The TV reboot invasion: Reboots often fail to recreate the magic of an original series. Why are they everywhere?
The problem with TV reboots: They are rarely as good as the original series. Here is why
Everyone loves a comeback.
So in 2016, when Netflix rebooted one of my favorite comfort TV shows, “Gilmore Girls,” I was eager to watch. I grew up with the show. I loved the characters. And I was excited to see how Stars Hollow evolved in almost a decade off-screen.
But “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” betrayed the integrity of its characters, and the show’s reliably witty dialogue plummeted toward ignorance when, in one scene, Rory and her mother Lorelai mocked swimsuit-wearing poolgoers for their weight. There was nothing comforting about this Stars Hollow comeback. My faith in TV reboots was shaken.
I reluctantly gave other rebooted TV shows a chance, but they drove the nail deeper into the TV reboot coffin. Reboots rarely hold up to the original series — even the successful ones tend to fall short. But despite criticism, reboots continue getting made.
A brief history of reboots
Rebooting is not a new strategy. Hollywood has relied on recycling stories for decades. Since its 1954 release, “Godzilla” has been rebooted over 30 times, reports Empire, most recently in “Godzilla vs. Kong” in 2021. And other franchises are following suit — “Star Wars” has nine movies and dozens of spinoffs.
Recently, TV reboots have been everywhere. Especially on streaming platforms. This year alone, popular shows like “Frasier,” “That ’70s Show,” “Night Court” and “Scooby Doo” will all get reboots.
One reason streaming platforms are heavy on reboots is that nostalgia sells. Viewers will tune into a reboot because of the nostalgic feelings associated with it.
“Nostalgia is the strongest sense,” said Fandom CMO Stephanie Fried, per Refinery 29. “It brings you back to a moment in your life that enables you to connect your past to your present in a very powerful way. That connection heightens your enjoyment when viewing content and brings more joy to the experience.”
Reboots don’t need critical acclaim to draw attention from viewers — if they loved the original, chances are they will give the reboot a shot. But despite showmakers’ best efforts, reboots fail to recreate the magic of an original series.
Good TV shows know when to end
TV shows end for a reason. The more popular a series, the longer it gets to stay on television. There are exceptions to this rule, but there’s a reason “Seinfeld” ran for nine seasons and “Friends” lasted for 10. People love them.
Vox called Seinfeld “one of the most successful TV shows ever made,” but even the greatest TV shows must come to an end — and good writers recognize the right time to conclude a series. Reboots attempt to resurrect TV shows that ended on a high note. And it’s a risky business.
During its first three seasons, “Arrested Development” earned praise as the “funniest show on television,” per Forbes. It won multiple Emmys, Golden Globes and other awards.
Despite positive reviews from critics, after three seasons “Arrested Development” had dwindling viewership and poor audience reviews. It was canceled in 2006.
Seven years later, in 2013, Netflix rebooted “Arrested Development.” But the once award-winning series suffered. Vox called the reboot “an ambitious mess.” Character interactions were disjointed and the script lacked the humor that made the first three seasons a cult classic.
In 2018, Netflix gave “Arrested Development” another shot. Critics bashed it. Once again, the sitcom failed to reach expectations set by the original seasons. The Guardian called the plot “nonsense” and according to The Verge it was “painfully, tediously unfunny.”
“Not only do the storylines slog along, but the actors seem to know that they’ve reached the end themselves,” wrote Forbes. “‘Arrested Development’ would need to do something incredibly drastic to earn a Season 6 — and that’s not an open invitation to do so.”
Reboots cannot capture the energy of an original series
Over a decade since its 2007 premiere, “Gossip Girl” remains a pop culture staple. A day rarely goes by that I don’t see a meme about Dan or Serena. But the 2021 reboot had relatively no impact on pop culture.
When “Gossip Girl” premiered, it was the highest-rated show on television for women between 18 and 34. At its peak, Gossip Girl had over 3.7 million viewers, per The Washington Post. The series ran for six drama-filled seasons. But the 2021 reboot got canceled after just two.
“Despite the big initial interest, fueled by fans of the original series, the follow-up could not capture the zeitgeist the way the 2007-12 CW show did,” Deadline reported.
“The Gossip Girl” reboot attempted to evolve but it lacked new energy. “Gossip Girl” used social media instead of blogging and Gossip Girl’s identity was revealed to viewers in the first episode. But in spite an overall sameness to the original series — it was still a show about spoiled Manhattan high schoolers — the series was a flop.
“This is certainly not the first effort, nor will it be the last, to port an old property into a generationally different setting,” wrote Linda Holmes for NPR. “When people wonder why reboots keep happening, it’s this kind of project they have in mind: an update for an update’s sake, an intellectual-property extension that lacks a clear creative impulse.”
Flaws are highlighted in reboots
Reboot writers must work with preexisting characters, avoid repeating plotlines and keep viewers interested. In efforts to keep the show exciting, TV reboots typically highlight a series’ biggest flaws, according to The Washington Post.
“While every great TV series has its flaws, a major problem with TV reboots is that they often focus a glaring spotlight on all of the show’s initial problems, which ultimately make for a subpar viewing experience,” per the Post.
After almost a decade off-screen, the “Gilmore Girls” characters hadn’t grown up. But we did. So Rory and Lorelai seemed more immature than ever — Rory’s rebooted character even prompted a story called “Rory Gilmore is a monster” in The Washington Post.
The “Dallas” reboot faced the same problem.
“Dallas,” which premiered in 1978, followed one family’s saga surrounding their oil empire in Texas. It was wildly popular. Rolling Stone recognized the series as “shameless melodrama” but hailed it for “helping to invent the TV world as we know it today.”
The series had a reputation for being soapy. But the 2012 reboot took the drama, bad acting and predictable plot lines to the extreme.
“‘Dallas’ is terrible. No matter how many guilty-pleasure excuses you may have used up in the initial run ... there’s no good excuse for watching it now,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter. “The writing is brutal and obvious, the acting is comical, and none of it is bettered by the directing.”
Successful reboots still don’t live up to the original series
Not every reboot flops. “Fuller House” was one of the most-watched TV shows of 2016 with an average 14.4 million viewers per episode during its first month on Netflix, per Indie Wire. But the “Full House” finale received 24.3 million views. “Fuller House” was successful on its own, but it still didn’t stand up to the original series.
And even though “Fuller House” got the views, it didn’t impress critics.
“The first four minutes of ‘Fuller House’ are four of the most excruciating TV minutes ever broadcast,” wrote Vulture. “Future societies will have no choice but to judge us harshly for our sins.”
After a strong start, the “Will & Grace” reboot also suffered. Over 10 million viewers watched its 2017 premiere on NBC, and for a moment, it was the network’s No. 1 show, per Vanity Fair. Creators expected viewership to climb to the original series’ audience of 17 million, but by Season 3, “Will & Grace” was averaging less than 3 million viewers per episode. The “Will & Grace” reboot had promising viewership, but never came close to the success of the award-winning original series.
Are there any good reboots?
Quality reboots exist. The reboots that impress both critics and audiences don’t attempt to recreate the loved show of the past, but rather build upon old stories with an angle for modern audiences.
Netflix’s “Cobra Kai” (a reboot of the 1984 film “The Karate Kid”) is on its sixth season and has been received with praise — the fifth season even scored 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, per NPR.
“(‘Cobra Kai’) has already surpassed any reasonable expectations, developing a life of its own that proves it wasn’t just ‘Karate Kid’-ing around,” wrote CNN.
“Stories cannot just piggyback on their former glory. Every film or series remake should have new audiences in mind,” said Giuliano Papadia, CEO of the television production company BlackBox Multimedia, per BBC.
“Cobra Kai” and the “Twin Peaks” reboot did exactly what Papadia describes: they gave old stories a creative new life that made them interesting to new audiences. In other words, “Cobra Kai” wasn’t trying to be another “Karate Kid.” The series built upon the world created in the original, instead of rehashing old themes and plot lines from the movie.
Reboots attract viewers to streaming platforms
Netflix has rebooted dozens of shows — “Gilmore Girls,” “Full House,” “Charmed,” “That ’70s Show,” and “The Killing,” to name a few.
HBO Max followed closely in Netflix’s footsteps with reboots of “Sex and the City,” “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars.” Hulu, Paramount+, Amazon Prime and Disney+ have all done the same thing.
When a streaming service reboots a show, it claims the original series and entices fans to subscribe with the promise of a reboot.
Paramount+ entered the streaming world with the debut of the “iCarly” reboot. Paramount+ saw “a 391% week-over-week rise in searches and views during the release of the (‘iCarly’) reboot,” according to Roku data.
“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Wonder Years,” and “Dexter,” all experienced a 300% increase in search activity following the release of their reboots.
Reboots offer a risk-averse strategy
There is an overwhelming amount of content on television and breaking through it is difficult. Rebooted TV shows already have a fan base, which provides an advantage in reaching audiences.
“The heavy lifting is done for you already. You don’t need to sell audiences on what ‘Will & Grace’ is, even if you didn’t watch the show. You are aware it existed and have a general idea of what it’s about,” said Jason Lynch, AdWeek’s TV guru, per ABC News.
New TV shows don’t have a high success rate. According to Screen Rant, 65% of new network television series get canceled within their first season. Reboots offer a safety net.
“Recently the industry has seen a solid string of success born out of rebooting or upgrading content from the past. This is a risk-averse strategy. You bank on content where people already have a sense of the characters, they have a sense of what the plot is, what the story is,” said Walt Hickey, a pop culture expert at FiveThirtyEight, per ABC News.
Reboots cannot capture the magic of an original series
Reboots are like the college freshman who returns to his high school over Thanksgiving break just to say hi: they’ve already peaked and it’s time to move on. Reboots hope to regain the same authenticity it had during its prime, but the reboot graduated. Audiences change. Culture changes. The past cannot be recreated.
Try as they might, Reboots rarely live up to the expectations set by an original series — the TV reboot fails to capture the magic of an original series.
“The reboot that changes nothing will be uncanny and lifeless; the one that thinks itself more clever than its predecessor will turn out cynical and sour,” wrote The New York Times.
In a moneymaking universe like Hollywood you can expect to see dozens more reboots — but don’t expect them to live up to the standard of the original series.