Tanzina Vega: I'm Tanzina Vega and you're listening to The Takeaway. So far in 2020, we've seen television reboots of shows like Party of Five, The Baby-Sitters Club, and now, Saved by the Bell. Available NBC streaming service Peacock, the series follows a diverse new crop of students at Bayside High, with cameos, from characters, from the original series like A.C. Slater, Jessie Spano, and, of course, Zack Morris. The reboot, however, shakes up the privilege bubble of Bayside High, tackling issues of race, class, sexuality, and education inequity head-on,
[Saved by the Bell reboot clip playing]
Student: [unintelligible 00:00:45], I'm telling you, man, this school is wild. Like they got Beach Volleyball and then a different club called Beach Volleyball Resort Sand. No [unintelligible 00:00:53] there's more people signed up for the artisanal bath bomb club then football.
Tanzina: Saved by the Bell is just the latest reboot to both capitalize on nostalgia while also tackling issues important to a new generation of viewers. Here to discuss more is Jen Chaney, TV critic at Vulture. Jen, welcome to the show.
Jen Chaney: Thank you. It's great to be with you.
Tanzina: I have a question for you, Jen, why so many reboots? Like why don't we just start new shows? What is the point of all this?
Jen: Well, I think there's a couple of reasons. One is, we're a nostalgic culture. We love to go back in time and gain comfort from those old shows. Also, you're seeing all these streaming networks that are coming up, and I think, for example, Peacock, which is obviously affiliated with NBC, they're always looking at what's in our catalogs already and how can we leverage those in a way to bring more viewers in and have them engage with that catalog.
If somebody comes to the Peacock to watch the new Saved by the Bell, well then maybe they'll hang around to watch episodes of the old Saved by the Bell or Saved by the Bell: The College Years, or other things that they already have in their libraries. I think there's an audience attraction financial reason for doing this as well.
Tanzina: I was going to ask you about the financial element of this here, because is it really worth bringing back a show that a whole generation of folks might not have paid attention to the first time it was around, or really just a question of resources in terms of creating a new show, getting a new writer's room, things like that?
Jen: Right. I think, and this is true in the movies as well as TV, I think there's a thought process that something that's already somewhat familiar to, at least some of the audience is going to be more successful than something that's completely brand new and we have to do at least some of the work to market it. That may or may not be true but I think that's where some of the thinking comes from.
I think Saved by the Bell is a good example of yes, people who watched it when the younger might be interested, but it's really about contemporary teens. I think the idea is it will attract potentially younger viewers as well. You get that, that sweet spot where both say the parents and the kids are interested in something.
Tanzina: A lot of these reboots, Jen, also seems to take the original premise of a show, and we saw this with Party of Five and Murphy Brown, for example, and now, Saved by the Bell in which they-- They don't just reboot the show. They basically take the characters and make them more diverse. They try to address issues that are happening today. Do these storylines get lost after a while if you're taking a whole new set of characters and just making them diverse or is that performative or is it real change?
Jen: I think it can be both. It really depends on how the creators and people involved in making the series tackle the material. With Saved by the Bell, I think, Tracy Wakefield, who was the showrunner, she's worked on 30 Rock-- She also created a really funny show called Great News. I think she did something really smart, which is people have affection for the original Saved by the Bell, but they also realized that it was ridiculous.
She took what was ridiculous about it, which is, for one thing, Zack Morris, who was "the hero" quote-unquote of the show was constantly doing terrible things to people and playing pranks on people. Yet we were supposed to be rooting for him every time he got away with it. She recognized that as being a bubble, in terms of being removed from reality. Then she braided into that, what you alluded to before, which is the fact that kids from another high school ended up coming to Bayside, that don't have all the advantages of maybe the Bayside kids.
She weaves into that this whole issue of social inequity in our public school system which and this year with the pandemic, all of that stuff has come into even starker relief. I think that has made Saved by the Bell more relevant even than when Tracy Woodfield came up with the idea originally.
Tanzina: We're seeing reboots of shows from the late '80s and early '90s. We're also seeing reunion specials like the Fresh Prince of Bel-air on HBO Max. What is it about this time period for those of us, including myself who lived at the first time, looking around and saying, what is it about this time period that's so interesting to and appealing to people who want to reboot shows?
Jen: Well, I think part of it is that the people who want to reboot shows are people like you and I who grew up in that time period and maybe we're a little fixated on it. Some of it is the people who are also giving the green light. The executives also maybe grew up in the '80s or '90s and have an affection for it and immediately recognize, "Okay, I remembered this so therefore everybody else is going to love it also."
I also think you look at the success of other shows that have been brand new but have been period shows. I'm thinking specifically of Stranger Things, which is set in the '80s. I think that's a great example of a show that hit really big because the parents really liked it because it felt so retro, but kids like my son who are a pre-teen, teenager, they got really into it on their own terms as well. I think everybody that's rebooting something is trying to achieve what Stranger Things did.
Tanzina: The thing about Stranger Things is that it was a new production. It wasn't a reboot. Do you see a lot more reboots happening in the future or are we exhausting this? Because we've been, I'd say for the past two years, we've been-- or not you and I, but the industry, if you will, has really been focused on things like One Day at a Time and these other really hardcore period pieces that feel stuck, if you will. Are we at the end of the reboot hurrah?
Jen: I don't think so. Not yet. There are still some that are in the works and coming into being. They're talking about rebooting Good Times, for example, but as an animated series for Netflix. There is a reboot of The Wonder Years actually, that is in the works, which is a show that I really loved. That to me is interesting, because they're trying to do it from the perspective of a black person growing up, who would have a very different view of what was going on in the 1960s. No, the reboots are not going away at all, not anytime soon.
Tanzina: Jen, do the people who originally-- How does the money work for a reboot? Do the people who originally created the show still benefit financially if the show is rebooted?
Jen: Well, certainly they do if they're involved. I think in a lot of these cases, we do see involvement. Norman Lear was one of the producers on the reboot of One Day at a Time. He's involved in this reboot of Good Times. The Wonder Years one that I mentioned, Neil Marlins, who was one of the co-creators of the original series, he's involved, so is Fred Savage. Certainly, if they're involved in some way, they benefit but I think in a broader sense, even if they're not still involved, they'd benefit from people being just aware of their previous work again. Maybe revisiting again is the biggest benefit that they draw from it.
Tanzina: Jen Chaney is a TV critic at Vulture. Jen, thanks so much for joining us.
Jen: Thank you.
Caller 1: You got to reboot Quantum Leap but this time with a female lead, maybe like the child of the original main character, Sam Beckett. More emphasis on consciousness and spirituality that was inherent in the original but you can explore that more deeply. Netflix, call me, I'll make it. [chuckles]
Lee: Hi. My name is Lee Jones. I'm calling it from Philadelphia. My childhood favorite of mine was ThunderCats. I would love to see a live-action version, but with a mixed-race cast because what I always loved about Thundercats is that they looked like me.
Ellen: Hi, this is your friend Ellen from Pittsburg. I loved Thirtysomething. That would be cool to see for this generation, especially as someone now outside of it, looking at what they might like.
Thomas: Greatest American Hero, the 1980 or 1981 show from ABC that started William Katt. The reboot would have Tiffany Haddish finding the super-powered suit. My name is Thomas Shay. I'm from Studio City, California.
Donna: This is Donna McGreevey calling from Columbia, South Carolina. One of my all-time favorites shows Monk. I would love to see how Mr Monk would do with COVID and all the safety precautions that everyone else is taking. Now, I think it would be interesting to see his take on it.
Elizabeth: Hi, this is Elizabeth from Arkansas. I would love to see Logan's Run remade, tied in with climate change today. I think it would be funny to see how the millennials of today take to being called old in the TV show.
Caller 2: Frasier would be the show I would love to see rebooted. Oh my God. Oh, change the location to a red state. Nile's and Frazier's had, was completely blow up.
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