When Peter M. Lenkov was a kid in Montreal, he remembers watching Hawaii Five-O with his dad, and what a treat it was to escape the Canadian winter once a week for the island police procedural drama that originally ran from 1968-1980.
Years later, Lenkov serves as showrunner and executive producer for CBS’s reboot of the series—now in its eighth season—and spoke Friday about TV’s current renaissance of revivals and remakes during the Drama Summit West 2018 conference in Los Angeles.
For him, as a kid he had a lot of unanswered questions about the characters on the show, and bringing it back has been a way for him to develop their backstories in a way that also resonated with viewers in a post 9/11 context when it began airing in 2010.
“I really went in and said, this is our way of getting to tell veteran stories,” he said about the decision to greenlight the series. “It’s the fact that there was a purpose for it to exist today, whereas maybe if they tried to do it 10 or 15 years ago, it wouldn’t have been as relevant.”
Pitching shows with existing IP can often be easier than trying to sell an original idea because there’s a preconceived notion built around it that reduces the unknown and can attract talent, paneles agreed.
“You look at existing IP and there’s an inspiration for ideas, characters you can use, a world that is already set up,” said Chris Selak (Step Up High Water), executive vice president and head of worldwide scripted television for Lionsgate. “A lot of times, for me it’s about the tone, because tone is really hard to sell to the room.”
That sentiment rings true in Lionsgate’s development of upcoming Starz series The Continental, a spin-off of the John Wick film franchise that revolves around the happenings at the hotels which serve as refuges for assassins.
“The hotels are much more of a character in our adaptation, and that’s where we start,” Selak said of the show. “It will reflect the feature franchise, but it will very quickly have a life of its own.”
Indeed, while it can be more straightforward to attach a meaningful package to a project based on existing IP, each pitch comes with its own of set of hurdles when it comes to convincing buyers the reboot or revival is worth doing, panelists said.
Remakes require a fresh take, and that’s something The Continental does well, said Lenkov.
“You’re really taking that IP and you’re not re-treading something, you’re expanding the whole world,” he said. “That’s a reason for it to exist, because you want to know more about that hotel.”
Ted Gold, senior VP of development and original programming, Paramount Network, is taking a similar approach with Yellowstone, a drama starring Kevin Costner and from writer Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Sicario), that aims to revive the popularity of westerns.
One of the challenges today is trying to develop something that stands out, and “the genre itself is is a good way to zag when everybody is zigging,” Gold said.
Westerns had a following for so long, and Yellowstone is a way to bring it back, but from a contemporary perspective, he said. It has all the western tropes: a powerful ranch family, Native American conflict, law enforcement, drama and action, but is set in present day instead of being a period piece.
One of the tricks to a successful revival is being able to dig into the elements that made the original special in the first place, he said. Characters and story always come first, but an adaptation of any well-known property or genre worth revisiting needs to tap into the universal themes that made people love it in the first place.
“What was that journey about, and how does that work today?” Gold asked. “You have to go into the franchise and find the primal drivers, and figure out how that can be modeled and twisted to feel fresh.”
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