When I first read the news that there are plans afoot to reboot The Brady Bunch, which ran from 1969 to 1974 and starred Robert Reed and Florence Henderson, I thought “Why not? It worked well for Battlestar Galactica, and Dallas.”
But as I digested the news, I realised that this announcement, framed as a bold re-invention of the show in light of today’s vastly different social paradigms – divorce is no longer the stigma it was in 1969 when The Brady Bunch creator, Sherwood Schwartz was told to fudge the exact reasons for the end of Mrs Brady’s first marriage – by executive producers Vince Vaughn, Lloyd Schwartz and Mike Mariano (Raising Hope, My Name is Earl) was another example of TV beginning to show alarming symptoms of Hollywood Disease.
That is, relying far too much of regurgitating what has gone before, and not enough on coming up with innovative fresh ideas. It’s not like this is the first time TV, or pop culture in general, has done this.
Modern chart music has practically cannibalised any decade within easy memory and the clothing industry is running out of fashion trends from days past to serve up as the “Next Big Thing”. Literature too has started championing mash-ups such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are bold new steps forward. So clearly there are precedents.
And it’s not to say dipping the pen into the same old ink well hasn’t proved successful, or in some rare cases even creatively satisfying. But as Hollywood has demonstrated it also carries great risk. That which worked a treat at one point in history, may fail spectacularly in another. (Bewitched the movie anyone?)
And an over reliance on recycling old ideas usually leads to an almost complete cessation of sourcing new original ideas, which impoverishes the creative process overall. It may aid the bottom line since resurrecting an old show to which you own the rights is cheaper and supposedly more of a guarantee of success than an unheralded idea with no track no record or built-in audience, but it often comes at the expense of fresh vibrant ideas which are pushed to one side.
Those that have made a success of it have done so by totally re-inventing the show while staying paying homage to the original germ of the idea. Now you could well argue that there isn’t any point even embarking on a reboot if all you are essentially creating is a brand new show, but fans love the idea of seeing their show re-imagined if it adds to the overall legacy of the show as Battlestar Galactica did so well, so initially at least news of a reboot is greeted with excitement by most people in a fan community.
Unfortunately though, all too often you end up with pale imitations of old classics, that fail to work as either homages to the show that went before, or as viable entity in their own right.
Now I have no doubt that Mike Mariano is a talented writer. Raising Hope and My Name is Earl are two very clever shows that subtlety subverted many sitcom conventions to great comic effect. The writing and hence the acting was superb, and I am sure that Mariano would bring a similar intelligence and wit to The Brady Bunch reboot.
But that kind of misses the point. The issue is not so much whether the new rebooted version is a paragon of excellence in writing and acting. If the show is no good, it will simply cease production and disappear into the abyss of TV history; and if it’s great, we will have another show to add to the already burgeoning schedule most serious TV viewers have in this new purported golden age of television (where the quality and creative brilliance of shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Community, to name but a few, echo the sort of quality benchmarks Hollywood once aspired to).
So no harm, no foul in one sense.
But the concern is if TV bosses become used to raiding the vaults for “new” ideas leading to viewers ending up with fewer and fewer truly original ideas. Is this a problem if all the reboots are well done? (And if we get a good show out of it, who cares where the idea came from right?)
Perhaps not, but history shows us that the majority of reboots fail miserably and if they become the staple of television, along with the plague of reality TV shows already on our house, then TV could well follow Hollywood down the slippery slope to terminal creative bankruptcy.
And frankly, no one wants to watch that …
* Here’s the original announcement of The Brady Bunch reboot.