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November 12, 2013

'Ironside' flop shows risk in reboot strategy

LOS ANGELES — NBC should listen to Angela Lansbury.

The actress is not thrilled that the network is planning to make a new version of “Murder, She Wrote,” the long-running CBS drama that she starred in about a mystery writer who becomes a real-life detective of sorts.

“I think it’s a mistake to call it ‘Murder, She Wrote,’” Lansbury told the Associated Press when asked about NBC’s plans.

Of course, the only reason NBC is remaking the show is that it thinks the name “Murder, She Wrote” still has some value. It figures viewers know the show and that will make it easier to market. Oh, and since the original “Murder, She Wrote” was produced by Universal Television, a sister unit of NBC, there aren’t any messy rights issues.

This is the same logic that NBC used with its “Ironside” remake, which was canceled after four episodes. At least “Ironside” made it to air. Plans to remake “The Rockford Files” and “The Munsters” both blew up in development.

NBC is not only the one that has made the mistake of thinking TV’s past is the key to the future. In 2011, ABC bombed with a new version of “Charlie’s Angels.” CBS is now going to try to make a new version of “Charmed,” which wasn’t even that big a hit when it aired on the WB Network 10 years ago.

The very reasons the networks think these so-called reboots are a slam dunk is what makes them likely to fail. These shows become burdened with a history they cannot live up to.

So if you want to make a show about an author who solves crimes, do it. Just don’t call it “Murder, She Wrote.” And if you want to make a show about three witches, do it. Just don’t call it “Charmed.”

If Chuck Lorre was pitching “Two and a Half Men” today, a network executive would probably say, “This sounds a lot like ‘The Odd Couple’ so why don’t we just call it that?”

And if they had, then the show probably wouldn’t have gotten past Season One.

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