Each week brings with it a new reboot (or three) greenlit for TV. Given Roseanne’s success, the trend isn’t ending anytime soon. Indeed, it’s expanding—to the unscripted side of entertainment, where Netflix’s Queer Eye and MTV’s Jersey Shore: Family Vacation have been two of TV’s biggest success stories of 2018.
On Tuesday night, the Hollywood Radio & TV Society (HRTS) hosted a panel featuring a slew of reality TV power brokers to discuss the boom of unscripted reboots.
Moderated by Scott Hervey, president, HRTS’ Unscripted Content Group, the conversation featured creatives and executives involved with the returns of Queer Eye, Jersey Shore, Bridezillas, American Chopper and Trading Spaces.
Of the returning favorites, Queer Eye is the only one with a new home: Netflix.
“The rights came back and it was available for us to take out again. The format has always been evergreen, it’s beloved, it has international appeal, ” said David Collins, co-founder of Scout Productions and creator of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. “And quite frankly, a Republican world came to be and it was time for a new Queer Eye.”
Most networks shied away, however. Collins described the typical response: “We love it, but it’s too associated with Bravo.”
Cue: Netflix, who was just starting to dive into unscripted programming.
“It wasn’t like we were going out to find reboots,” said Jenn Levy, director, unscripted originals and acquisitions, Netflix. “We just saw a good show in front of us. We’re lucky that we don’t have bumpers of a specific brand. Our only brand is good content. We looked at Queer Eye—it’s a good brand, it was groundbreaking in its time, award-winning and it appeals globally, which is one of the deciding factors when we select a show.”
“We were fortunate to come there at the right time,” said Collins. “It was not just a reboot but a reinvention of the show. It was about creating a new show, with a new partner, giving it a new life on a new platform.”
Levy echoed Collins’ sentiment.
“Does the world need Queer Eye now? We do,” she said.
Marc Juris, president and general manager, WE tv, spearheaded the return of Bridezillas to its air this past March.
“The one asset we had that was most well known and pop culturally relevant wasn’t on our air for reasons no one could explain to me,” said Juris. “We could go back to our roots with something everyone knows.”
The emergence of social media added a new wrinkle to every reboot, particularly Bridezillas.
“Social media has become a character in everyone’s wedding,” said Juris. “Now is a good time to bring Bridezillas back with a slight twist that represented a little more modern culture.”
Besides Queer Eye, which wanted a new voice, most of the reboots have sought continuity—chasing original creators, casts, even crews.
“You can’t reboot it without the original creator. We went and got the original showrunner, who was the heart and soul of Bridezillas,” Juris said. “We didn’t want to have to find a new voice. It was good as it was. We constructed an in-house production company to take it on as our own. It’s something very much branded to our network. We wanted to get it right.”
When Trading Spaces returned to TLC in April, it also featured most of the same DNA.
“We wanted to retain the spirit of the original show,” said Lauren Lexton, CEO, Authentic Entertainment. “I am the only one on the stage who wasn’t an original creator, but we worked with the original creators. The minute it was announced, anyone who ever worked on the show, from the cast to the crew jumped out and said, ‘Anything we can do to help, we’re here.’ This show is so special and we just want to make sure it’s good.”
Jersey Shore became another unscripted revival success story when Jersey Shore: Family Vacation launched on MTV in April, bringing back Snooki and company to cable.
Sallyann Salsano, founder, CEO and executive producer, 495 Productions, knew the magic remained.
“At the heart of it, they’re still the same. There’s something about them when they’re all together. The way they look at each other and call each other out, that cannot be scripted,” said Salsano. “I knew that never would go away.”
While everyone else was painting a rosy picture, Craig Piligian, president and CEO, Pilgrim Media Group, described the return of American Chopper as anything but.
A new company had reunited the stars, Paul Teutul and Paul Jr., for a return on Discovery without Pilgrim Media Group. But the Pauls are notoriously tough to deal with, and Piligian and his company were called on to take over.
“Reboots aren’t that ****ing fun. I don’t know what they’re talking about,” Piligian joked. In the same breath in which he swore he was done with reboots, he pitched a return for Ghost Hunters to Levy.
When finding a throughline between all the rebooted shows, it’s that they were (and are) authentic—increasingly hard to come by in the jaded reality TV space.
“There’s an authentic component of Queer Eye. When the Fab Five are stepping into our episodic hero’s world, it’s absolutely with a fresh, honest beginning,” said Collins. “They don’t know him, they haven’t met him. When that connection happens, everything that plays out is 100% authentic.”
Everyone agreed the biggest worry for any reboot is living up to the original.
When Netflix announced the Queer Eye reboot, fans begged Netflix not to, fearing they would ruin it. “You’re never going to recast the Fab Five,” they said.
But the recast worked.
“The O.G. cast, they were more superheroes. America loved that, because they weren’t ready to hear about husbands and lovers,” said Collins. “This time they get to be themselves and we learn about them.”
“We knew we wanted to allow the Fab Five to be people, not just caricatures,” said Levy.
While the other reboots strived for familiarity, Queer Eye aimed to evolve.
“We knew the core format had to stay. Transformation through information told with comedy that has heart,” said Collins.
But they supplemented the format with a new cast, less fashion tips, and moved the show out of New York.
“It had to be different. We talked a lot about wanting to tell deeper stories, to reach across the aisle. It had to live up to the conversation today,” said Levy. “But it’s still got to be pop-y. It still had the same spirit, we just took it to the next level for 2018.”
When American Chopper returns to Discovery on May 28, don’t expect a different level.
“They make motorcycles, they haven’t evolved much,” said Piligian. “The thing about American Chopper is they’re not that likable. People want to see unlikable people. They want to see it, I don’t know why. They just want to see them argue. It’s kind of appalling and in a crazy way, fun to watch.”
A reboot in and of itself won’t get you a hit. The panel agreed it only serves as a “headstart.” Quality still matters most.
“It’s always a nice headstart when people know what it is. At Netflix, we built the platform on known IP,” said Levy. “But I don’t think it’s something we’re relying on or looking for. It’s about the show. You know it when you see it, if it’s a story that’s never been told before, a character that we’ve never seen, or access to a world you’ve never seen. We’re leaning into risk and letting people take swings that they couldn’t at other places. We’re excited about trying different things while appealing to broad audiences. If it’s good and relevant to show, let’s do it differently.”
Leave it to Netflix to do things a little differently—even reboots.
[Images courtesy of Netflix, MTV and HRTS]