In the Future, TV Shows Will Never End

Last week we learned that NBC is interested in reviving The Office, 30 Rock, The West Wing, and ER. They’re currently building to a new season of Will and Grace, Showtime’s Twin Peaks is still rolling out, someone is currently making more of The X-Files, Full House, Arrested Development, the list goes on. The onslaught of film and television remakes is no new conversation. For at least a decade now people have been proclaiming that the media-machine has run out of ideas, resorting to reaching desperately into the past, throwing any established property back against the wall to see if it will stick once again. I always thought it was a bit cynical to characterize this as a new and odious trend. Since the dawn of mass media we’ve been remaking, adapting, and sequelizing well known stories. (The beloved 1939 The Wizard of Oz was the third version committed to screen) Besides, belaboring this often overlooks the incredible original work being made at any given point. That said, it’s hard to deny that in the current media climate everything is rapidly accelerating.

Up until now, television shows have been landmarks of pop culture history. Look to any seminal show and it will give you an idea of what the (TV watching) world was interested in at the time. Seinfeld ran from 1990 to 1998 and distinctly describes that decade. The same can be said for The Brady Bunch (1969-1974) and Taxi (1978-1983) for their respective eras. Like all media, a TV series is like a time capsule. However this medium is different, because the long-form nature of television casts a wider net, defining a larger period of time. A film might capture the essence of a year, but TV shows can track culture as it evolves over the course of a decade.

So far, this idea has been the exact reason why TV revivals have been so popular. People love to revisit the feelings of a previous time. It makes sense why someone might find it interesting to check in with Full House twenty years after we saw them last. So much has changed in that time. Not only are the aesthetics of television extremely different, but the show’s original audience are indubitably in a different place in their life. There’s distance from the time Full House is attached to.

It’s only been four years since The Office ended. The corpse is barely cold. Television still looks and feels the same, more or less. Many of those actors are still very much floating around the entertainment ether. I love The Office dearly but I don’t understand the point of revisiting it when there is such little distance from it. A new season wouldn’t feel like a “revival” or a “reunion,” it would just feel like a new season, after a hiatus. If moves like this continue to be made on television, these shows stand to lose their uniqueness as a relic of their time period.

We’ve already experienced some version of this in film. While I expressed earlier that a movie can describe a moment where a TV series can describe a decade, long running film franchises can have a similar dynamic to the latter. Superman and Batman The 1950s had a Superman in George Reeves, the late 70s/early 80s had one in Christopher Reeve, the 90s had Dean Caine. Spider-Man does not have distinct iterations that belong to a generation. This current generation has already stacked up three Spider-Men in just a 15-year span. If, like the Spider-Man films, a show never truly ends, the culture does not get a chance to breath. If a pop culture idea is kept constantly alive, it will never be able to crystallize as a part of its moment.

I realize my tone in has been leaning toward the “this is bad” side of things. I don’t think this is bad, it’s just different. It’s an interesting evolution of the media we consume. Imagine the endless possibilities of super-longform, or even endless-form storytelling. Although there doesn’t seem to be anything remotely interesting (to me) about Fuller House, I do think it would be fascinating if it ran for 9 seasons, and then 20 more years pass, and then they make 9 more seasons and so on. We, and our children, and theirs, would casually consume media that chronicles entire parallel generations. In the same way that audiences watched Mary Kate and Ashley’s entire childhood unfold on Full House, we can watch actors (and more importantly the characters they play) grow up, grow old, die, and be succeeded by a new generation.

This could also be exhausting (see: Fuller House). I guess like anything it all depends on the quality of these hypothetical never-ending, constantly reviving zombie TV shows. If creative individuals can take charge of this trend, the changing world of television can be innovative. In the hands of greedy, lazy entities it will suring cause fatigue. Either way, strange things lie ahead. The Office Season 10, I welcome your unnecessary but perhaps inevitable existence. It could be good, but it will definitely be interesting.

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