TV Remakes - A Reminder of things past
From Minder and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em to Beverley Hills, 90210, a whole host of former TV favourites are being remade – with a twist or two. Gerard Gilbert reports
Friday 23 January 2009
Anyone want to buy a second-hand Arthur Daley? Form an orderly queue, ladies and gents. The design may be nearly 30 years old, but the engine's been totally reconditioned... brand-new parts and not a mile on the clock. She's a lovely little runner. Honest.
That, more or less, is the pitch being made by Five, as the channel resurrects Minder, the comedy-drama that gave us the camel-hair-coated, trilby-hatted wheeler-dealer played by George Cole, and his "security" – Dennis Waterman's stooge-like Terry McCann. Yep, Minder has been resuscitated, with Shane Richie ducking and diving as Arthur Daley's nephew Archie, and a newcomer with the slightly alarming name of Lex Shrapnel as the eponymous bodyguard.
How does that make you feel? Are you excitedly humming Dennis Waterman's hit Eighties theme song "I Could Be So Good for You" (retained here, albeit re-recorded by hip Glaswegian combo Attic Lights). Or did you immediately recoil at the tackiness of it all, especially with Five's press notes talking about "geezer chic", Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and a "retro, Ben Sherman feel"? I only ask, because this retooling of Minder is only one small part of a growing trend in television. Soon, you won't be able to move for remakes.
On a bitterly cold evening just before Christmas, for example, I went to Teddington Studios in west London to join the studio audience laughing and whooping at Reggie Perrin, the BBC's forthcoming remake of David Nobbs's Seventies sitcom classic, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Martin Clunes was in the role immortalised by the late, great Leonard Rossiter – that of the Sunshine Desserts executive who fakes his suicide before embarking on a bizarre one-man critique of consumer capitalism.
Clunes is good casting, with much of the same anarchic hauteur that Rossiter brought to the role. In some respects his Reggie is simply Men Behaving Badly's bored office manager, Gary, 15 or 20 years down the line. And with the original theme tune, and many of the old catchphrases (notably CJ's "I didn't get where I am today without..."), there was a reassuringly familiar feel to what the BBC is adamant is not simply a remake.
No, don't say remake. "Reimagining" is the buzz word – and it's happening all over the place. Sky1 has announced plans to reimagine Blake's 7, ITV is about to give us their reimagined The Prisoner and E4 audiences will very shortly be able to watch 90210, the reimagining of Beverly Hills 90210. Meanwhile, Battlestar Galactica, The Bionic Woman and Doctor Who are just a few of the old sci-fi shows that have been reimagined with varying degrees of success, while The Sweeney is being turned into a film starring (who else?) Ray Winstone, as is the sitcom Butterflies (albeit not with Ray Winstone). Most bizarre of all has to be American plans for a television series based on Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. Its working title is Don't Bring Frank. Ooh... Betty.
What is being tapped into, according to writer Adrian Hodges, who recently "reimagined" the apocalyptic Seventies saga Survivors for contemporary audiences, is brand awareness. "It's the commercial reality," Hodges tells me. "Audiences are getting harder to please – and brands like Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and Survivors are very attractive to commissioners."
Sean O'Connor from Talkback Thames, series producer of Five's new version of Minder, is open about the appeal of branding. "We were talking about doing a show with Jay Hunt (now controller of BBC One) when she was briefly at Five and she was very nervous because Five didn't have a lot of money and they hadn't got a track record in home-grown drama. We just thought that what we need is a brand – Talkback Thames have got a fantastic back catalogue and one of them is Minder. We mentioned it to her and five minutes later she said, 'Let's do it – and let's do it with Shane Richie.'
"Brands are important in all cultural forms," continues O'Connor. "I mean, if you look at the theatre, the reason there are so many films being turned into plays and musicals is because people want to know what they're getting for their cash. And it's not necessarily to do with how much money you spend but where you spend your time, because there are so many other avenues."
But O'Connor thinks branding goes beyond attraction to the familiar – or even the handy pre-publicity that comes with "reimagining" a much-loved property (the press launch for Minder was far more packed with journalists than it would have been had this been a new, original drama). He believes successful drama formats are tapping into something deeper.
Minder's timelessness is due to the "classical" nature of the central relationship, he says. "It's a bit like the relationship between Falstaff and Prince Hal. It's about an older character who should know better and a younger man who is the moral touchstone of the whole show; there is something elemental about it and that's why people have always liked it.
"It's a high-risk strategy in a way, because if you've got an iconic product that people have loved, it's got to be at least as good as the original property... and hopefully this is." Actually – surprisingly, even – it is. Five has done a fantastic job with the new Minder. Shane Richie is a natural in the role, and the writing (by Tim Loane from Teachers) is tight and funny.
It joins a select group of remakes that have lived up to or exceeded expectations, such as Russell T Davies's Doctor Who and Sky's revisit to the late-1970s space opera Battlestar Galactica. It was interesting to hear Peter Davison, who played Doctor Who in the early 1980s, recently sharing his thoughts on the workaday scripts he was offered during his stretch as a Time Lord. Davison thinks the writing has improved considerably since his day. "I think it's because the writers are people who were brought up on the show," he says, "and so it's more about the ideas."
The retooled Minder isn't in the same league as the resurrected Doctor Who, but it promises not to shame its heritage. Says producer Sean O'Connor: "Interestingly, we started off mentioning characters from the old series quite a bit but in the final edit we cut most of that out, and that was because we found in the writing and performances that they were strong enough on their own without recourse to the old series." At the end of the day, in other words, "reimagined" television shows are only as good as the imaginations behind them.
Shane Richie plays Arthur Daley's nephew Archie, a cockney spiv into a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Lex Shrapnel, who plays Archie's minder, may be a relatively new face to television but he comes from good thespian stock. He is the grandson of Hollywood star Deborah Kerr.
When? Early February.
Martin Clunes takes the Leonard Rossiter role as the executive who fakes his own suicide in a revival of David Nobbs's sitcom 'The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin' – while Faye Ripley plays his bemused wife. Nobbs has co-authored the new scripts with 'Men Behaving Badly' writer Simon Nye.
Filmed in Namibia and South Africa, Patrick McGoohan's paranoiac Sixties cult masterwork has been reinvented with Jim Caviezel, best known for playing Jesus in 'The Passion of the Christ', as Number Six. Ian McKellen plays Number Two. Who is Number One? Don't even go there.
When? This autumn.
Daleks creator Terry Nation's Seventies sci-fi – a sort of scenery-shaking British 'Star Trek' – is being remade by Sky One with boosted production values but retaining Nation's dark vision of humanity. A 60-minute film may be followed by a full series.
When? Still in development.
90210A new young (and alarmingly skinny) cast inhabit California's most famous high school as the seminal shiny US teen soap returns. Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty – older, wiser and less prone to off-screen feuding – reprise their roles.
When? 26 January on E4.
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