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When Hit TV Shows Return

Of late on TV it seems like everything old is new again.  Or at least back from the dead. 

Of course, for years, TV has attempted to create hits by resurrecting old titles with new casts.  Sometimes they are successful, note CBS’s current “Hawaii 5-0,” but, more often than not, they are flops.  (Consider the short-lived updates of “Knight Rider,” “Charlie’s Angels,” and other total misses.)

But, recently, the newest trend seems to be not only resurrecting old programs but bringing back many of the original cast to, more or less, pick up where they left off.  NBC’s “Will & Grace” is probably the most high-profile example of this phenomenon with not only all four main cast members returning—11 years after originally stopped--but with the program returning to its old network (NBC) and even its old weeknight!

In the past few years, this resurrection of “old” shows with many or most of their original cast members intact  has become more and more commonplace with the returns of  “Arrested Development,” “Full House,” “The X-Files,” “Boy Meets World,” “Dallas,” “That’s So Raven!” and “Twin Peaks” all having happened.  A revival of “Roseanne” is also already in the works.

But what is also interesting is the fact that these are not the first examples of long-dormant shows returning to the airwaves in some Lazarus-like fashion.  In fact, the practice dates back decades.

Perhaps the first notable program to be revived was Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners.”  After beginning as a sketch on Gleason’s self-named variety series, the show’s classic cast  (which included Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph) later filmed 39 classic episodes that aired 1955-1956.  Then, about a decade later, Gleason revived the sketches again with the assistance of co-star Art Carney but replacing Meadows and Randolph with Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean.  These color “Honeymooners” installments aired as various specials and on various Gleason productions until 1973.

Another series that “returned from the dead” was “Dragnet.”  The famous no-frills Jack Webb cop series was first seen on the air from 1951 to 1959.  Famously, Webb played LA police officer Joe Friday.  Eight years after the end of its original incarnation, the staccato voice patterns of Officer Friday returned in the series “Dragnet ’67,” later re-titled “Dragnet ’68.”  “Dragnet” was an easy show to resurrect in that Webb was its only major, reoccurring character and, hence, if he was willing, it could be done.  The revived “Dragnet” endured until 1970.

Not long after “Dragnet” reappeared so did “The Danny Thomas Show.”  Also known under the title “Make Room for Daddy,” Thomas’s classic domestic sitcom originally aired, first on ABC, then on CBS, from 1953 to 1965 and forevermore in syndicated reruns. 

 

First ever Sitcom revivalSix years after it ended original production—and after a successful 1969 reunion special on CBS—Thomas and most of “Daddy’s” original cast (including Marjorie Lord, Rusty Hamer and Angela Cartright) returned for the series “Make Room for Granddaddy.”  In this revival, aired over ABC, Thomas again starred as show biz vet Danny Williams who, along with his wife, Kathy (Lord), had custody of their six year old grandson, the offspring of eldest daughter, Terry (played by Sherry Jackson, who appeared in “Granddaddy’s” first episode).  Also in the cast was athlete-turned-actor Rosey Grier.  After premiering in September of 1970, “Granddaddy” aired for one season.

Two other classic sitcoms would also be revived long after they concluded their original runs.  “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet,” starring the entire Nelson family, was a major hit airing originally from 1952 to 1966.  Seven years after it ended production, the elder Mr. and Mrs. Nelson returned as themselves in a revival titled “Ozzie’s Girls.”  In this series, the Nelson boys (David and Ricky) had moved out and Ozzie and Harriet decided to rent out their old room to a couple of “co-eds.”  The two young ladies were played by Susan Sennett and Brenda Sykes.  Most of the jokes on the show (that was produced by David Nelson) had a decidedly generation gap-bent.

 

Though the original “O&H” aired on ABC, “Girls” bypassed the networks for first-run syndication.  “Girls” though had none of the longevity as the Nelsons’s original series and ended after only 24 episodes.

Another classic from TV’s “golden age” would also come back to life, this time in the 1980s.  “Leave It to Beaver” aired from 1957 to 1963.  In 1983, a well-received reunion movie, “Still the Beaver,” which reunited most of the show’s original cast, helped spawn a revival of the series.  “The New Leave It to Beaver” aired first on the Disney Channel, then on TBS, for 102 episodes. Though Hugh Beaumont, who played Ward Cleaver, had died in 1982, the rest of the old gang were back including Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow, Ken Osmond and Jerry Mathers as “The Beaver.” 

 

Of course, perhaps no program has seen more revivals than the indestructible “Brady Bunch.”  The original “Bunch” aired from 1969 to 1974.  The majority of the original actors would all be reunited only two years after the show’s original cancellation in the infamous ABC variety-comedy hybrid “The Brady Bunch Hour” (a.k.a. “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour”).  For the variety show that included colorful (i.e. cheesy) musical numbers (including the Brady’s take on such disco classics as “Car Wash” and “The Hustle”) and a reoccurring group of synchronized swimmers.  All of the original cast members returned, minus Eve Plumb, who was replaced by “Fake Jan” Geri Reischl.  The program aired for nine notorious episodes.


Slightly more successful (at least in the number of episodes actually aired) was “The Brady Bunch’s” next incarnation/resurrection.  “The Brady Brides” aired for 10 episodes in 1981.  Originally, this series began as a reunion movie—“The Brady Girls Get Married”—which focused on the nuptials of sisters Marcia and Jan.  But, once it was delivered to NBC, the network decided to air it in three half-hour installments turning it into a series.  For the reunion “movie,” the entire original “Bunch” cast (including a returning Eve Plumb) appeared.  Once the show began—for an additional seven episodes--only Marcia (Maureen McCormick) and Jan (Eve Plumb) appeared regularly though original program stars Florence Henderson and Ann B. Davis appeared occasionally.

But the end of the “Brady Brides” did not spell the end of the “Bunch”! 

In 1988, CBS aired a wildly successful (and very semimetal) TV movie titled “A Very Brady Christmas.”  This time, only Susan Olsen (as youngest Brady daughter Cindy) sat out and was replaced by Jennifer Runyon.  The rest of the show’s original cast, however, returned.

The success of the Christmas movie inspired CBS to bring the Bunch back yet again.  The weekly, hour-long “dramedy” “The Bradys” debuted on CBS in 1990 and ran for six episodes.  This time around, Maureen McCormick, as eldest daughter Marcia, was absent from the cast and was replaced by Leah Ayres; all other original cast members, however, took part.

The ending of that series has marked the end of “The Brady Bunch”—for now.

In the 1980s, first-run syndication became the home to several resurrected sitcoms.  The ABC sitcom “What’s Happening’” aired from 1976 to 1976 and gained notoriety for the work of Fred “Rerun” Berry and the infante terrible little sister played by Danielle Spencer as well as smart-mouthed waitress, Shirley, played by Shirley Hemphill.

Six years after leaving ABC’s airwaves, “Happening’” was brought back in syndication as “What’s Happening Now.”  Berry, Spencer, Hemphill and series originals Ernest Thomas and Heywood Nelson all returned.  Sixty-six episodes of the revived show were produced and were aired in first-run syndication between 1985 and 1988.

 

A program that went through major changes during its original network incarnation not only returned later in syndication but continued its morphing.  Originally, “It’s a Living” aired on ABC and starred Susan Sullivan as one of a group of waitresses working at a Windows-on-the-World-type restaurant in LA.  The program began in 1980.  After only a few episodes were aired, the network pulled the program for “re-tooling.”  It returned in 1981 without Sullivan but with former “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” star Louise Lasser.  The sitcom also had a new title, “Making a Living.”  ABC cancelled it in 1982. 

 
But, about three years later, again in first-run syndication, the “Living” ladies returned.  Neither Sullivan nor Lasser were in the version that returned and which resurrected its original title “It’s a Living,” but many of the program’s other original other cast members did including breakout star Ann Jillian.  Jillian, however, left the series at the end of its 1985 season and was replaced (more or less) with Sheryl Lee Ralph.  The revived “It’s a Living” aired until 1989.  Around for all (or most) of the series’s many incarnations were cast members Paul Kreppel, Gail Edwards, Marian Mercer, and Barrie Youngfellow.

A few other series also got revived in the 1980s also via first-run syndication.  The TV version of “9 to 5” began on ABC and aired from 1982-1983.  It returned, in syndication, from 1986-1988 with two of its original cast members, Valerie Curtain and Rachel Dennison.

The sitcom “We Got It Made” was on NBC in 1983-1984 and, after being dormant for a few seasons, came back in syndication, again, with two (and only two) of its original cast, Teri Copley and Tom Villard.

“Charles in Charge” with Scott Baio and Willie Aames was on network (CBS; 1984-1985) and then took about one year off before returning, again with Baio and Aames, from 1987-1990.

Finally, “WKRP in Cincinnati” aired on CBS from 1978 to 1982.  Then, it returned in first-run syndication as “The New WKRP in Cincinnati” from 1991-1993.  Three of the show’s original cast members returned—Gordon Jump, Frank Bonner and Richard Sanders--though some other actors from original series did make the occasional guest appearance.

 

The 1980s and 1990s were a fertile time for programs to find a second life in first-run syndication but most made the transfer with little (or no) “down time” in between and, hence, can’t really be counted among “resurrected” programs.  Some of these shows include:  “Fame,” “Baywatch,” “Mama’s Family” and “Silver Spoons.”

While the return of “Will & Grace,” et.al., may not be “new,” it is still, certainly, just the start of an expanding trend.  With audiences increasingly fragmented, program producers will go to greater lengths to obtain viewers—even if it means revisiting previous programs for reasons of nostalgia or even convenience.  Furthermore,  the explosion of viewing platforms beyond just the big broadcast networks and off-network syndication (including cable, Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix) means that a variety of outlets are now available for programs to return to. 

Other shows that returned with at least one cast remember: “Mission: Impossible” (1988-1990) with Peter Graves and “The New Lassie” (1989-1992) with Jon Provost making frequent appearances.

If it used to be that the old adage was “The show must go on,” it now seems that the phrase now is “The show never ends…”

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