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Recycling old ideas

Years ago, I made a comment to a co-worker that there is no such thing as a completely original idea.  He was extremely offended as he was working on an advertising campaign that he felt was totally unique and yes, original.  I’m not suggesting that his concept wasn’t good.  It just wasn’t original.

Why?  Because everything that we do or say is a reflection of or influenced by what we’ve seen or learned over the years.  History’s great artists were influenced by previous generations.  Inventors are constantly inspired by the world around them.

Even Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” wasn’t a completely original work.  It was inspired by Arthur Brooke’s poem “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.” 

And he got the idea from “Novelle” which was written another poet, Matteo Bandello, in 1554 … who got the idea from a story written by Luigi Da Porta in 1530 … who changed the story first (we think) conceived in the second century by a man named Xenophon.
It’s the greatest romantic tragedy ever written.  And it’s a knock-off.

But that doesn’t mean Shakespeare’s version or his words weren’t completely magical.  It just wasn’t an original production.  So it’s really no surprise that in today’s entertainment industry, remakes of TV series and movies are becoming more common – much to the public’s chagrin.

However, re-conceiving a beloved old TV series is a dangerous game.  Viewers may not take too kindly to writers messing with their idyllic memories.  I don’t know how good Greatest American Hero really was.  But to my naïve eleven-year-old brain, it was magic.  So even if it was the TV-equivalent of KLIK, does it matter?

The biggest hurdle is capturing the power of the original.  How much has to change to get the same audience reaction?  And given the difference in the audience – we are, after all, a more jaded and tougher group to sell – is it realistic to expect the same response?

More often than naught, the remake fails.  Case in point: Dallas, 90210, The Bionic Woman, Knight Rider, and V.

Hawaii Five-O with its sexy male leads and bikini-clad scenery managed to succeed in grabbing the attention of modern viewers.  But few who loved the original 1968 series stuck around after the CBS re-boot premiered in 2010.

So now producers are leaning toward movies for their inspiration.  About a Boy has been a success.  And several new comedies are being peddled based on Jennifer Lopez’s Monster-In-Law, Tom Hanks’ Big, and John Candy’s Uncle Buck.

However, movies use a single storyline that develops the character.  TV shows require multiple stories that allow for slower character development.  So the transition from movie to television demands that the audience let go of the original which is so dear to their heart.  But ironically, that sentiment is exactly why producers chose a particular remake in the first place.

Perhaps it’s time to let go and allow today’s writers put their spin on old stories.  Because if Billy could do it, it must be okay.  As long as they stay away from Ralph and his red suit.

BB/Eco Superor