From Bel-Air to Tolkien, Streamers Lean on Remakes


If you are getting a feeling of deja-vu from your TV screen, there is good reason.

In the desperate competition for eyeballs, streaming giants are taking a page out of Hollywood’s playbook and rifling through the cupboards for recognisable brands to recycle for a new generation.

Fans of 1990s sitcoms are well catered for.

TV phenomenon The Fresh Prince of Bel Air — that gifted the world Will Smith and a theme song to which an entire generation knows the words — is back as Bel Air in February.

Showing on US streaming service Peacock, it has a far grittier tone than the goofy original, and the internet is beside itself over images of a surprisingly slick Carlton and unacceptably slender Uncle Phil.

Another streaming service, Paramount+, is hoping to get a boost by bringing back Frasier. The sitcom looks set to pick up where it left off 17 years ago, with Kelsey Grammar reprising his role as the lovably snobbish psychotherapist.

That adds to a recent deluge of reboots, from Sex and the City (“And Just Like That…”) to How I Met Your Mother (now about meeting a father) to Saved by the Bell.

More new-old shows are on the way, included reheated versions of True Blood and Pretty Little Liars.

Not to mention the feast being laid on for fantasy fans this year, with gigantically expensive franchise extensions of Game of Thrones (House of the Dragon from HBO) and Lord of the Rings (Amazon’s $250-million The Rings of Power.

‘Not infinite’ It is a trick that the US film industry has increasingly relied upon, ignoring original screenplays in favour of familiar superheroes and childhood favourites.

TV revivals have also been around forever, of course, but with the number of streaming channels multiplying rapidly, the value of familiar franchises to attract new customers has grown feverish.

“We are witnessing a battle for content between the platforms,” said media expert Jean Chalaby, of London’s City University.

“The audience is not infinite and doesn’t have the means to maintain three or four subscriptions at the same time.”

Exploiting people’s nostalgia for their youth is a powerful way to grab attention, said former BBC TV executive Andrew Connor, now teaching at Edinburgh University.

The How I Met Your Mother crowd are ideal, he said, since they were mostly teenagers when it first aired and are now prime subscriber age.

‘Zero risk’ With competition rising between the big-hitters — Netflix, Apple, Disney+, Amazon, HBOMax, and a host of new pretenders — anything short of constant, massive growth is a problem.

Netflix might have 220 million subscribers but when its latest figures anticipated only 2.5 million new customers for the first three months of 2022 (down from 4.0 million this time last year), its share price went into a tailspin, losing 20 percent in a day.

Franchise names are the safest way to stay ahead of the pack, said Chalaby.

“Launching an original series costs a lot of money and has no guarantee of success. With a franchise, the risk is practically zero.”

Still, unheard-of shows can still be huge — as Netflix found with South Korea’s Squid Game and Colombian telenovela The Queen of Flow.

“The pandemic showed there is a place for unusual shows,” said Connor. “There will always be a place for innovation.”

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