Anthony Kimble, co-CEO of Arrested Industries, laments the rise of the reboot and its impact on creativity.
There’s a new sound in LA. Rumour is that it’s the ominous death knell for the Golden Age of TV drama!
It was only a few years ago that television started to compete with film as a medium where true auteurs could fashion intricate stories. Big screen names such as Jane Campion, Steven Soderbergh and Jordan Peele led the charge, lured by incredible paydays and promises of creative freedom and the time to tell their stories how they wished. And they delivered some truly groundbreaking and creatively thrilling series – not to mention A-list talent – to screens that had been predominantly populated by generic procedurals and the odd limited mini-series.
It was an extraordinary time to be producer, writer, director. I remember the chatter at dinner parties – Netflix was well known for writing blank cheques for a series from acclaimed talent and simply letting them get on with it. It truly was revelatory: no tedious guidelines on nudity, swearing or risqué material, no rounds of tiresome notes from the studio and network… life was good!
But this creative utopia could not sustain forever. As more competition started to arrive in the streaming landscape and budgets got tighter, the commissioning briefs began to get more specific and focused on bringing in a broader base to ensure continued subscriber growth outside of the coastal elites. Commissioning by algorithm was born and the overall quality of shows started to decline due to the sheer volume needed to feed the platforms’ ravenous appetites.
Fast forward a decade plus some change, and the shit has hit the fan. With the streaming bubble burst and studios and platforms cancelling shows left, right and centre, combined with the appetite for true creative risk well and truly out the window, we are now in the perilous position of having to watch a never-ending stream of reboots, sequels and prequels.
These are nothing new in the entertainment industry and have been used by studios to capitalise on the popularity of successful TV and film brands for decades. However, the recent surge in the number of reboots has been unprecedented… Weeds and Nurse Jackie just added to the mix in May. The laziest example for ‘wringing out every drop’ has to be Showtime/Paramount+ creating a prequel and sequel for hit show Billions, imaginatively titled Millions and Trillions. I thought this may have been an April Fool’s Day joke when I first read the news. Don’t get me wrong, Billions was a brilliant piece of TV, but even I, as a die-hard fan, lost interest after season four.
Only time will tell if this strategy is going to work but history tells us otherwise. Fantasy Island is the latest reboot to fall by the wayside after an underwhelming performance and the long-awaited Fatal Attraction series was disappointing and eviscerated by critics: ‘Tepid’, ‘not sexy but still sexist’. It didn’t even have a boiled bunny and, as a result, it was not quite as delicious. People really wanted that rabbit to die!
Most reboots/prequels/sequels are lacklustre and fail to live up to the original, instead often rehashing old ideas and characters with little or no innovation or creativity. This is not to say that all reboots are dire. Some, like House Of Cards and Westworld (the first season at least), were critically acclaimed and managed to find new audiences, but such instances are in the minority.
When studios rely too heavily on reboots they are neglecting new, original content and this is the nub of the problem – it leads to a lack of diversity in programming and limits the creative opportunities for writers, directors and actors. By using the same old formulas and ideas, the industry is failing to represent different cultures and perspectives: just look at the characters we’re bringing back for our collective ‘enjoyment’: Dexter, Bosch, Billions’ Bobby Axelrod, Spartacus… all straight white men with severe toxic masculinity issues! Just sayin’… come on people!
Back to the future
In relationships, I’ve always been told never date an ex – and most people I know agree. Going back in the hope of rekindling what you once had (and forgetting why you broke up in the first place) is usually a recipe for disaster. Strange how that universal truth hasn’t made it to Hollywood.
By constantly pursuing reboots, rather than fresh ideas, we are perpetuating a culture of nostalgia that prevents us from moving forward with new, more relevant discourses – and the pursuit of the perfect programme. The industry desperately needs to strike a better balance between nostalgia and innovation to ensure we continue to see fresh compelling content on our screens or those precious subscription dollars will plummet. As for me, the only reboot I’m interested in is ‘Back To The Future’… AKA a time where TV shows continually strived to push boundaries.
Check out Anthony Kimble’s other recent TBI columns: