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Morning Shift

The Golden Era Of TV Revivals

The revival of the cult ’90s TV show Twin Peaks — which premiered Sunday on Showtime — is the latest in a recent television trend: once-popular but long-dead shows brought back to life. 

In addition to Twin Peaks, ABC recently announced the return of Roseanne, NBC announced the return of the groundbreaking sitcom Will & Grace, Netflix announced another revival of Arrested Development, Fox announced another season of The X-Files, and Disney announced the return of the popular cartoon series DuckTales

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says when it comes to Roseanne and Will & Grace, he’d rather take a pass because “a lot of these revivals feel like business decisions rather than creative decisions.”

“One thing you can say about Twin Peaks is that was a show that seemed to come back because the creators of the show thought they had more to say in the world that they had created 25 years ago,” Deggans said on WBEZ’s Morning Shift. “I don’t know that there were a bunch of unanswered questions left laying around from Will & Grace that they suddenly need to return to.”

Deggans spoke with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia about why networks are digging their archives for revivals and the business decisions behind them. Deggans also gives his quick takes on some of the shows brought back to life. 

Below are highlights from their conversation.

On the business of revivals

Eric Deggans: There’s a lot of competition in the media marketplace. And so brands that the audience already knows and loves are at a premium. There’s a sense that if you’re putting forward a Will & Grace or a Roseanne or an Arrested Development, it’s a title with a built-in fan base and it can cut through the clutter. ...

A lot of networks are trying to maximize their profit on a TV show. They don’t just want to air a show that’s owned by someone else — owned by some other production studio — and just get money from the advertising, which can sometimes happen. For example, This Is Us on NBC. Twentieth Century Fox studios actually owns that show, but NBC airs it and gets the money from the advertising. But 20th Century Fox gets the rest of the benefits from that show — if they sell it into syndication or if it airs in foreign markets or whatever.

So networks are saying, “Let’s find shows that we own, that our production studio made, and then we’ll reboot them or revamp them or bring them back, and then we’ll get all the profit. So if it’s sold into syndication or sold into international markets, we’ll also get that money, too.”

On whether there will be even more reboots and comebacks

Deggans: I think that’s undeniable. Because even if a show doesn’t get blockbuster ratings, if the platform that’s airing it owns the show, they’ll make more money off of it, conceivably, than if they put an original show in there that might be owned by someone else and they had to split the profits. So I think we will see — especially the big TV networks — go back into their archives.

On the first four episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return

Deggans: It is the trippiest, craziest, most disjointed, most eccentric television show I think I have ever seen this year. It is David Lynch unleashed. It’s way more intense. Way more unleashed. ...

David Lynch has taken his taste for absurdity and just kind of blown it up. And taken the modern technology and the modern cinematography that we have, and created something that you can tell is very much his vision, very well-composed visually. The special effects are awesome, but the story is very surreal, and it’s not going to make a lot of sense to people who don’t know the original story or haven’t seen the first episodes and maybe even the film Fire Walk With Me

On Roseanne and Will & Grace

Deggans: I’m not really excited about these comebacks, because a lot of these revivals feel like business decisions rather than creative decisions. One thing you can say about Twin Peaks is that was a show that seemed to come back because the creators of the show thought they had more to say in the world that they had created 25 years ago.

I don’t know that there were a bunch of unanswered questions left laying around from Will & Grace that they suddenly need to return to. 

And Roseanne ended with one of the most bizarre series conclusions in history, where the star had a dream and the whole last season was a dream. So I feel like those shows feel like more marketing decisions and business decisions. 

On The X-Files 

Deggans: It was moderately successful. It did pretty well in the ratings when it debuted. Fox wants to turn this into kind of an event, and they realized there was a fan base out there that would respond to it. And the people who were involved in the show seemed to enjoy doing it — David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter, the creator of the show — all seemed to really enjoy doing it, so they’re bringing it back.

As a critic, I have to say they did several episodes — I only felt one even came close to being as what the show was in its heyday. I felt like it was a little hackneyed to come back to this alien conspiracy that they had chased for so many seasons when the show was in its initial run — to return to that same storyline again and try to recreate that same dynamic that Mulder and Scully had … to me, it just sort of felt like the concept had been played out. 

Other critics enjoyed more of those episodes, so I don’t want to imply that they were obviously awful. But I only felt one out of, I think, six that they did was head and shoulders above the rest. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Press the “play” button above to hear the entire segment.

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