How hard is it to update a previously popular show for a 2017 audience? Showrunners weigh in.
There's no clear consensus about the origins of the phrase 'Everything old is new again.' But whoever coined it must surely have been working as a television programming executive at the time. This season's schedule — filled with a wide variety of reboots, sequels and spinoffs that have taken previously popular shows and updated them for a 2017 audience — is all the proof you need. Producers, showrunners and stars share the challenges and changes they faced when it came to getting these born-again series on the air.
This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
THE BEGINNING Dynasty (1981-89, ABC)
FANTASY FIGURES There are plenty of obvious differences. The new Krystle is actually Cristal and Latina. The new Sammy Jo is Sam and a gay man. The new Carringtons and Colbys battle it out in Atlanta, not Denver. However, according to executive producer Esther Shapiro, who has been a part of both Dynastys, "The show still appeals to females of all ages who want fantasy in their lives. We had to shop and cook and clean, but we didn't participate in Wall Street or wars or the big stuff men do. We have been left to [our] own fantasies, so women enjoy seeing females who are strong and powerful."
THINGS CHANGE You'd think that living in an era far more liberated than when Dynasty first premiered might be an advantage for a sexy series. Not so, believes Shapiro. "The sexual mores are a little different now, and I'd just as soon have all that be a little bit more off-camera. I like it when people yearn, when relationships are allowed to build more."
The Beginning: The Good Wife (2009-2016, CBS)
A Title Fight: The main character – Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) – is the same although her circumstances –devastated by a Madoff-like scandal – are different. According to executive producer Robert King, this shift has helped Good Fight find its own voice despite a title that seems like a knock-off of the original’s. “It might seem cynically devised because it sounds like The Good Wife and we’re sticking with the brand. But the original series was always about what was happening in the world right now and took us through the Obama administration so when Trump got elected, the passion was there for The Good Fight to show how that has changed the world,”
Thing Change: It’s only been eight years since The Good Wife debuted but there’s been one innovation in that time that, says executive producer Michelle King, has altered a go-to writing gimmick for the better. “Uber and Lyft have made it easier for storytelling. In the past, we were loathe to have a character take a drink because you had to then explain how they got home. Now, there’s no worries about drinking and driving so you can write scenes with people having great conversations in bars.”
THE BEGINNING Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-99, Comedy Central/Sci-Fi Channel)
REFERRING MADNESS When Joel Hodgson first launched MST3K in the late '80s, he could make a reference to a 1940s film and know that most of his viewers would get the gag. Three decades later, though, he's often the one struggling to get some of his show's references. "There's stuff the younger writers come up with that I don't get," he says. "Like the one to something called the Konami Code. There was a character sitting at a control panel, so they wrote, 'Up, up, down, left, right.' It was a cheat code for an old video game. That had the writers laughing, and they had to hip me to it. But once I got it, it went in the show."
THINGS CHANGE Clearly, says Hodgson, the biggest change in the world since he started MST3K is, well, Joel Hodgson. Fans have asked why he isn't hosting the series this time around (that duty went to comedian Jonah Ray). His answer? "I'm 57. I'm told, 'Yeah, Joel, you can helm a topical TV show where you have to be constantly riffing.' Well, at a certain point, there's only so many riffs you can do without getting exhausted, so it was totally right to bring Jonah in."
THE BEGINNING One Day at a Time (1975-84, CBS)
TAKING THINGS PERSONALLY The original One Day at a Time shook up television by viewing the world through the eyes of a single mom. The new version has done the same, but by viewing the world through the eyes of a Latina single mom. That suits executive producer Gloria Calderon Kellett just fine. Her family is Cuban-American, and while she's a fan of the Norman Lear-created original, she also remembers it existing "in a time when you didn't see people who looked like me on TV. I could only identify myself through other stories and experiences, so getting to tell personal stories now is satisfying. Hearing each other's stories is more important now than ever."
THINGS CHANGE Teen angst was definitely a part of the original series, something that has remained in the Netflix version. There's been one major change in the 40 years since the first go-around, though, that's altered how those teen tales get told. "The biggest difference that's happened is that they used to have phones attached to the wall," says Calderon Kellett. "And we have different ways that these kids interact with their peers now, mostly cellphones and Skype."
THE BEGINNING Star Trek (1966-69, NBC)
BOLDLY GOING WHERE EACH TREK HAS GONE BEFORE There have already been five TV Trek incarnations as well as 14 movies, so executive producer Alex Kurtzman knew going in that he had to offer fans "something new as well as something familiar." The "new" included his plan "for the lead to be a woman of color." As for the "familiar," Kurtzman realized, "we're in the middle of particularly complicated political times, where people who don't like us are perceived as monsters. So, we wanted to do a show that demonstrates that's not true. It's something Star Trek has always done beautifully, showing how alien life is this thing outside of us but also close to us."
THINGS CHANGE Star Trek has always offered an optimistic view of the future. That's why there's a bit of irony in the fact that Kurtzman has an issue with futuristic technology — aka the internet. "As a little kid, I got excited when the encyclopedia salesman came to the house and spent hours walking us through each book. My son is growing up in an entirely different world, where every bit of info is accessible. It's good that our knowledge is so much greater, but the problem is this bombardment of information is almost impossible to turn off."
THE BEGINNING Twin Peaks (1990-91, ABC)
RE-COOPER-ATING Series star Kyle MacLachlan said yes to reprising his Agent Cooper character after series co-creator David Lynch assured him (over cups of coffee, naturally) that he'd get to do other characters as well, specifically the odd Dougie Jones and the evil Mr. C. "There was never a question in David's mind whether or not I could do this. Still, when I started reading the scripts, I was stunned at what I was going to be required to do."
THINGS CHANGE It's been nearly three decades since the original Peaks premiered, and there's been one particular societal change in that time that made making the new series more complicated. Says MacLachlan: "The new challenge was the tremendous amount of keeping everything about what we were doing safe and secure. That's the downside of the advancement of social media. But I absolutely went along with it."
THE BEGINNING Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
CHILLING OUT In the original film, there was a reference to the Camp Firewood gang reuniting in a decade. So, it was only natural that the second spinoff (the first was Netflix's 2015 WHAS: First Day of Camp prequel) would fulfill that promise by bringing the cast back together as older versions of their characters. Executive producer (and star)Michael Showalter admits that the fact that the cast has aged made this leap forward feel more natural — and era-appropriate. "Every iteration of [WHAS] has been a kind of archetypal story we're riffing off of. This season, it's the reunion flick … The Big Chill, St. Elmo's Fire, Indian Summer … where people in their late 20s and early 30s reunite to revisit past glories and truths, and past rivalries are revealed."
THINGS CHANGE Because the careers of the original Wet Hot-ties (including Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd) have changed dramatically, the hardest thing about this incarnation was dealing with their schedules. Says executive producer/director David Wain, "The challenge was creating these interlocking stories, never knowing for sure who would have how much time and when. There was a lot of creative cheating." And the most helpful change since 2001? "I'm so glad to not have to deal with fax machines anymore."
THE BEGINNING Will & Grace (1998-2006, NBC)
A HAPPY HOMECOMING For a new show, there wasn't much new other than "we're older and we now know what Ensure tastes like," says co-creator Max Mutchnik. Eric McCormack (Will) admits that "it seems nuts, but there's really nothing that's different. It all feels the same." That applies to everything from the cast to the crew to the rehearsal schedule. "The only thing that had me trepidatious about doing this never materialized. I assumed there would be cynicism about us coming back on the part of the critics, if not the public. They'd cross their arms and say, 'Prove it to me!' However, from moment one, people seemed excited for this."
THINGS CHANGE Will & Grace has never shied away from wearing its bleeding heart on its sleeve, so it's no surprise when co-creator David Kohan says, "My least favorite change in the world since Will & Grace first debuted? Come on … you know."
THE BEGINNING The Big Bang Theory (2007- present, CBS)
MAKING MOVIES While Big Bang is a multicamera comedy, Young Sheldon opted to go single-camera. Says Sheldon/Big Bang executive producer Steven Molaro, "We shoot Big Bang like a play, and Sheldon is more like a little movie. So, it's a much more time-consuming process shooting and editing [Sheldon]. That's been a bit of an adjustment, but we are lucky to get to play with both formats."
THINGS CHANGE The changes in technology since the premiere of Big Bang Theory have been a blessing as well as a curse for Molaro. "The best change is, I can go on my phone and have any food item immediately delivered to my house. It used to be just pizza. Now, high-end sushi, a hot dog from the gas station … someone will bring it," he says. "I do think it's sad, though, that no one cares about who my top eight friends on MySpace are anymore."