Originality Flounders In The Age of Revivals

What’s old is new again, but that doesn’t always make it better in the Golden Age of television.

Networks from all ends of the entertainment spectrum continue reviving old shows, with programs like Murphy Brown and The Conners — minus the formerly titualar Conner, Roseanne Barr, due to racist remarks the actress made over the summer — on broadcast and others like Fuller House and Gilmore Girls on Netflix inhabiting the field. However, despite their general popularity, shows like these risk taking away from the creative sphere.

This is a newfound trend in the TV industry. As broadcast ratings have declined and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu began to deliver higher-quality shows, networks looked toward their past archives to provide a built-in viewer base. This led to new seasons of shows like 24 and The X-Files, moderate successes that gave networks the go-ahead to produce more.

However, with those successes comes a draw away from original content. Those prestiges networks began including their own revivals, with Netflix bringing back shows like Full House recently, announcing a live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender while others like Amazon dig into entertainment’s past (their most notable example: a live-action series based off The Lord of the Rings, a complete retelling).

That doesn’t bode well for television now. It is much harder to market a series like Manifest, a new NBC drama, than it is to market the second season of the revived Will & Grace. The networks continue to invest in the shows, yes, but they don’t have as much worry about their successes when they can always look backwards to reinvigorate the now.

It isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to television. Disney has ridden the nostalgia wave of late, debuting live-action versions of their acclaimed films (next up: The Lion King and Aladdin); reboots of films are continuously occurring (A Star Is Born, Murder On The Orient Express); and studios continue to try and live in the worlds of box-office success (the Wizarding World in Fantastic Beasts, a galactic adventure in Star Wars).

But what is unique to the world of television is its continuous process. Movies are made in two to three years while an episode of television is done in six weeks, making the turnaround significantly quicker and the rate of investment much sooner. Networks know this, which has led them to turn to what did make money versus what could.

It’s a short-term business goal, and while the effort has proven moderately successful — the rebooted Roseanne was enough of a ratings success to support a Roseanne-less second season — it makes one question whether creativity can survive in an industry meant for it.