I have to say I was surprised by the success of TNT's Dallas reboot, which just earned a second season pick-up. I probably should have expected it, given that people can't seem to get enough of the glitzy melodrama of ABC's similarly soapy hit Revenge, not to mention Hawaii Five-O, another reboot that has performed well. (Let's not talk about that Charlie's Angels remake... ) A Munsters reboot is on the horizon as well, but Dallas has one notable difference between these other re-envisionings: The new Dallas actually picks up decades after the original series ended, now with a new generation of Ewings who fight and double-cross and make grand proclamations about oil and family legacy, all the while under the scrutiny and tutelage of the first generation of Dallas players, including Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, and Larry Hagman's eyebrows.
In terms of ratings, this seems like a brilliant strategy: attract older viewers with the well-loved (and hated) characters from the show they used to love, while drawing new younger viewers (preferably 18- to 49-year-olds) by adding a pretty new cast and the promise of Jesse Metcalfe's abs. It's the rare show that young people can watch with their parents or grandparents, and in doing so appreciate their own family's relative normalcy in contrast to the utter dysfunction of the Ewing clan. (Unless your family happens to be full of ulterior motives and bitter rivalry over oil drilling... then Dallas might hit uncomfortably close to home.)
As a fan of television -- both good and bad -- I have no qualms with the decision to bring Dallas back to prime time. On the contrary, I think it's a fascinating model of the bridge between television's past and present. It does, however, raise some questions about the increasingly fluid nature of television series. Does bringing a show back years after it was put to rest hurt the integrity of the show? In the case of a show like Arrested Development (which is being resurrected by Netflix after it was canceled in 2006), I believe it could benefit from the chance to finally get the ending it deserves, even if it is five years after it went off the air. Dallas, on the other hand, was on the air for thirteen years before it finally bowed out. That being said, they waived their rights to artistic integrity when they decided to write off an entire season as just a dream, so I don't think there's any risk of detracting from the series' fizzle of a conclusion. But when it comes to shows that manage to stay on the air long enough to tell a story and end it on their own terms, could the possibility of a revival be more of a curse? For instance, ten years from now if someone wanted to bring Friends back and do a show with all of them in their fifties, with their kids all grown up and having their own subplots, I think we can all agree it would only succeed in tarnishing our collective memory of one of America's favorite shows. But would that stop them?
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, former Friends star Matt LeBlanc said of a potential Friends reunion, "I don't want to see old Joey. I don't want to see Chandler and Monica with their kids... Everyone's going to have a different vision of what those characters are like, so to have that materialize is going to disappoint most people." Of course, that's easy to say when you have a successful Golden Globe-winning show to star in (the Showtime comedy Episodes). That's not to say that Hagman, Duffy, and Gray only agreed to come back to Southfork because they couldn't get any other work, or because they needed the money, but as a show moves further into pop culture's rearview mirror, perhaps the idea of making it relevant again becomes increasingly appealing. Who's to say what will happen in another twenty years? Maybe we'll see a reboot of Desperate Housewives with the ladies of Wisteria Lane stirring up trouble in a retirement development, or the Glee kids will have a show where they sing about doing taxes and taking their kids to ballet class. Only one thing about the future of television is for certain: some form of Law & Order will still be on the air.
One could also argue that good television is good television, regardless of whether it's a continuation of a show that ended over two decades ago. I tend to agree with LeBlanc, though -- at least when it comes to shows that have had the good fortune to go out on their own terms. While I think the prospect of bringing shows back to life can be good for some, it's a dangerous door to open. On the one hand, it gives the audience the unique opportunity to see their favorite characters at a different time in their lives. But at the same time, once a story and its characters have been put to bed, shouldn't they be left alone? Is that not some small part of the unwritten agreement between creator and viewer? That the creators tell their story in the best way they can, and once that story has ended, the viewers will accept it for what it is, not demanding anything more. (This has of course become impossible due to the invention of Internet message boards.) Unfortunately, I don't think TV networks are as concerned with this concept as they are with ratings, and we live in an age where many shows either get canceled too soon, or they overstay their welcome. I suppose a reboot has as good a chance of redeeming a show as it does of demeaning it, so we should just hope for the former. I wonder whether Dallas' successful return will prompt other shows that have long been off the air to reemerge with new stories to tell and new beautiful young casts. Has anyone tried to bring back Baywatch lately? Because I bet the Hoff would be up for it.