Whose Line Is It Anyway? Why do some shows return from the dead?

Aisha Tyler

Aisha Tyler (Photo credit: MandeePhoto)

Watching TV in the summer used to mean surfing channels of reruns, but lately there seems to be a slew of “new” shows that are repeating old ones. Networks and cable channels are bringing back previously popular shows such as “Whose Line is it Anyway?”, “Hawaii Five-O”, and “Dynasty”. While some people are thrilled that their favorite shows are back, a lot more of us are wondering why we need to keep rehashing the past.

The answer isn’t that the networks have suddenly become nostalgic. With increasing competition from internet videos and more cable channels, many TV networks have seen their profit from advertising drop in the past several years. More worrisome for the networks, many economists are predicting that the model of having companies pay for advertising during show breaks will become obsolete over the next decade.

These factors mean that TV stations are not very willing to take risks with new shows. A new drama or science fiction show can take millions of dollars to produce, and in some cases it will be pulled within a few episodes if it fails to catch on. When reviving an old show, a network has some guarantee that it will be popular. While not every remake catches on (Charlie’s Angels anyone?), a remake will usually attract enough interest to make the first episode a success.

The costs to produce these shows are also much lower than “new” shows. In many cases, networks already own the property rights to the show as well as contracts with many of the former actors, directors, and producers. In several cases, they also have access to props, costumes, and set pieces. Because of this, they can produce a pilot for a much lower costs than a “new” show.

Finally, advertisers like the idea of bringing back a show. While a network usually has to struggle to find sponsors for shows that don’t have a full season of Nielsen data to show, they can easily sell a show that advertisers are already familiar with. Furthermore, advertisers like that they know what to expect. Without seeing a single episode, an advertiser can accurately guess at the demographic that will be attracted to the show just by looking at the data from the original show. Because advertisers are familiar with the plot of these shows, they are also more willing to negotiate for product placement within the show itself. In some cases, advertisers have even suggested how their product could be incorporated into an episode before the first script is even finalized.

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