Americans love a good comeback. Whether it’s retro toys being produced (Fisher Price is even remaking the rotary phones), a tour by a throwback band (hello New Kids on the Block/Boyz II Men), or a successful re-imagining of a movie (Jumanji is killing it right now at the box office), it proves that you can in fact come home again! Good old fashioned nostalgia makes you feel good.
Network television seems to have taken that point to heart. This year alone there have been several well-loved 1990’s programs that reappeared in the TV guide, even with the same cast. Will & Grace, Roseanne and Jersey Shore have brought back characters that America knew and loved to prove that classics never die. Roseanne garnered a whopping 18.2 million viewers for the premiere, and while it’s come down a bit to 13 and 12 million in the following weeks, that’s enough to keep it at the top of the ratings heap for prime time Tuesdays.
Even shows that aren’t bringing back their same cast have found a way to reinvent themselves for a revival. Queer Eye, a popular show from 2003, brought in a new “Fab 5” and is now appearing on Netflix. Muppet Babies, a popular 1980s cartoon, has re-appeared on the Disney Channel and introduced a new Muppet to today’s youth, and likely their parents that are watching for a glimpse of their past.
These successful launches are just the beginning. Within the span of 48 hours in February, CBS announced the reboot of Murphy Brown (with the original cast), Cagney & Lacey, and Magnum P.I.. Other networks have joined in, announcing that fan favorites like The Greatest American Hero (ABC), Charmed (CW), and Party of Five (Freeform) will all see airtime again soon! Some even taking new spins, like the Party of Five reboot adding an immigration twist.
Some media critics and writers see this uprise in reboots as a “farewell tour” for television. They are quick to comment that networks have lost creative know-how so they are just regurgitating old classics. The truth of the matter is that networks are still writing new shows, and green-lighting other pilots. Maybe all these reboots won’t be successful, or even end up fully on-air, but they are giving it a shot.
Re-airing popular old shows is not a new concept. Nick at Nite was a pioneer of breathing new life into old programming. Granted it was just showing reruns of classics like Laugh-In and The Beverly Hillbillies, but the concept of nostalgia was there. And the hit series I Love Lucy left the air in May of 1957, only to have the stars pop up six months later on The Lucille Ball–Desi Arnaz Show. There’s a history of recycling on television that traces back to its roots.
So what does this mean for a media planner or a media buyer? Are you going to take a gamble and get in early with the new reboot programs? Will you try to capitalize on the American viewer’s curiosity? If the recent success of the reboots of 2017 and 2018, such as Roseanne, One Day at a Time, or The X-Files give any indication, it seems like a safe bet.
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