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'Will & Grace' just the latest example of TV recycling

By NEAL JUSTIN • Updated Sep 27, 2017 at 9:56 AM

LOS ANGELES (TNS) — Eric McCormack and his wife spent a recent Thanksgiving night binge-watching “Will & Grace,” the beloved 1990s sitcom starring ... Eric McCormack.

“My son finally woke up, kind of rubbed his eyes, looked at the screen and said, ‘You’re just going to sit and watch yourself on television?’” he said.

With a highly anticipated reboot premiering Thursday, NBC bets McCormack isn't the only one nostalgic for "W&G."

“There’s been a positive ‘glass more than half-full’ response from fans that made me think, ‘Well, we have a place. We’re not going to be fighting an uphill battle,’” McCormack said this summer, a day after the cast’s first table read. “And I thought, ‘Why not. Why would we not?’”

With two new seasons in the works, "W&G" is only the latest example of television executives hitting the recycling bin. "One Day at a Time," "Roots," "Twin Peaks," "24," "The X-Files," "Prison Break," "Gilmore Girls," "Full House," "Love Connection" and "The Gong Show" all returned in one form or another this past season. The trend continues in coming months with "Roseanne" reuniting over loose-meat sandwiches, "S.W.A.T." redeploying for action, "Dynasty" re-establishing its power base and "Lost in Space" once again searching for Earth. Just 21 months after throwing farewell parties, fans also will have the chance to select a new "American Idol." There's even buzz about reincarnating "Charmed" and developing "The Greatest American Hero" with a woman in the cape.

“We’re creatively bankrupt,” joked NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt before offering a more serious, practical response to questions about resurrecting "W&G" more than a decade after its supposed finale.

“I think when you’re putting on 30 to 40 original series a year, if there’s a great old idea you bring back, I’m totally comfortable.”

It’s easy to gripe that writers should be spending more time generating original ideas, but it’s a lot harder to successfully pitch, say, a new series about a high school chemistry teacher who morphs into a terrorizing drug dealer (the once-in-a-lifetime “Breaking Bad”) than a tried-and-true formula that serves up nostalgia.

You may not remember exact plot lines to “Dynasty,” but the title alone is sure to register.

“’‘Dynasty’ gives you a hook to at least get the conversation going,” said CW President Mark Pedowitz, referring to the 1980s prime-time soap that took cat-fighting to new levels.

He's confident the reboot will attract viewers age 45-plus. “For those younger than 45, it becomes a question: ‘Is this a new show for them?’ We hope it is.”

In the case of “Dynasty,” new actors are coming in to play the Carringtons, including former Nickelodeon favorite Elizabeth Gillies as a feistier Fallon. But often, reboots mean bringing back familiar names that click. “Kevin Can Wait” is not a continuation of “King of Queens,” but with the decision to kill off Kevin James' on-screen wife this season to make room for his former “Queens” co-star Leah Remini, it might as well be.

“I like to think of comedy as music, and each one of us is a different instrument,” said Debra Messing, who first reunited with her “W&G” co-stars McCormack, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes for an anti-Trump video last October.

“And when we play together, we’re at our best. For the last year, it’s been a confusing time and I haven’t laughed very much. And to come back and laugh out loud, be surprised by each other and have the opportunity to tell new stories, it's a no-brainer. It's just a beautiful, crazy thing that's happened.”

Just because the old “Will & Grace” gang is back together, don’t expect the characters to aim for the same old targets. Messing hopes the new version will tackle discrimination against transgender people, a group that was nearly invisible the first time around.

When “Dynasty” returns on Oct. 11, the sexual orientation of Steven Carrington will no longer generate friction between him and his father.

“There’s no rancor over that issue. What they battle over is things like fracking and environmental issues,” said executive producer Josh Schwartz. “It was important for us to meet our moment today the way the original ‘Dynasty’ met its moment in the ‘80s.”

In the Nov. 2 , an officer accidentally shoots a black child, triggering the kind of protests now seen regularly on the evening news.

"When that happens, whatever your preconceived notion of 'S.W.A.T.' goes away,” said series star Shemar Moore. "We're taking on real life. We're taking on the Trump years. I don’t care who you voted for. It’s just what’s happening today."

But no amount of updating can entice viewers to take every trip down memory lane. A revival of “Coach” got benched a couple of seasons ago before it even hit the air. A short-lived attempt to Americanize the British hit “Prime Suspect” generated more ink about Maria Bello's hat than her character.

“I've batted back a lot of re-dos,” NBC Entertainment President Jennifer Salke said. “With ‘Will & Grace,’ I had no doubts. There are many others we're not going to reboot just to have title familiarity. We know that falls flat on its face.”

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