NYT misses what makes TV remakes fail

by Paul William Tenny

bionic-woman.jpgI had some high hope for a story in the Times about why studios keep making remakes when they all end up failing, but alas it's a pretty big disappointment. Patrick Goldstein should have written this story, at least we would have heard from a lot of execs and producers who have unique and illuminating theories on why these things fail and why the studios keep making them anyway.

My first thought when I saw this story was what my angle was going to be. I landed on "no hit currently on the air is a remake", but the Times got there first:
That is another way of saying it is only natural to turn to familiar titles because they attract attention. The question is whether the series that result will attract viewers.

The track record does more than suggest not: it screams not. In the history of network television, no remake of a previous hit series has ever become a hit itself on network television.
That pretty much sums it up, and yet the only exec the Times bothered to quote -- Warren Littlefield -- seems to miss that point entirely:
Mr. Littlefield said that the woeful track record of previous remakes should not discourage network programmers from continuing to buy projects based on old hits. "But there has to be a series there," he said.
This isn't a knock on Littlefield so much as it is the current crop of network execs who keep buying this garbage -- you really can't blame the studio heads for trying to make it, if there's a market for garbage then hell, make and sell some garbage -- but that sounds like something you'd expect an obsessive failure. Someone who has spent the better part of their adult life searching for lost treasure only to find there never was any.

Just because there was a marketable idea 20 years ago doesn't mean that there still can be today if you just find that new angle that everyone else can't seem to find. I suspect any real marketer would tell you that the half-life of any concept is exactly how long it takes for that concept to peak, which is probably only a few years on television, before it's dead for good.

That's why remakes fail on television. Not because of bad talent or poor execution, although by all rights at least 90% of remakes fail because of that as well -- roughly the same number of normal shows that fail simply because they suck. Once you've sold the series concept you've only got one choice for success: bring everything back or go home.

And if you're into betting, by the way:
"Hawaii Five-O" is being created by the team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, who wrote the scripts for the most recent "Star Trek" movie as well as the two "Transformers" films.
You ought to make good money on that show being the biggest flop of the year.
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