Herbie J Pilato: NBC’s Brand-New Old Universal Names Re-Branded (With All the Wrong Stuff)


by Herbie J Pilato

With NBC’s recent cancellation of the new Ironside (starring Blair Underwood), and newly-announced development of a revamped edition of Murder, She Wrote (to feature Octavia Spencer), I once more feel compelled to offer a few words of counsel on the remake genre…specifically with regard to NBC and its inability to grasp the redo market, especially at the very expense of choice properties from its esteemed list of Universal-connected titles.

As one of the most prestigious networks in TV history (and I my first cherished employer, as a former NBC Page), NBC has presented a cache of superior programming selections over the decades.  But time and again in the past few years, the network has failed to take the proper steps in rebooting classic Universal television shows, such as The Rockford Files, The Munsters and The Bionic Woman, among others.  In the process, they are damaging core brand names and franchises, and losing millions.

How can any of that be a good thing?

Certainly, the reboot runway is not an easy path.  Of course those involved with remaking a certain TV show (for the small screen or big) seek to secure its success, as with any creative property or project (or any new business venture, in general).  Yes – it’s good to be innovative – and to place a unique stamp on any brand, novice or classic…but not at the expense of the very brand itself.

What good is it if a network, studio, production company, or any one particular performer decides to remake a classic television, but then does so by eliminating the very charm and recognizable traits that made the original series a hit in the first place?

It was certainly innovative to cast the charismatic and talented Blair Underwood as the new Ironside (taking over from Raymond Burr’s heralded performance on the original series); and it’s just as exciting to explore the possibilities of the Oscar-winning Octavia Spencer stepping into the gumshoes of Angela Lansbury for the re-do of Murder, She Wrote.  While casting is an extremely important part of the remake genre process, both Underwood and Spencer were and are not my concerns, respectively.

It’s what else was and is involved with the Ironside and Wrote remakes has red-flagged these properties.

The premise for the new Ironside was switched to New York from San Francisco; and none of the original supporting characters were brought into the new edition.

With regard to the new Murder and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Spencer recently met with NBC entertainment chairman Jeff Greenblatt, who rightfully sought to cast her in a new series. When asked what type of show might interest her, Spencer responded, “J.B. Fletcher meets Columbo,” referencing the Murder character created by Lansbury combined with another classic mystery-geared series character (originally played by the late, great Peter Falk).

As Hollywood also reported, producer David Janollari (Six Feet Under) will be producing the new She Wrote; and his new take on the series is this:  Instead of Fletcher (a.k.a. Jessica) simply being a successful mystery writer, she will now be an amateur sleuth who’s a middle-aged hospital administrator.  And ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with that premise, but why call it Murder, She Wrote (when actually, it sounds like a remake of the Dick Van Dyke series, Diagnosis; Murder, which itself was a subsequent development due to the success of Murder, She Wrote)?

Point being: none of it has anything to do with how the original Murder, She Wrote originally branded itself – and how it came to be a hit.

So why would any network, production company or star want to mess with and/or sabotage such a tried and true past success – and their potential future success?

Go ask NBC/Universal which, in particular, seems to have been doing just that for the last few years with regard to the shrinking pool of potential from the remake sector of their development slate.