I don’t want my dead TV shows back.
I’m sure there are people who are excited that David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks is getting an 18-episode reboot that begins at 9 p.m. Sunday on Showtime; that the original casts of ABC’s Roseanne and NBC’s Will & Grace will be reuniting on their former networks; that the CW is resuscitating Dynasty and CBS S.W.A.T. (with new casts), or even that American Idol, whose farewell season on Fox feels as though it ended about five minutes ago, will be back next year on ABC for a 16th run.
I’m just not one of them.
Showtime didn’t make screeners of Twin Peaks’ two-hour premiere available to critics, leaving some of us to a Netflix binge of the 1990-91 original. (If you’re curious, the premium cable network is rerunning the first two seasons in a marathon that was to begin at 6 p.m. Saturday.) The show is funnier than I remember from back in the days when watching TV wasn’t my job, and there’s no denying the eccentric brilliance in parts of that first eight-episode season. By the second, though, Twin Peaks was off the rails, and by last weekend, I was resenting every minute spent with it for keeping me from the newly released episodes of Netflix’s Master of None, which so far have been terrific.
Maybe the latest Twin Peaks will be terrific, too, but I’d be more curious to see Lynch and Frost come up with something entirely fresh, especially as they no longer have to deal with broadcast television and the need to appeal to a wide audience.
There will be more sci-fi, fantasy, and military-themed shows on broadcast television in 2017-18. But of the trends that emerged from the broadcast networks’ annual pitch to advertisers in recent days, nostalgia had to be the saddest.
Disney/ABC Television president Ben Sherwood kicked off his pitch to advertisers Tuesday afternoon by reminding them that ABC had been the first network to hold one of these events, designed to attract up-front commitments from ad buyers, in 1962. The medical drama Ben Casey, he noted, was then the network’s highest-rated show, with a 29 rating (that translates into more than 14 million of the nation’s then-48.9 million TV households).
And then he joked that ABC would be bringing back Ben Casey.
I’ve spent my career in newspapers, and even if I’m mostly fine with their transition to multiplatform media companies, I get the longing for the days when the audience, and the advertising revenue, wasn’t so scattered. That doesn’t mean I want to go back to typewriters.
All the shows headed back to television ended for a reason. Some — I’m looking at you, Roseanne — would be remembered more fondly if they’d gone off the air a season or two sooner.
Yes, it was good, for a little while, to see David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reunite as Mulder and Scully for Fox’s The X-Files, but the unevenness of last year’s six-episode reboot didn’t leave me aching for the 10 more that Fox has planned for next season.
Face time for Tina Fey
At NBC, they’re nostalgic about “must-see TV,” a branding strategy the network’s reviving as it sends the 12 new episodes of Will & Grace and the breakout hit This Is Us to Thursdays in an attempt to win back a night the network once dominated.
That turned out to be good news for NBC’s Great News, which this fall will get the 8:30 p.m. slot between the two. Upper Darby’s Tina Fey didn’t create NBC’s Great News (that was her 30 Rock colleague Tracey Wigfield), but she is one of its executive producers, and the promise of her occasional on-camera presence may have helped win it a second season, despite lackluster ratings.
In a conference call with reporters, NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt said, “It’s safe to say that you will see Tina Fey popping into this world next year … as well as a number of, hopefully, fun guest stars, so I’m going to add Tina Fey to the ‘must-see TV’ lineup.”
When I asked whether Fey would be playing herself or a character, Greenblatt said the details hadn’t been worked out yet, but “Tina Fey is, you know, very important to this entire company, for a lot of reasons. … We would have asked her to show up in it, anyway, as she did in [her Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.] I just think the more Tina Fey the better.”
I’m thrilled that the writer and producer, who turned 47 on Thursday, is still in demand as an actress on the network that launched her TV career with Saturday Night Live, and then let her make 30 Rock for seven seasons.
I just don’t entirely get the math.
Because Fey starred every week in the Emmy-winning 30 Rock, a smart, funny show that was, as she would be the first to tell you, never the hit she’d hoped it would be. As she wrote in her best seller, Bossypants: “We weren’t trying to make a low-rated critical darling that snarled in the face of conventionality. We were trying to make Home Improvement, and we did it wrong.”
Life after death
The line between canceled and renewed has gotten blurrier, as networks continued to ponder the fates (or renegotiate the deals) of some so-so performers. NBC’s well-loved but underwatched Timeless, briefly canceled and then uncanceled before the network’s schedule was announced, at least knows which side of the line it’s on, even if its producers don’t know whether it will return before summer 2018.
Other shows — among them NBC’s Trial & Error and Chicago Justice and Fox’s M. Night Shyamalan offering, Wayward Pines — might or might not be seen again.
Maybe, though, we need to let go of the very idea of cancellation.
Fox, which besides bringing The X-Files back, recently revived Prison Break, seems particularly reluctant to call time of death on long-running shows.
When I asked Fox Television Group co-CEO Dana Walden how long a series like Fox’s just-retired Bones should be off the air before the network contemplated a revival, it seemed as though she had given the idea some thought already.
“Bones is a good example,” she said. “There are so many factors that go into whether you can bring a show back. One right now would be that David Boreanaz is on a show [SEAL Team] that was just ordered by CBS. So long as that show’s in production, there’s probably no chance of a Bones reunion. But we have used as sort of a guiding light of which shows to bring back which great creators have come in to us with great new stories to tell about those characters. So if [Bones creator] Hart Hanson or [executive producer] Stephen Nathan came in to us at some point over the next few years with a compelling reason to revisit the world of Bones, we would probably do it.”
It wouldn’t hurt that Bones is owned by 20th Century Fox Television.
Walden also has her eye on another show that Fox owns but that CBS aired: How I Met Your Mother.
“At some point, I would hope we will have the opportunity to reunite those characters, and tell new stories, if Craig [Thomas] and Carter [Bays] had the desire to do that. It’s not every show,” she said, “but a beloved show that is still being consumed all over the world. That’s an interesting opportunity for us.”
Before anyone gets too excited, remember that star Josh Radnor already is committed to NBC’s midseason drama Rise, based on former Inquirer and Daily News reporter Michael Sokolove’s book Drama High, about the theater program at his Bucks County alma mater.
Plus, we already know how Ted met the utterly charming mother, played by Cherry Hill’s Cristin Milioti. We also know what happened next.
And it wasn’t pretty.