Why Hit TV Shows Keep Coming Back

It’s just like reconnecting with an old friend: You reminisce about the moments they were there for you. You catch up on what they’ve been up to. And you get to compare their former selves to who they’ve become over the years. Except there’s a screen between the two of you.

Relaunched TV shows get fans excited, while critics are curious to find out if a discontinued trope can be infused with new life.

From a business point-of-view, it makes sense to revisit an old format, says Shelly Goldstein, a writer-producer who is based in the US as well as the UK: “It’s safe. It’s building on a fan base that already exists. It’s the Big Mac of creativity. You know exactly what you’re going to get, what it’s going to taste like,” Goldstein told DW, adding that there still are certain risks involved in launching a new season or new format of a tried-and-tested show.

“It’s not so much a question of what attracts people and audiences as what attracts buyers, such as networks, studios and streaming platforms.”

The writers and creatives behind these series therefore still have to make certain decisions to make sure that a reboot, remake or revival will become successful. But what is the difference between these three premises?

Reboot, remake, revival

While a reboot ignores previous storylines and simply allows the audience to dip back into a cherished fictional universe, a revival is more like a sequel: The characters you came to love get back together to embark on new adventures. It is often in the spirit of a sequel.

A remake is the same original series produced all over again, with the same plot lines, characters and overall story arc.

Remakes are a successful recipe for movies —  there are four versions of A Star is Born — but TV series have mostly followed the revival pattern, reuniting cast, characters and binge-watchers after a long hiatus.

“It’s interesting to note that the best revivals of classic ideas are those that keep the core of a show’s idea, while allowing the characters to grow in some way. Otherwise there’s no reason to re-do the original,” Goldstein says. “We can all name attempts that were flops because they somehow managed to disenfranchise the original audience and failed to connect with a new one.”

It’s all about character

Whether a revival ultimately succeeds or fails, there is always a demand on part of the fan base to reconnect with their favourite shows.

Some stories originally ended with a cliffhanger, as was the case with Twin Peaks. With Twin Peaks: The Return, fans of the show were given some sense of resolution a quarter century later — only to be left with more questions than answers in its final scene.

Other shows can count on their popular characters to drive the fans’ appetite for new seasons, as was the case for Will & Grace. And nostalgia for the 1990s keeps trending, leading to shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 to get its revival too — which however landed among various reboot flops.

Meanwhile across town…

The return of Sex and the City to our home screens is based on many of the premises that justify a comeback. Fans of the six original series were left wanting for more, which resulted in two movie sequels 2008 and 2010, as well as a prequel series in 2013.

Older and wiser, these independent ladies with their Manolo Blahnik shoes and Cosmopolitan cocktails return once more in a serial format under the new title, And Just Like That, produced by HBO Max.

There is, however, one major difference: British-born actress Kim Cattrall, famous for playing the role of the insatiable man-eater Samantha Jones, refused to join the revival, turning the fab four into a trio.

For years, there had been rumours about an off-screen feud between Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker, who plays the lead character Carrie Bradshaw, though it is not entirely clear whether that led to Cattrall’s absence.

I couldn’t help but wonder…

The new series tries to address all the change that the iconic characters underwent in the past decade, with one particular scene highlighting Cattrall’s absence with a restaurant booking just for three — not four — friends.

But the show also picks up on social and societal change over the years: From the closure of famed department store (and New York institution) Barneys due to bankruptcy, to featuring much greater diversity and the introduction of a non-binary character, the trailer promises that the new series will be much more than just a walk down memory lane.

“Every show that takes place in the present must reflect the current era — unless it’s deliberately making a point to reject the current era. The producer and writers behind HBO Max’s And Just Like That are making it very clear that the core group — minus the brilliant Kim Cattrall — is now made up of women who are more racially diverse than the original quartet,” Shelly Goldstein explains.

Less sex, more city?

And Just Like That promises to become an adaptation for the contemporary age, establishing a context in which identity and identities are at the heart of the experience of living in New York.

Above all, the show gives both its established fan base as well as younger audiences a chance to embrace middle-aged female characters — thus far a much underrepresented demographic in TV shows, where for decades, youth and beauty seemed to trump all.

“This is not a remake, or else it would feature a new generation of women in their 30s. The premise of the show is to look at women as they hit their 50s, an era where Hollywood has never wanted to go with women, unless they are wise and definitely chaste grandmothers,” Goldstein highlights.

“Hollywood’s view of women’s sexuality has generally stopped at about 25 — which is why a 60-something male star is generally partnered with a female companion less than half his age.”

The #MeToo movement has helped change perceptions on female identities portrayed in entertainment, dethroning male Hollywood executives who for long had been abusing their positions of power to demean women both on and off-screen.

But there is more than one liberation movement happening in television: the streaming revolution has allowed audiences to access their favourite content whenever they like without being glued to their screens at a certain time each week.

This has actually not only liberated audiences but also producers and screenwriters to try new formats, address the needs of niche audiences and inject TV with more equality while providing access to shows from around the globe.

Perhaps the next series hype that will warrant a revival will come from Asia, the Middle East or Africa, where audiences have their own versions of shows like Sex and the City. With shows likeSquid Game from South Korea breaking streaming records, it is only a matter of time.

Featured image: HBO