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Is it just me, or do a lot of television programmes from the 90s seem to be making a comeback in the next couple of years? 2016 seems to be the year of television show nostalgia. January saw the return of classic sci-fi series The X-Files, acclaimed teen drama Gilmore Girls* is set to return for a limited run as a miniseries series on Netflix later this year, and let’s not neglect to mention the ongoing production troubles behind the scenes of the long-awaited Twin Peaks revival, which is supposedly coming to our screens sometime in 2017, a whopping 26 years after it was cancelled. I also heard whisperings of a Fresh Prince of Bel Air reboot, but the less said about that the better (is nothing sacred?). There is a laundry list of other shows coming back – too many to talk about on this post, but a quick Google for ‘TV show revivals 2016’ will demonstrate my point.
Where did this trend come from?! Why are studios deciding now to bring back old success stories instead of bringing out original material? Is the quality of new shows really declining so much these days that people are calling out for the return of these older series? It’s possible, I suppose. Flicking through TV stations at home, I must admit I do find it difficult to find a new show to watch that really takes my interest. I will watch for a few minutes, get bored and turn onto something else. It seems that there are so many reality shows, documentaries, long running shows, soaps and films on the box. It’s hard to pick out a new, entirely original programme from recent times which has managed to keep my attention. I’ll admit it; I am that person who watches reruns of Friends and still laughs like I’m seeing it for the first time. Judge me, I deserve it. But I don’t think there’s been a sitcom of that standard since it ended, and that’s the problem!
So what are the factors that make the studios want to bring these shows back? Well, there’s my good friend the internet. I know, I know, I mention the internet in every single blog post I make and I’m sorry, but I really do think it’s responsible for so many TV trends. It’s probably noteworthy that the 90s also correlates with the rise of the internet as something used by ordinary folk like us – it’s almost like, for the first time, the public had an easy way to share their thoughts in an open space which could be viewed by anyone. In fact it’s basically exactly that. How easy is it to voice opinions now? It takes all of one minute to start and share a petition to bring back “Your Favourite Cancelled TV Show”, and although most of them fall by the wayside, some really do gain traction – people have petitioned for The X-Files to be continued on-screen in some way for several years now. Also in this vein, streaming sites allow both established fans and new audiences to get their hands on old TV shows so easily, meaning websites and message boards like IMDb are always abuzz with conversation. It’s much easier for a network to see how loved a show is now that they don’t just have to rely on ratings information, but more qualitative data on why these shows are so well-remembered. Perhaps it really is a case of “ask and ye shall receive”. Or “persistently scream loud enough and you’ll get what you want eventually” might be more the case – it is the internet, after all.
Of course, this doesn’t mean ratings don’t play a big part in this revival trend. Netflix is known to keep tabs on how much each series they own the rights to is being streamed. Once they added Gilmore Girls to their repertoire and the generation of teens who grew up with the show suddenly remembered how much they adored it, its viewing numbers soared and Netflix has taken full advantage of this resurgence by bringing the show back with new episodes at the height of the renewed interest.
And sometimes, a show is just genuinely good and was cursed to end too soon, before people got their satisfying conclusion. I’m looking at you, Twin Peaks. I must admit, I’ve never seen it myself (it’s on my ever growing list of shows to watch) but I’ve done my research and I know people went crazy for it, despite the fact that it only lasted for 30 episodes. Very strange and ahead of its time, Twin Peaks was doomed to become a cult classic after suffering in ratings as it competed against popular sitcom Cheers and eventually became a victim of erratic scheduling and executive meddling. A controversial theatrical film which serves as the series conclusion received mixed reviews in 1992, and the show was left alone from that point on. Highly regarded by audiences and critics alike, rumours of an abandoned third season floated around for years, until David Lynch finally announced his intention to revive the show in 2014 – an announcement met with great enthusiasm from original and new fans alike, especially with the further announcement that the original cast and crew is set to return. We really go crazy for continuity, don’t we?
There does seem to be one important factor all of these shows have in common: critical acclaim. These shows all had something that audiences really enjoyed and want more of. Maybe the key isn’t to revive the old shows, but to figure out what made them so popular in the first place and try to bring these elements back into new programming. Maybe the studios just aren’t willing to take risks and would rather fall back on shows with a built in audience. Or maybe the 90s and early 2000s really were just the golden era for TV shows, and we’ve never reached the same heights since.
*Gilmore Girls started in the year 2000, so it just misses out on the 90s, but “90s kids” watched it, so I’m counting it anyway.
Database last updated: 18 June - 18:25