2008 Comeback Stories: TV shows that refuse to die

This post is part of our series on people, places and things that have found new life in 2008.

Evidently, every entertainment idea possible has already been thought of. How else to explain the resurrection of old television standards into new series (Knight Rider, Bionic Woman) and big-screen features (X-Files 2, Get Smart, Speed Racer)?

Old television shows have always been new, if only briefly. After all, back in the 1970s, a riveted nation--at least in my kid peer group--saw the castaways get off Gilligan's Island and go back again in a couple more spin-off reunion movies. Interested parents were attracted to the two Father Knows Best TV-movie reunions, and that same decade, even The Brady Bunch returned, but in the form of a TV musical series.

The 1980s gave us the TV movie reunions of The Munsters, The Andy Griffith Show as well as the sitcom The Brady Brides and the TV movie A Very Brady Christmas. The 1990s had TV reunions, too, like The Return to Green Acres and, well, the short-lived drama, The Bradys, but something else new was on the scene: TV movies being recycled as feature films. Like The Flintstones, The Addams Family and, well, The Brady Bunch.

But now that we're in the 21st century, the trend has evolved even further, as in: There are no trends. Just bring back old TV shows any which way you can, and see what works. (Hey, I'm not saying this is a bad thing.)

Don't believe me? Then check out the following old TV shows turned new. You can see all of these later this year.

Show: Knight Rider
Where it's airing: Premiered the week of Feb. 18th on NBC.

Why it's different: It's different, and yet it's not different, and that's important. It's a new show with new dialogue and mostly new characters, but it has that cool car and all of the nostalgia built-in for any wistful grown-ups who have been missing the NBC television staple of the 1980s. The critics generally hated it, but it was the second most watched show of the week, according to The Washington Post, and TV writers have noted that the movie functioned as something of a pilot for a new series. As viewers learn late in the show, the hero of the movie and possible series is the son of Michael Knight (played by David Hasselhoff, who starred in the original). Replacing veteran actor William Daniels, who voiced the car known as KITT, is Val Kilmer.

Show: Bionic Woman
Where it's airing: NBC, sort of. Ever since the fall season began, they were showing it as a new series, in the vein of Knight Rider being a new series, but now they're not. Ratings were low, and rumor has it, it's already been canceled. Episodes are still available online at NBC.com.
Why it's different: Well, it was updated. Same premise of the 1970s show, apparently. But there wasn't the same charm. You know that's not fair. I purposely didn't watch it, because, by golly, what was wrong with the original? If NBC would put the reruns of the original on, I would watch it faithfully. I loved watching The Bionic Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man as a kid (I was born in 1970). Why isn't TV Land showing that, for crying out loud, instead of episodes of Just Shoot Me, which is a nice enough show, but didn't it just go off a few years ago?! (I need to write a letter, maybe to my Congressman.)

Show: Speed Racer
Where it's airing: Not on TV, but in movies, May 9.
Why it's different: It's live-action, though with plenty of computer animated graphics. Larry and Andy Wachowski, the guys who made The Matrix movies, directed this. Christina Ricci, John Goodman and Susan Sarandon are among the stars.

Show: X-Files 2
Where it's airing: On movie screens come July 25.
Why it's different: It's, well, not the first X-Files movie?

Show: Get Smart
Where it's airing: In the movies on June 20.
Why it's different: Having not seen it, I can't tell you. Still, Steve Carrell stars as Maxwell Smart... need we say any more? Don Adams is a tough act to follow, creating an indelible character in the original series of Get Smart (1965-70) and the (less is said the better) TV-show-turned-movie The Nude Bomb (1980). But my guess is that Adams caught the dailies somewhere -- up there in the clouds -- and that he nodded in approval, just before accidentally knocking off one of those clouds, sending the late Ed Platt (who played Chief) hurtling to Earth. Uh, no? Well, then, would you believe...?

Geoff Williams is a business journalist, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine, and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale, 2007). He is also a TV nut and writing his Congressman as you read this.

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