Why Television Remakes and Spin-Offs are Killing the Medium

Cable and broadcast television has become stagnant, a problem that went from a worrying trend to numbingly normal.

Instead of showing initiative and finding new and exciting programs, they have defaulted to playing it safe by remaking previous successes.

Some examples include Walker, The Wonder Years, Hawaii 5-0, and Quantum Leap, but they are not the only ones.

In addition to these outright remakes, broadcast cable has filled their schedules with spin-offs of existing shows: NCIS, Walker: Independence, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, The Rookie: Feds, and FBI: Most Wanted, among others.

In most cases, these spin-offs have been short-lived and poorly received. Or, in the case of Powerpuff, they don’t even make it out of production after backlash.


There are numerous reasons for this. But the one that is most obvious to me is that they don’t take the time to realize what exactly made the show work in the first place.

Was it the cast?

Was it the style of writing? 

What about the concept drew audiences in?

Why was it so popular?

Rather than visit these questions and more, television executives say, “This worked before. Let’s do it again.” 

There is the argument that it saves money. By expanding a successful franchise or remaking a previous success, there is the belief that you are making a safer call regarding pilot season. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process, Pilot Season starts in late-Summer to early Fall. Networks make a selection of pilots they are interested in. Those get a pilot order. The show is cast and the pilot episode is filmed. From there, it becomes a wait to see what gets canceled or ends and for the networks to decide what spots in their line up they need to fill. 

Every time a remake, reboot, or spin-off is added to the schedule, it takes the place of a new original show that we could have gotten instead. 

Headlines across the entertainment world scream about dropping numbers and low ratings. Yes, some of it is the fault of the rise of streaming. But the reason broadcast and cable television’s numbers continue to drop is that executives seem to have forgotten one very important rule. 

People may come for the concept, but they stay for the characters and writing. 

Let’s take NCIS as an example. At this point, the parent show is one of the longest-running series on television. Most of its spin-offs are either barely hanging on or have already flopped, yet they are still commissioning more (such as their first international show based in Australia). 

Today, only one cast member from season one of the parent show remains a member of the principal cast. 

An episodic show like NCIS only works when there are characters that you are there and invested in. Characters that you are willing to stick around for, invested in their journey and moment to moment actions. And at this point, NCIS is lacking that. I love McGee, but his character cannot carry that franchise. Without the glue of those characters holding a show together, it falls apart. Combined with the dramatic drop in writing quality, the show is a mere shell of what used to make it great. 

The problem is networks need to take the time and do the necessary work to get their target audiences invested in a show. They want to feed solely off of the goodwill and nostalgia that the existing world brings. You liked this, so you’ll love it re-wrapped 20 years later. 

Walker and Quantum Leap are two examples. In this case writers, producers, and talent from the source material are still alive and would be on board to contribute to these shows. Yet, both have gone through one or multiple seasons without consulting those who made it work the first time. 

Television is lacking the freedom and creativity it once had. It is lacking networks willing to take chances and try new things. Instead of looking for the next big hit, they are going back and visiting old ones. 

For example, let’s take two recent breakout successes. A Million Little Things and This Is Us. Why did both of these succeed? They told new and fresh stories. They centered around deep and complex characters who naturally lent themselves to interesting stories. The writers allowed themselves to feel what the characters were feeling. 

So why do television Remakes and Spin-offs not succeed? 

Because as viewers, people are not watching for stories they’ve already seen. They want new worlds, new characters, and new ideas to transport them into new stories. If broadcast and cable television want to bring viewers back, they’re going to need to get creative. 

Featured Image: Nothing Ahead

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