This week, we turned our attention to SciFi television when we asked our panelists this question:
Here’s how they responded…
I thought long and hard on this one, and with so many great candidates, it wasn’t easy. Manimal? The Night Stalker? Misfits of Science? Century City? Oh, the delightful possibilities. How can one man make such a controversial decision? Well, after much soul searching, meditation, and hours of telepathic communion with my ancient Martian spirit guide (his name is Jack), I can only find one worthy answer.
How would I update this classic show? Good question. I probably wouldn’t change it much. I’d give it a more action oriented update that wouldn’t lose the humor of the original. Something like Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Fun, retro, and sharp. I’d also expand Darkwing’s universe to include more superheroes and villains. In addition to the classics such as Liquidator, Bushroot, and Megavolt, I’d introduce new characters. And of course, you could never go wrong with a Gizmoduck team up on a fairly regular basis. All of this would inevitably lead to my ultimate spinoff series:
Justice Ducks Unlimited.
But one step at a time…
None and none. The world needs another scifi TV zombie resurrection exactly as much as I need to jab spoons into my eyeballs and keep scooping until I hit gray matter. New ideas, please, kthxbye.
My favorite science fiction program, The Outer Limits, was already remade, and my other choice for a favorite, the original Star Trek, sort of remade via movies and its spinoffs. I’m reluctant to choose any such classic programs, anyway, so my choice would be 1973’s syndicated Canadian series The Starlost, created (and later disowned) by Harlan Ellison. It had a much more ambitious premise than most other SF series to date have attempted, concerning a gigantic space ark adrift so long that many of its occupants don’t even realize they’re on a spacecraft. The effects (by Douglas Trumbull) were okay for the time, but I think this series could benefit from being reborn with more advanced effects and more adherence to Ellison’s original vision, which apparently was “dumbed down” somewhat. So can The Starlost ever be found again?
The first program that popped into my head was Max Headroom, but that was a ridiculous knee-jerk. I adored Max Headroom and any remake would just piss me off. Same goes for Filmation’s Flash Gordon cartoon of 1979-1980 which I loved, loved, loved. The type of show that should be remade is one that wasn’t very good to begin with. You can go nowhere but up with a ball of crap like the original Battlestar Galactica. The problem there is that the Wasn’t Very Good category includes most science fiction television. How does one choose?
I won’t even approach Quark or Small Wonder.
I should pick 1977’s Fantastic Journey, a ten-episode series which hooked me as a kid. It concerned adventures on a mysterious island (is there any other kind in speculative TVille?) accessed through the Bermuda Triangle, on which gathered people and cultures from throughout past and future history. I’m sure it must have been awful and could benefit from a major overhaul, but I’m not the guy to rework it because unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I remember next to nothing about it.
So here’s my choice. Check your tomatoes at the door.
In brief: A family is transported by pyramid power to another world which is separated into 77 different zones, each with a distinct culture (and science fictional premise). No one but Zone Troopers (The Fuzz) is allowed to travel between the zones. As soon as they show up, our hero family gets into a scuffle with a big shot trooper, steals his access crystal (Key to everything on the planet) and roams around from zone to zone while being chased by the trooper and his cronies. I really liked the show as a greasy teen, but it could definitely stand a little work. What would I do to update this baby, programming guru that I am?
Edgier? Haven’t we had enough edgy? If we get much edgier we may slice something off that we wanted to hold onto. I want to keep the family because it feels like most action shows are about groups of single people who have had bad childhoods and share loads of sexual tension. Action with a family would be a nice change. There’s real fear and something on the line when you’re dealing with endangered family members
What would make this fun show more fun? An over-arching story line, not of the VR5, X-Files or Lost kind wherein the writers build the ship as they’re crossing the ocean, but the Babylon 5 type in which not only has the ship been built before the show starts, but someone knows where the hell it’s going and gently steers it right into its destination port. And if that means it’s just a single season long, I’m okay with that. Just tell me a good story.
There would be exploration initially as the family got their footing in the world. There would be real, non-cryptic information so they could figure out how to get home and develop a plan. There would be alliances on both sides, a gathering of forces, cranking tension and an actual final episode which wrapped it all up in a satisfying conclusion.
Each episode would also have to be able to stand on its own, so we’d have more than just a soap opera. I’d bring on authentic fleshy science fiction writers to explore cool new ideas and not stuff that science fiction writers were thinking about forty years ago rehashed by lame television writers today.
I realize all of these updates are generalizations, full of “No Duh” wishes, but I’m not doing a treatment here. Besides, how long do you want to keep reading this answer? Many of this post’s readers have already skipped to the next answer. Those people, however, have missed out on the delicious ice cream that you and I are sharing right now. We giggle at them as our icy-cold spoons slip from between our closed, smiling lips.
I would love to see a remake of Alien Nation! One of the earliest of many great SF shows unjustly canceled by Fox, this show took the gritty SF setting of the James Caan/Mandy Patinkin film and ran with it: what would happen if LA received a massive, sudden influx of alien refugees from a crashed starship? The show’s alien Newcomers became a powerful, malleable SF metaphor for lots of thorny issues about race, class, gender, and religion. The more we learned about the Tenctonese, the more fascinating they became, both as a species and as individuals. Strong writing and acting made the show great, and it was truly bold with its SFnal concepts– George Francisco’s pregnancy remains one of the most daring things ever shown on network TV. None of this stopped Fox from axing the show, not only robbing the audience of a second season but even leaving a dangling cliffhanger that wasn’t resolved for four years.
Alien Nation was the finest creation of Kenneth Johnson, which is saying something: he’s also responsible for the likes of The Incredible Hulk and V. And with the latter show’s recent revival, the time may be ripe for an Alien Nation comeback as well. The great thing is that the show wouldn’t even need to be changed much. Issues of immigration and intercultural (mis)understanding are, if anything, even more current than they were in 1989– just look at the success of District 9. Perhaps, instead of a pair of homicide detectives, the show’s leads could be part of a 24-style anti-terrorism task force, but beyond that, I see little that would need to be updated. The import thing is the exploration of an alien culture and its interaction with our society, and that idea feels every bit as fresh as it did 20 years ago. The cancellation of Alien Nation is Fox’s second greatest crime against SF (the worst being the cancellation of Firefly, of course). It’s time to set things right– bring back Alien Nation!
Flash Gordon has always been a beloved fantasy epic. Well, right up until the bland SyFy series from a few years ago. Now it’s time for a darker, funnier take on the story.
Dig this: Flash is not the blue-eyed polo champ from Yale – instead he’s a disgraced NFL hero: a delusional has-been, facing charges of steroid use, tax fraud, recreational dog fighting, and funding a corrupt religious cult. His trip to the Planet Mongo is a second-chance. (On the one hand Flash escaped his bad press, but at the same time he’s pissed that he doesn’t get the star treatment.) In the course of his adventures, Flash is unpredictable, ultra-violent, and prone to bouts of depression, cowardice and two-faced betrayals – the likes of which have never been seen in previous incarnations. Like so many sports heroes, this Flash Gordon is a grandiose anti-hero who gets away with murder because he’s extremely charismatic and fueled by psychotropic drugs. He fights the good fight, but often for the wrong reasons. Flash wants to defeat Emperor Ming not to save the Earth, but to displace him as the Tyrant of the Galaxy. (This character-driven series should feature Ming as a second-generation Emperor, a moron who inherited the throne and uses his power to work through some Daddy-issues.) To put it in industry terms: It’s Eastbound & Down as a post-modern space opera.
My answer is: none of them.
Yes, I know that sounds like I’m dodging the question, but let me explain.
I like new TV programmes to be, well, new. They don’t have to be original in every single aspect, they can riff on a trope or play with older ideas, but there has to be something new, and really that newness should be at the core. I really don’t understand the point of remaking something old, because most of the time it will never exceed the original. Because the original was: original!
I expect everyone will point at Battlestar Galactica as an exemplar, and I admit that the first two seasons were good. However imagine if those ideas, that style and that effort had been put into something completely new and fresh. It could have been mind-blowing. (And whilst they were at it they could have come up with a decent ending too.)
More often than not the remakes seem to be hatched because they are seen to be a safe idea. It’s not about art it’s about the money. “We can suck in the old fanbase.” Nothing amazing will ever be made that way.
Was there a need to remake V? Or Knight Rider? Or in films The Dukes Of Hazzard and The A-Team? Really? Or even more bonkers, The Prisoner? Iconic TV programmes of their time. They should be left as they are. LEAVE THEM ALONE. FIND SOMETHING NEW. Arrrgghhhhhh!
And don’t even get me started on remaking UK TV programmes for US audiences….
That’s right. Manimal.
It ran for six episodes in 1983. It was a typical 1970s and 1980s detective show, with a detective tracking down balding white men in tweed suits. Like every 70s and 80s action hero, Manimal saved mom and pop grocery stores from land barons, and stopped mobsters from selling guns to orphans. Or something like that.
But the difference was the detective changed into animals.
The shape-shifting special effects were awesome, by Rick Baker, who did the werewolf stuff in American Werewolf in London and Thriller. There were only three shape-change scenes. So he became a panther and a hawk in every single episode. He became a snake once, in a scene apparently so expensive it only aired once.
Manimal would have been at home in comic books or pulps. He was a super-smart billionaire playboy, like Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, or Doc Savage. But Batman, Iron Man, and Doc Savage could not turn into any animals. Not even ONE.
The only update the show requires is the animal-change effects. They were the best part of the show. The update should keep the excellently dramatic shape changes, where Manimal’s flesh bubbled, and his skin and bones distended. But a dab of morphing and CGI can make all that easier. So easy that this show not only should return, but it must.
The release of the original Star Wars film in 1977 can be viewed as the “Big Bang” of modern Science Fiction in popular culture. The early 80’s are littered with countless movies and TV shows that attempted to cash in on the success of Star Wars. The most notorious figure in regards to profiting from the popularity of Star Wars is almost certainly Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers producer Glan A. Larson. 20th Century Fox even went as far as suing the makers of Battlestar Galactica for copyright infringement.
Larson had a knack for making Sci-Fi shows for TV. One of his lesser known and shorter lived creations was 1984’s Automan. Visually, the show borrowed heavily from Tron, substituting a sweet phosphorescent blue Lamborghini Countach for the light cycles. Automan‘s premise was rather interesting and surprisingly; a bit ahead of its time. A nerdy police officer/computer programmer creates a crime fighting program that can materialize as a hologram in the real world to help solve tough cases. The two would even merge into one being to share abilities and knowledge.
Even though there were only 13 episodes of Automan, it is ripe for a reboot. From The Matrix to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, the concept of a virtual reality has been thoroughly examined. Why not have a humorous crime drama that explores the intersection of the real and virtual worlds? Perhaps a MMO character can suddenly appear in the actual world and have to deal with our reality. There seems to be a wealth of potential story lines; busting up gold farming rings, Second Life affairs and murders, fraud. The list seems to be endless.
This was a tough question for me. Anyone who knows me is keenly aware that I don’t like remakes. With DVDs and the Internet, our access to old television programs is better than ever. There are so many new and fresh ideas out there. I think it is a cultural benefit and maybe even a moral obligation to introduce new shows, new legacies, and new ways of looking at things. Just about everyone in and around Los Angeles has an idea for a TV show or even a fully developed script, and some are rather good. Yet, it’s a lot easier to get a remake produced than a smashing new idea. I think that’s a tragedy. Ron Moore remade Battlestar Galactica because it was easier to get a remake green-lit than a whole new show, and in this case it worked out in all our favors.
Still, I was tasked with coming up with what show should be remade or re-imagined in the second decade of the 21st century. Surprisingly, I came up with two–not bad for a guy who doesn’t really like remakes. I did consider Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but Frank Miller is working on a reboot for a movie slated for 2011.
Let’s dig in:
Okay, you can’t really call it Space 1999, since we’re eleven years past that, but you could call it Space 2099. I think someone will build a moon base by then… Anyway, I ate up the original series back in the day, and even with all the implausible science, dropped characters in the second season, and other problems that were common in TV series of the time, I dug it. But I think a revival of the series would mean throwing out the original premise of the moon being blown out of Earth’s orbit by a huge nuclear explosion. We keep Moon Base Alpha, the cool looking Eagles, and many of the major characters from the first season, but instead have a new catalyst where the Earth befalls a catastrophe that cuts off all those in space from the planet below. It could be a plague, a shift in the magnetic poles, massive weapons release, or anything that would plunge the world into chaos, preventing a return from those outside the atmosphere. A plague would be the most believable and a strong reason why those in space would not want to return. Moon Base Alpha in 2099 would be host to a whole city of settlers, including miners, and deep space exploration platforms. There could be another similar settlement on Mars that conflicts with the Alphans on their way to deal with the problem back on Earth, and the governance of those off world. Space 2099, the series, would focus on the struggle of the Alphans to survive being cut off from Earth, all the while trying to save the people back home. It would be a great platform to deal with all types of social issues like food, water, population control, government, commerce, and even the physiological and psychological pitfalls of living on the Moon for long periods.
The soap opera-esque Dark Shadows ran from 1966-1971 and centered around a wealthy Maine family and their undead relative Barnabas Collins. I know it was remade in the early 90s, but hey, it’s twenty years later. It’s due! Seriously, vampires are hot right now. You have True Blood on HBO, The Vampire Diaries, and The Twilight Saga. Vampires are the new zombies, and what better vampire to raise from the dead than Barnabas Collins.
In order for a remake of Dark Shadows to be successful today it would require the pacing to be sped up considerably. The soap opera format of the first two incarnations would be too slow for modern tastes. Also, the setting should move from a small, isolated town to a medium-sized city like Seattle or Vancouver. The story would revolve around Barnabas’s quest to rediscover his humanity through love, all the while fighting the demon that’s inside him. The Collins family would be the owners of a huge pharmaceutical firm that was started by Barnabas in the late 1800s. What would be ironic is that as Barnabas seeks to solve his condition through medical research, he actually helps the humans that he needs to feed on to survive. There’s a potential for a massive character arc; I think doing the series from Barnabas’s perspective is a must.
Incidentally, what do I think would be the worst remake ever? The Howdy Doody Show re-imagined for the 21st century, exclusively starring methane powered robots.
But honestly, I don’t think network TV is a healthy place right now for any new genre shows. The whole business model is changing and the one they’re working under currently is a disaster. The big mid-season breaks, constantly adjusting schedules, showrunner of the week, and lack of network commitment to genre shows doesn’t allow for an intelligent program to get off the ground and maintain a following. LOST is a notable exception, but they did start out with a bang (literally) and a huge amount of action, which hooked everyone right off the bat. Cable is a different story, and let’s be thankful for SyFy, TNT, HBO, and the USA Network. Just, please… no methane powered robots.
As someone who watched far too much TV growing up, I thought this was going to be a really easy question. But then I realized that most of the shows I watched most avidly as a kid have already been remade. Star Trek has already had four different TV incarnations since the original (not to mention nearly a dozen movies). The recent Bionic Woman remake wasn’t very successful, and it’s too soon to try again. Battlestar Galactica doesn’t need another reboot. And Doctor Who is still running. But there are a couple of TV shows from my youth that I wouldn’t mind seeing redone.
The first that comes to mind is Space 1999. That’s not so much because of the plots, which I don’t think made that much sense (especially the faster-than-light travel in a moon base), but more for the look and feel of the show. So many recent SF TV series have gone for the dark and gritty look, including the current “lost in space” incarnation Stargate:Universe, I’m ready for a space exploration series that’s more stylish.
I’d also like to see a Buck Rogers in the 25th Century-like show, but starring a woman. Why should boys always get to be the ones frozen for a half a century to awake in an adventure-filled future? It could help make up for the serious lack of female action heroes, especially if the new Buck also had a female sidekick. (But there absolutely should not be a goofy-voiced robot. As I wrote this, I felt compelled to bidi-bidi-bidi and my husband is now looking at me strangely. It’s like a curse.)
But really what I’d like to see is something new and different rather than yet another remake. There have been few SF TV shows that immediately hooked me as an adult – Babylon 5, X-Files, the first season of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, Futurama, Lost – and that is in large part because there wasn’t any other show quite like them on the air. Give me something fresh to watch!
I think that we need a remake of The Smurfs. To do it right it should be a late-night series on Showtime or equivalent because it’s obviously an adult program with heavy erotic and drug-use themes. Of particular importance is how an entire race of creatures can exist with only one female member – Smurfette is clearly the central figure of this soft-porn remake. And Avatar has shown us all the blue-skin is HOT and that blue alien sex sells.
Because of my fondness for the shows, my top-of-the-head answers would normally be Crusade, Firefly, Charlie Jade and Moonlight… shows that, in my opinion, either weren’t given the time and attention needed to let their audience find the shows, or were simply airing at the right time on the wrong networks.
But after that initial dreamy rush, what I would truly want to see happen with those particular shows would be a continuation of the interrupted shows and storylines, not a remake of what’s already been.
So my real choices for remakes or reimaginings fall into the realms of 1970s and 1980s British scifi: either Sapphire and Steel, or The Tomorrow People.
I’m a fan of The Tomorrow People, both the original British series and the Canadian remake from the early 1990s that aired on Nickelodeon. It’s a series that I think could be successfully updated, and would be a top choice as a project to work on.
If I were producing a television reimagining of The Tomorrow People, first I’d incorporate an international group of players on several fronts, in terms of both the scientific group doing the research and the youngsters beginning to exhibit powers. The scientists wouldn’t be limited to one facility, but there’d be several across different countries, linked together to research and track the unfolding phenomenon.
Then I’d set up several different dynamics regarding the teams trying to make contact with the kids, intending to keep the story engaging and the audience on their toes.
The combination of mystery and paranormal is a fond personal favorite, and a reimagining of this story is one I think I would have fun with, from both a creative and a viewer standpoint.
Time Tunnel comes immediately to mind as a candidate for a remake. The theme music made it unforgettable even if the scripts didn’t. (Easy to understand – Time Tunnel‘s theme composer Johnny Williams is someone we know better as John Williams.)
It’s clear that with just a few tweaks the Time Tunnel concept could become a TV series appealing to the booming audience for alternate history stories. Actually that’s so clear G.R.R. Martin already did it 20 years ago. (A contributor to this very Mind Meld may be recommending his Doorways for a remake.) So I am going in a different direction.
In the original Time Tunnel, a secret time travel research project as vast as the space program is threatened with losing its funding. To save it, Tony, one of the scientists, attempts to prove the technology by using the Time Tunnel to send himself back into history. Tony lands on the Titanic en route to its tragic rendezvous with an iceberg. The Tunnel staff can’t bring him back. Doug, another scientist, has the Tunnel send him back to the Titanic so he can try to save his friend. He doesn’t succeed in changing history and the best the Time Tunnel staff can do is save Tony and Doug by shifting them to another point in the past (and the next week’s new adventure.)
They say times change, but that’s true everywhere but in time travel shows. Tony and Doug didn’t save the Titanic. They didn’t prevent Pearl Harbor. With a kind of unconscious satire, the Time Tunnel of the Sixties dramatized America’s confidence in its ability to fix everybody else’s problems and its inexplicably bad results.
And in contrast with other science fiction shows that squeeze countless episodes from the temporary failure of futuristic technology (like Star Trek‘s temperamental warp drives and transporter), time-traveling series always begin with the technology going permanently awry. People can leave the present. They can travel between moments in the past (their lives depend on it!) But it makes a far more dramatic series if the heroes live under the continuous threat of never finding their way home.
In contrast, this Time Tunnel is being remade for an audience in 2010 America. Our economy is on artificial respiration. Politics are just a tournament in incivility. The country has become infinitely splintered into identity groups clamoring about their victimization.
That’s why the new Tony and Doug don’t want to come home. Every episode will begin with them using another ruse to gain access to the control room and head into the Tunnel hoping to permanently escape to a golden era of the past. To their despair, they’ll always be tracked down by the Time Tunnel staff and forcibly retrieved, along with whatever famous historical figure has given them refuge. Then the project staff will inevitably blab about one of America’s infinite problems within hearing of the famous figure so that he or she can respond in surprise, scoffing at how easily that problem would have been solved by their culture of origin.
Imagine General Heywood Kirk dressing down his wayward explorers: “Tony, you and Doug tried to hide out with the Ingalls family. When we dragged you and Pa Ingalls back here somebody told him about our homeless problem. He wanted to go down to Skid Row and organize a wagon train of them to go homestead in South Dakota!”
“And what about the time you hid out with the Duke of Wellington when he was prime minister of England. He was the biggest opponent of Catholic emancipation til that threatened to topple his government and he switched sides. When we got him here Senator Specter and Senator Lieberman couldn’t wait to take him to lunch and ask for pointers!”
Today’s Americans are conditioned to be accepting of every culture but our own.
Also, experience having blunted the can-do optimism of the Sixties, instead of looking down on people of the past in a kind of chronological snobbery, there’s a tendency to wonder why our ancestors didn’t seem to have some of these problems – maybe we’ve just forgotten their solutions.
That’s why the motto of the new Time Tunnel will be: Those who have not mastered the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. And so are those who have….