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Time For an Old-Time Revival

As the fourth (and presumably final) season of Coupling unspools on BBC America, I've gotten to thinking about another way the U.S. TV networks should follow the lead of their UK counterparts. I've already suggested having the guts to just pick up and run UK shows, at least in the summer.

Recently news reached these shores that the BBC is, after 15 years, reviving Doctor Who. The fact that it took them 15 years to figure out that modern special-effects techniques and the resurgent popularity of science fiction TV shows make their cancelled TV series a sleeping giant just points out how sleepy the BBC is, but at least they finally did figure it out.

The revival of Doctor Who got me thinking about just how fluid the British conception of continuity in their series really are. Take Absolutely Fabulous, a show whose seasons were broadcast in 1992, 1994, 1995, 2001, and 2003. Or Red Dwarf, which had a three-plus year break between its sixth and seventh seasons. I'm sure there are even better examples.

In any event, I have to ask: why must our U.S. TV series be produced in continuous blocks? Only on HBO do you see some divergence from this apparent law of television -- namely the somewhat longer delays between seasons of The Sopranos.

Sure, there are issues with reviving live-action TV shows years later. You'd have to reunite the cast (pricey if it was a big hit -- but if it was a big hit, wouldn't a revival mean big money?), rebuild the sets, and the like. But I have faith that the brilliant minds of our television industry could put it all together.

Sure, reviving any given show would be a longshot, not just financially but creatively. But what if, for example, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld decided they've got enough to say to generate nine more half-hours of Seinfeld? Wouldn't it be fun if every three or four years we saw another half-dozen really funny episodes of Cheers? Or pick your favorite old, cancelled TV show.

In fact, the more tired and wheezing the show was at its end, the better. After a few years off the air, wouldn't there be an opportunity to mine new ground creatively? Wouldn't the noticeable aging of our favorite characters provide an opportunity for a refreshing burst of change to an old premise?

The revival circuit is more likely for animation, if only because the age of the contenders isn't a factor. Family Guy is coming back on the strength of its DVD sales. I am certainly not alone in arguing that a revival of Futurama would be good for Cartoon Network and for viewers the world over. And note the clever twist coming out of Joss Whedon's camp, where they're preparing an animated version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that will provide the show's writers with a much broader canvas for wild special effects while also freeing them to return to the show's seminal high school years.

As the BBC's new Doctor Who points out, the other area ripe for revival is re-boots of solid premises that are just too good to throw away. Why should Fox continue to try and re-create that Friday night sci-fi magic when they could just go back to the date that brung 'em, The X-Files? Yes, that show collapsed under its own ridiculous mythology long before it went off the air. But given several years' airing out and a fresh new cast, wouldn't a New X-Files series be more intriguing than a second season of Tru Calling or another succession of failed pilots?

I'm not saying all of these revivals would work. Some of 'em would probably collapse and die on the drawing board, and others might end up stinking if actually put before a camera. But in an era when the movie studios are mining the weirdest collection of TV trivia for inspiration, why shouldn't the networks take advantage of their old successes? Not in lousy TV reunion movies -- nobody wants to see that. Bring the good shows back in the form they succeeded at in the first place, the TV series. I don't care if you order 20 episodes, 12, or six. Take a chance on bringing back the good stuff.

By which I mean, if you're planning on bringing back Urkel, forget everything I just wrote.


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