Friday, September 28, 2007

Worst Series Retool Ever?

As you can probably tell from my previous posts, I'm quite fascinated by shows that get retooled, especially when the retool happens in the second or third season. When a show gets overhauled late in its run, it's not as interesting, because those are usually done to cope with the departures of key cast members. What I'm talking about is what happens when a relatively new shows changes the cast, the setting, and even the premise. The idea is always that the show has the potential to be a hit, but to do so, it needs to add certain elements that will theoretically make it more appealing.

The thing is, this almost never actually works. The viewers they gain from the new setting or new demographic appeal almost never outweigh the viewers they drive away by changing everything so quickly. It worked with Newhart, but Newhart's retool happened very gradually; the new characters and new setting weren't all introduced in the same episode, and it took over a year for all the changes to be implemented. That helped regular viewers get used to the changes while bringing in new viewers. But when a show starts a new season and the sets are different, the supporting cast is different, the style is different -- I'm not saying it never works, but it certainly has a high probability of disaster.

So what is your nomination for the worst of these retools, either in terms of how bad the changes were, or just how stupid an idea it was to change the show? The classic example, of course, is Mork and Mindy, because as was explained in comments to another post, ABC and Paramount took a huge hit show and retooled it into a much less popular show.

But I think another retool from the same era may be even worse: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. You'll recall that the first season of this Glen Larson production was the cheesiest thing ever: bad '70s fashions in the future, an annoying robot sidekick (voiced by Mel Blanc, who didn't even bother to make up an actual voice for the character; that was basically just his real voice), and lots of space T&A. But it combined everything people liked in the late '70s and early '80s: cornball humor, action, robots, sci-fi, and jiggle TV. The abbreviated second season had a serious and depressing setting, serious and depressing plots, a serious and depressing supporting cast, and few female guest stars. I'm not saying Buck Rogers was a good show in its first season, though it was better than the second. What I'm saying is that I don't understand the logic: how did anyone think the show would get more popular if they included less humor, action and sex appeal? It would be like retooling Star Trek to make Kirk suicidal and celibate, and replacing every member of the crew with that alien from the Filmation cartoon.

17 comments:

Todd said...

As a young kid (OK, I was, like, 11), I watched the entire run of Mork and Mindy on Nick at Nite, and it was really jarring how characters would join and leave the show, seemingly randomly. And the show was a huge hit!

A re-tooled show plays even MORE weirdly in syndication. Honestly, I never noticed Newhart was retooled when I watched that in syndication, so they did a fine job there.

Gordon said...

I think the logic behind the 2nd year BUCK ROGERS reboot was something like, "Let's make it more like Star Trek", since TREK was doing well in syndication.

However, TREK also had the best and the brightest science fiction writers, who could write literate stories; BUCK ROGERS only seemed to take the superficial aspects (Starship, alien colleague, etc), hoping for a hit.

Even as a ten year old, I loved the initial BUCK ROGERS series to death, but avoided it most of its second season.

Laura said...

I've been watching (and taping!) NEWHART as it runs on cable's American Life Channel -- really enjoyed the link to your writeup on the show's "remodel." My only regret was that I wished they could have kept Leslie (Jennifer Holmes) as at least a semiregular, because I liked her cheerful innocence, but they did do a great job gradually changing the show -- getting rid of Kirk was the best move they made. I hadn't remembered they switched from video to film -- interesting. (We're still in Season 1 on cable.)

Best wishes,
Laura

Brent McKee said...

Has Buck Rogers ever been done well? I'm not even a huge fan of the original comic strip in terms of the look of it. Is there a reason why there were three Flash Gordon serials but only one for Buck Rogers, or why Buster Crabbe was in all four?

The story of the reboot is that they wanted to make it more like another Glenn Larson production - Battlestar Galactica - with the characters tracking down the lost colonies of Earth!

Linda said...

I'd say Galactica 1980.

Honorable mentions: the second season of Space: 1999 and the final season of The Waltons where they miraculously resurrected Mary Ellen's dead husband (killed at Pearl Harbor). Reason he didn't contact her? He was emasculated in the attack and knew she wanted children. Gahhhhh!

Anonymous said...

"Temperatures Rising" had three different casts and plots in less than two seasons.

"The Doris Day Show" seemed to change its storyline every season.

"Gabriel's Fire," a serious drama with James Earl Jones, became the lighthearted "Pros and Cons" with the addition of Richard Crenna.

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