With new ‘Wonder Years’ and ‘Night Court’ on the way, why is Hollywood obsessed with reboots?
This fall, we’re going to see another round of reboots on network TV. ABC created a new version of The Wonder Years, and this time it’s about a Black family in Alabama in the 1960s. Fox is rebooting the 1970s favorite, Fantasy Island, and The Wall Street Journal reports NBC is developing new versions of the 1980s comedies Kate and Allie and Night Court.
There have been countless reboots in both the television and film worlds and, in my opinion, they’re never as good as the original. So why do we keep going back in time instead of writing new scripts?
“Everything that Hollywood does has a single reason and that’s money,” said Gregory Bernstein, screenwriter and associate professor of film at Arizona State University.
Bernstein says reboots are a safe bet and, unlike me, a lot of Americans show up to watch them.
“How do [the studios] protect themselves? What insurance do they have that if they spend a lot of money something really good is going to happen at the box office? The answer is we make things that already have a built-in audience,” Bernstein said. “We make movies that we already know the public likes. So on the high, expensive end we see only endless sequels and remakes of Marvel movies, and on the lower end you see movies which have built an audience because they’re based in real-life fact and history.”
In the earlier days of movie making, filmmakers could take more risks.
“If you go back to the 1930s and 1940s, the studios were making six, seven, eight times the number of movies they make now, maybe 10 times as many,” Bernstein said. “The average film cost very little. So if a film didn’t do well, that would not break anybody’s budget, it would not ruin their business. In the 1980s and 1990s, in particular, costs associated with distributing movies escalated really fast, to the point where now the distribution costs are going to roughly equal the cost of making the movie. If a movie now doesn’t do well, that is a serious problem.”
Bernstein says this is why you see a lot more original, gutsy, hyper-creative programming on digital platforms like Hulu, Netflix, and HBO: They don’t have to pay for distribution because they release their shows online.
When it comes to network television, unlike the digital platforms, they have to cater to advertisers. Garth Tiedje is executive vice president of video investment at Horizon Media. He works with brands like Geico and Burger King to make sure they’re getting the most out of their advertising buck. He says a lot of large companies are conservative about the content of programming.
“With a lot of the shows, like on FX, Sons of Anarchy and Nip Tuck did well in terms of ratings, but always had problems with content and advertisers participating in those programs,” Tiedje explained. “That is the other side of the equation that has to be taken into account.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that some writers are not happy with the reboot trend. They would much prefer to write fresh, original scripts.