Friday, May 14, 2010

TV show remakes

Heard about how NBC plans to remake The Rockford Files? I never watched it more than catching a glimpse here and there, so I have no firm opinion about whether this is a bad idea. What little I know about the show suggests that it won't jar too much with modern sensibilities, and there's room for more stories in the same vein as the original, so maybe it could work. People who know the original have mostly liked the casting. Who knows? It probably wouldn't be the kind of show I'd watch either way.

When I mentioned this recently, Suri speculated about whether they might one day remake Babylon 5. The more I think about this idea, the more compelling it seems, though I'm still not sure how much positive and how much negative.

The nightmare version is that whoever owns the rights might do it without the blessing or participation of JMS (J. Michael Stracyznski, the show's creator), and it ends up missing what was great about the original show, in its attempts to fix what wasn't so great. I can't say I know where the rights are, though, but I'm fairly sure that wherever they are, JMS has a controlling stake and can prevent it being done without his approval. While JMS's ideas of what would work have not always been ideal, I feel sure that we can count on him for one thing: no remake could possibly miss the sweeping, epic story arc, and its coherence. While people still wonder, five episodes from the end, whether the makers of Lost really had answers in mind all along, no one ever seriously doubted that Babylon 5 had a story from day one.

The dream version would be if they got a commitment to the whole run of the show with a good budget. Then they could fix the flaws that make it hard to sell people on the show now: the sometimes weak production values (spectacular for the time and the limitations of being on a "secondary" network, but even then they looked corny at times, and now, they look terrible), the dodgy acting (lots of scenery-chewing), the clunky dialogue (JMS excels at the epic scope but can be weak at wit and everyday stuff), the primitive CGI (B5 pretty much invented CGI for sci-fi on TV, but the state of the art has come a long way since), and the uneven pacing (caused by the show not having commitments to its run length or its actors). Imagine it being made with the budget and production options of Lost and you could see what was great about it preserved, divested of all those thing that, when you try to lure someone into seeing the show, you have to apologize for and hope they see past long enough to glimpse what was incredible about it.

Would I watch it? Absofragginlutely. But I would also hope it wasn't being made for me. After all, I still watch the original series, but it's just not the same since I know what's going to happen. I'd love to see those ideas explored with modern CGI, the script polished by someone who's good at humor too (the idea of Joss Whedon collaborating with JMS on something like this is a geek's wet dream!), and a more consistent run of actors (the original show had some fantastic actors, but also some clunky ones).

But the real purpose of a remake would be to get all those people who couldn't get past the weak production values to see what we were all talking about. (Which means those of us who watched it the first time would have to resist being insufferably pompous I-told-you-so braggarts.)

Even so, would the show do well now, even assuming everything was done well? The weak production values are only half of why the show doesn't make the impression today it did on the original fans. The other half is trickier: B5 changed TV sci-fi. Some things that are de rigeur now were unheard of in SF TV when B5 did them, which made them tremendously impactful then, but which would seem par for the course now.

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