The subject is the best revivals of classic TV shows; yet I find myself questioning exactly what that means. It’s the word ‘revival’ that gets to me first because there just aren’t that many shows that have been redone on television. Is this referring to a show that is reborn strictly as itself, or one that spawns spin-off after spin-off? Is a revival a show that is the basis for a theatrical film? Or is it a production that returns years later to tell us what our favorites have been up to?
Then there’s the ‘classic’ element. Does it mean shows from the golden age of television, a show that was in the top twenty throughout it’s run, or just a show with a cult following and enough fan support to talk a studio into revisiting the show via a reunion movie? Who defines what is or isn’t classic?
For now, I suppose that would be me since I’m writing this, and frankly, I’m torn on just what should be included here. So, I’m simply going to discuss some of what came to mind when I considered what would be the best revivals of classic TV.
One of the classic shows on television during the fifties was Father Knows Best. It ended in 1960. Seventeen years later, two wonderful reunion movies were filmed which included all of the original cast. We caught up with the Anderson family and learned the good and the bad of their lives. In a brilliant twist, Jim and Margaret decide to sell the house and go see the USA. The buyer brings us full circle. For me this was a marvelous revisit to a golden oldie.
A few shows have actually tweaked themselves to fit into a slightly new age, including:
–The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet returned to television a few years after its 14-year-run with a show called Ozzie’s Girls. Ozzie Nelson updated this show to fit the era. Topics were a part of the new show that never would have been on the original. With their boys gone, the Nelsons rented a room out to two college girls, one of whom was black. I liked this show quite a bit and was sorry that it didn’t stay on the air longer than it did.
–Make Room for Daddy, also known as The Danny Thomas Show, also returned as a reinvented Make Room for Granddaddy. It was the same premise as before, except now Danny Williams was a grandfather.
–The classic crime drama Adam-12 returned, too, but it wasn’t the more family drama that it had been originally. The gritty feel of The New Adam-12 just didn’t go over with fans, though it managed a two-season run.
–The New Love Boat set sail with a new cast that included Robert Urich as the captain and the occasional visit from a member of the original Love Boat.
–Leave it to Beaver returned in 1985 as an updated TV series called Still the Beaver. The entire cast was present, including Ken Osmond who was working as a policeman and not as an actor at the time. The only cast member missing was Hugh Beaumont, who had died. The reunion lasted four years, which is pretty darn good. Then in 1997, a new theatrical film was made with a brand new cast.
In the last couple of years, some shows from the past have been redone. I’m not sure I’d consider them classics, though. Beverly Hills 90210 is now just 90210, and Knight Rider kept the same title. It bombed, but 90210 is doing okay in the ratings.
Big Brother, the reality show, was pretty much a goner, having gotten just so-so ratings when a writer’s strike a few years back made reality shows hot properties in Hollywood. All of a sudden, Big Brother returned and it’s been with us ever since.
Several shows, some classic and some not, have been turned into theatrical films with varying success. In no special order, these include Lost in Space, Bewitched, Flipper, and Family Affair. Others have had made-for-TV reunion movies done. These would include Ben Casey, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy, Green Acres, Farscape, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Patty Duke Show. Some have had both theatrical and TV-movies, such as The Beverly Hillbillies, The Mod Squad, The Wild, Wild West, and Dragnet.
Some shows had TV movies made that were done as pilots for new shows. Those probably would have qualified as true revivals. One was The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and another was Bonanza. The U.N.C.L.E. reunion movie (The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair) was awesome, and I’ll never understand why they didn’t go with the updated show. Bonanza actually had two different made-for-TV movies done, but neither sold. Ultimately, a prequel was developed and aired on TV. It was called Ponderosa and starred Daniel Hugh Kelly as a young Ben Cartwright.
What about shows that have spawned other versions of itself, aka: the spin-off concept? Star Trek is the granddaddy of that premise. After it’s five-year-mission ended in year three, there came Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise, which made the mistake of going just by Enterprise originally. Stargate SG-1 spawned Stargate Atlantis, and the upcoming Stargate Universe. Not only that, but Stargate SG-1 has already completed two movies and is about the film a third. It’s first spin-off, Stargate Atlantis, is also preparing for a new movie. Then there’s the short-lived Stargate cartoon as well.
I’m not sure Battlestar Galactica can be considered a revival. Its latest incarnation wasn’t a popular one with the fans of the original series. Character changes were dramatic. Starbuck switched genders, for example. So incensed were fans of the first show that Edward James Olmos, star of the second series, actually told fans not to watch. It was pretty intense there for a while. The latest Battlestar Galactica is being followed by a prequel called Caprica.
As I consider it, a revival to me just must have the same stars, or at least some of the stars. Dragnet is a true revival. In fact, depending on how you look at it, it’s either a tri- or quad-revival. The original series with Jack Webb aired from 1951-1959. In 1966, Webb made a movie referred to both as Dragnet and Dragnet 1966. I can’t say for sure it that was a pilot or not, but a year later, Dragnet 1967 hit television screens. It remained on the air for four seasons. In 1987, a theatrical film starring Dan Aykroyd was made, and then, NBC tried it again in 2004 with a series that starred Ed O’Neill as Joe Friday.
The Munsters had its original run on television and a 1981 TV movie that starred most of the original cast. It was called The Munsters’ Revenge. Several years later, in 1988, a new TV series was launched with the same characters but new actors, such as John Schuck and Lee Meriwether as Herman and Lily Munster. It was canceled in 1981. In the mid-nineties, two more movies were done, each with different casts.
The other great oddity of the 1960’s, The Addams Family, also went on to have a couple of very well received theatrical films in the 1990’s. Before that, though, in 1973, there was the animated series which lasted a couple of seasons. Following that was the 1997 Halloween with the New Addams Family which had the original cast in a hysterical TV movie. John Astin, who starred as Gomez Addams, appeared with an otherwise new cast in a series that lasted from 1992-1995. Two more outings were done in 1998 with completely new people.
The Avengers starring Patrick Macnee revived itself as well. The original show aired from 1961 to 1969, with Macnee as the stylish John Steed. In 1976, Macnee returned to the role in The New Avengers, which lasted for two seasons. Later, in 1998, Ralph Fiennes brought the role to the big screen.
The western Maverick starred James Garner and aired from 1957 to 1962. In 1978, The New Maverick was made. Garner returned to work with Charles Frank as yet another member of the Maverick clan. This led to The Young Maverick, which led to Bret Maverick, the movie and the series in 1981. Finally, in 1994, Mel Gibson and Garner were on the big screen in the theatrical movie called Maverick. Each of these series versions focused on different family members. Garner appeared in most to some extent.
Perry Mason starring Raymond Burr was stellar when it aired from 1957-1966. Later, in the early seventies, it was revived as The New Perry Mason, starring Monte Markham. It flopped, though I must admit that I liked it. Then, in 1985, Burr and Barbara Hale filmed Perry Mason Returns. This set off a slew of made-for-TV films that continued through 1993 when Burr died.
Lassie actually began as a movie heroine, with Lassie Come Home in 1943. After more movies, she joined the golden age of television in 1954. This adorable collie stayed in our homes for 20 years before being canceled. She didn’t stay away long, though, returning as a movie four years later in The Magic of Lassie. The New Lassie with Dee Wallace Stone then took center stage from 1989 to 1991. You can’t keep a beautiful dog down for long, as evidenced by Lassie’s return as a big screen movie in 1994 and once again as a series, its third, in 1997. I suspect she’ll be back again one day.
Just one more thing. I can’t forget Columbo, starring Peter Falk. It began with the movie Prescription: Murder in 1968. For the next ten years, as part of NBC’s revolving schedule, the trench coat wearing detective appeared in movies. After another decade had passed, in 1989, Falk put on the coat again for a TV-movie that led to more movies. He continued making new adventures through 2003.
However, the revival king of television, classic series or not, has to be The Brady Bunch. This comedy debuted in 1969 and remained on the air until 1974. In 1977, the cast returned with The Brady Bunch Hour. It only lasted the year. In 1981, there was the TV-movie, The Brady Girls Get Married. This was so popular that it bore another TV series called The Brady Brides. It was a good idea, and I actually attended a taping of this show, so I’m partial to it. Unfortunately, it lasted just a single season. Seven years later, another made-for-TV movie aired, and the ratings were sensational. This movie was entitled A Very Brady Christmas. In 1990, The Bradys hit the air. This was a much more reality based show than the lighthearted comedy of the early seventies. Though it was gone in a year, Hollywood wasn’t through with the Bradys.
With a new cast, The Brady Bunch Movie was released in 1995, and its sequel, A Very Brady Sequel, followed a year later. A third movie with the some of the cast was made-for-TV in 2002. In addition to these shows, there was a stage play that was hugely popular, a cartoon series called The Brady Kids, and all kinds of other events.
The amazing thing is that until the movie, the original actors were involved in each of the productions, with a replacement or two scattered throughout when either Maureen McCormick, Eve Plumb, or Susan Olson decided a particular project wasn’t on their agenda for the moment. The parents and the Brady boys did them all.
There are no doubt other shows I haven’t thought of and perhaps others have a different thought process when thinking about revivals, but ultimately, no matter how you define it, I doubt another show can outdo the eternalness of the Brady family.