Do you feel the power of… reboot telly?

Snoddy: Do you feel the power of… reboot telly?
Credit: BBC/Nick Eagle/Hungry Bear Media

The BBC Gladiators has been a relative success. Perhaps the reboot movement will be what brings generations back together in front of the television screen.

There has been an animated television series called Reboot which ran from 1934 until 2001. Inevitably, there was also a reboot of Reboot in the last couple of years.

Don’t worry, there is nothing wrong with your memory. This TV saga happened in Canada, not the UK. Yet, even here, the genre of reboot television is enjoying something of a renaissance.

Indeed, you could even argue that one of the hottest concepts in television now is to find a former hit series that hasn’t been on air for at least 20 years and give it not just an upgrade but also a new home on a different channel.

The groans could be heard far and wide when it was announced that the BBC was reviving Gladiators, which first ran on ITV from 1992 until 2000. What a cop-out. It you can’t come up with any original ideas, just sweep the cobwebs off an old idea and give it a modest makeover.

Except, by any standards, the new Gladiators has been a considerable success, with audiences averaging around 6m in an era when it is not easy to assemble such an audience outside an England Euro final or a royal funeral.

Return of the big red book?

It is now being claimed that attempts to revive This Is Your Life after two decades of silence are well advanced.

Once upon a time, pre-Netflix and even pre-YouTube, Eamonn Andrews and later Michael Aspel jumping on an unsuspecting celebrity with the big red book of their life was required viewing. It is even being claimed that Kate Garraway and Susanna Reid are at the top of the list to present the programme (and, yes, a woman will have to be the presenter this time around).

There has been no confirmation that the new This Is Your Life has yet found a slot, but it is surely an intelligent guess that it will return soon because, in its absence, a new cohort of celebrities (or targets) for such a programme have stepped into the limelight.

You could even add an interactive element by giving online viewers a chance to ask a few questions of their own at the end.

Gladiators and the possible new iteration of This is Your Life are not the only reboots — quiz shows can be revived, too, as Graham Norton and ITV’s Wheel of Fortune suggest.

Finding the gems

A wise television executive would be spending some of their time these days reviewing the history of television to see what buried gems can next be dug up.

Obviously, candidates have to have something of the eternal about them — tapping into fundamental emotions and interests such as the power of contest, winning and losing, or an abiding curiosity about the lives of other human beings. After all, the tradition of gladiators goes all the wav back to Rome.

The likely availability of audiences is another vital factor. Makers of television for young children, such as Peppa Pig and Teletubbies, used to rub their hands with glee at the prospect of having entirely new audiences every three or four years. In terms of television, it was the original money tree.

The world has changed, of course. However, despite the almost endless choice now on offer far away from the television screen, carefully chosen reboots may have the power to attract audiences back to a more traditional form of television.

First of all, there is the nostalgia crowd — those who watched it the first time around and are happy to have another look. Then you could have a second bite at the cherry, with the hope that you might attract at least some of those who were too young to remember the programme the first time around.

After all, a repeat is only a repeat to those who have already seen the show.

Appealing for loyalty

There is another positive argument for reboots: they might attract loyal viewers in the way that soaps depend on loyalty and something approaching addiction.

There is clearly a shortage of programmes outside live sports that can pull audiences together. Equally, there is a dearth of programmes that can wean the young off their dependence on smartphones and games consoles and bring the family together in front of the television for however brief a period.

There is nothing new in reboots. Doctor Who was cruelly cut down by Michael Grade in its prime, only to be magnificently relaunched with all the latest visual tricks. Dr Who is one of that rare breed of programmes that families are still willing to watch together.

Exploitative TV

Talking of Lord Grade, the former BBC chairman and now chairman of media regulator Ofcom has been lamenting how television has become more exploitative and cruel in recent years.

In an interview to be broadcast on Boom Radio on Sunday, Grade will say that the exploitation dial has been switched up more for the sake of ratings. No mind at work, no real craft, laments Grade, before quoting Juvenal: “Just bread and circuses.”

“In the old days, professional entertainers used to entertain the public. Now the public are entertaining themselves,” says Grade, who does not name the guilty shows but might have something like Love Island or The Traitors in mind.

Grade should now throw his weight behind the reboot television movement because, in general, such programmes tend to reflect more gentle times and are certainly less cruel and exploitative.

It is even possible that, given the right choices to resuscitate, the path of virtue and the bringing together of audiences across generations might work in commercial times.

Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.

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