the new context into which the characters must be written allows room for creativity.
Why can TV producers rely on the audience’s loyalty to a certain storyline? It isn’t because the viewers been deprived of being exposed to those that are more creative; it’s because certain narratives are compelling over time. The question should instead be: what makes a story so compelling, that people are willing to watch it again?