Now more than ever, Hollywood loves IP, also known as intellectual property that can range from TV and streaming series based on a book to the frequent practice of rebooting familiar TV and movie titles.
The latest example: 4400, premiering at 9 p.m. Monday on The CW and based on the 2004-07 USA Network series The 4400 which counted Pittsburgh native Craig Sweeny (Elementary, Limitless) among its writers (hes not involved in this remake). This time, the reboot seems warranted.
In her 2020 book Why We Remake: The Politics, Economics and Emotions of Film and TV Remakes, author Lauren Rosewarne outlines six rationales for remaking existing entertainment: bigger and better, economic, nostalgic, Americanized, creative and fashionable.
Rosewarne argues, and I agree, that not all remakes are bad. While some viewers bemoan a lack of originality in TV and film, no one makes the same argument when a classic Broadway musical gets revived. No one looks askance at the 500th production of Shakespeares The Taming of the Shrew.
There is a difference between the third spin-off/knock-off of a hit (think: NCIS: Hawaii) and a complete reinvention (think: the 2004-09 Battlestar Galactica). The CWs 4400 is more the latter, falling into a few of Rosewarnes categories as this iteration expands on an existing property while addressing racial justice concerns that are in the zeitgeist.
Like the original, The CWs reboot is about 4,400 people who disappeared from the planet at various points in history only to be returned in one fell swoop.
The new 4400 doesnt attempt to reuse any characters from the original show, recycling just the premise and building a new world of characters, including Shanice (Brittany Adebumola), a lawyer and young mother who disappeared in 2005 and returns in 2021 to find her daughter grown into a teen while her husband (Cory Jeacoma) has moved on.
Theres also a World War I Army surgeon (TL Thompson), a D-list reality star from 2015 (Khailah Johnson) and a 60s Civil Rights movement participant (Jaye Ladymore), among others. Theyre an interesting bunch, and only Shanice gets a decent amount of development in the pilot but that just means the others will come to the fore in future episodes. The pilot made me interested to see how these time-traveling characters will fare in the present.
In this version of the show, those who disappeared were all overlooked, undervalued or marginalized members of society. With a largely African-American cast the original series had a mostly white cast with the notable exception of Mahershala Ali this iteration of the series has something new to say, similar to ABCs new Wonder Years reboot, which also features a Black cast.
In a recent virtual press conference for the show, executive producer Ariana Jackson (Riverdale, Lethal Weapon, UnReal) said she was intrigued by the opportunity to retell the story from a Black American perspective.
The story we actually get to tell is about Black America, about racism in America about how we have this history of white supremacy in this country that we just keep repeating, and thats what we see in these characters, she said. Weve dealt with white supremacy in our past, and now were in 2021, and look, there it is again!
Original titles still work look at Netflixs monster hit Squid Game but media conglomerates love to hedge their bets with an existing title because launching a show with a familiar name often will draw a larger initial tune-in from longtime fans.
Its the reason HBO Max is going all-in on DC Comics shows, including the recent renewal of Doom Patrol and Titans for their fourth seasons, the Suicide Squad spin-off Peacemaker (Jan. 13) starring John Cena and poaching Batman prequel Pennyworth from Epix for a third season that will debut on HBO Max in 2022 (seasons one and two also will stream on HBO Max next year).
HBO Max also has a sequel series to 1980s sitcom Head of the Class, featuring original series star Robin Givens, ready to stream Nov. 5. And this week, Hulu ordered History of the World Part II, a sequel to the 1981 Mel Brooks movie that Brooks will write and executive-produce with Nick Kroll, Wanda Sykes and Ike Barinholtz, among others.
IP is why AMC expanded The Walking Dead from one show to a whole universe of programs, including Tales of the Walking Dead, the fourth spin-off that will debut with a six-episode first season next summer, with each one-hour episode focused on new and established franchise characters. And its why ABC ordered a pilot for a continuation of L.A. Law starring original cast members Corbin Bernsen and Carnegie Mellon University grad Blair Underwood.
We can even see the emphasis of IP in childrens TV titles, like the live-action holiday movie A Loud House Christmas (7 p.m. Nov. 26 on Nickelodeon and on Paramount+ the same day), based on the animated series.
Even when it doesnt make a lot of sense who among The CWs target audience of adults 18-49 really remembers The Waltons, that venerable 1970s family drama? networks are in the mood for remakes such as The CW holiday film reboot The Waltons Homecoming, premiering Nov. 28 on WPCW-TV and available on digital and DVD on Dec. 14.
A love for IP even extends to nonfiction, which explains discovery+s spin-off of Netflix hit Tiger King, Carole Baskins Cage Fight (Nov. 13, discovery+), featuring the woman from Tiger King investigating the treatment of big cats held in captivity.
This IP trend shows no sign of abating anytime soon.
Added to Rustin
Netflixs Rustin, now filming in Western Pennsylvania and telling the story of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo) added to its cast, including a third actor from filmed-in-Pittsburgh Ma Raineys Black Bottom.
Michael Potts, who played Slow Drag in Ma Raineys, joins actors Domingo and Glynn Turman and director George C. Wolfe for another film in Pittsburgh. Potts will play labor organizer and civil rights activist Cleveland Robinson in Rustin.
More Rustin cast additions include Aml Ameen (I May Destroy You) as Martin Luther King Jr. and Carra Patterson (Turner & Hooch) as Coretta Scott King. CCH Pounder (NCIS: New Orleans) will play civil rights leader, politician, educator and writer Dr. Anna Hedgeman. Bill Irwin (Legion) plays clergyman and activist A.J. Muste. Adrienne Warren (The Woman King) and Johnny Ramey (Poz Roz) also have joined Rustin, the first scripted feature film from Barack and Michelle Obamas Higher Ground production company.
Netflix renewed You for a fourth season and sitcom Family Reunion for a third and final season.
Starz renewed Blindspotting for a second season.
Amazon renewed Jack Ryan for season four even though season three still has no premiere date (season two streamed its last episode in October 2019).
FX on Hulu canceled Y: The Last Man after a single season.
The CW canceled reality competition Killer Camp two episodes into its low-rated second season.
WPXI reporter moves up
Michele Newell, who grew up in Pittsburgh and joined WPXI-TV as a reporter in 2018, is jumping to a reporter position in the larger Atlanta TV market at a station thats part of the same ownership group as Channel 11.
I can confirm Michele is moving to Atlanta to take a great position at our sister station, WSB-TV, Channel 11 news director Scott Trabandt said via email. Were all excited for Michele and her incredible opportunity, although we will certainly miss her and know many in the community will as well.
You can reach TV writer Rob Owen at email@example.com or 412-380-8559. Follow Rob on Twitter or Facebook. Ask TV questions by email or phone. Please include your first name and location.
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