Welcome to prime time 2018, where everything old is new again, or about a quarter of it is anyway.
Of the 21 freshman series that will launch between now and November on the major commercial networks, five are reboots from the last century, last decade or even last couple of years. They're revivals with most of the original cast ("Murphy Brown") or revivals with a new cast ("Magnum P.I."). In one instance, the original show has been absent only a short time ("Charmed"); in another, a very short time ("Last Man Standing"). And one ("The Conners") is a reboot of a reboot. If there's a pervasive been-here-seen-this buzz to fall 2018, you now know why.
The series reboot phenomenon is hardly recent, but when this many newcomers are rooted in the past, it seems almost safe to say that the watershed moment has arrived. Perhaps it has: Just about any series you can think of from the past decade or past century could conceivably be revived, and some — "Frasier," "Miami Vice," "The Munsters," "ALF" and "Bewitched" — are expected to be. "Seinfeld" and the great white whale of 'boots, "Friends," would appear to be off this table except that there's a never-say-never mood upon the TV land. ("It's possible," Jerry has said. "I fantasize about it," Jennifer Aniston has also said.)
What's going on this fall? Obviously "Roseanne" was going on until Roseanne was going out — a star Twitter implosion that left 2018's biggest hit without a namesake but at least with a network and cast willing to carry on. Viewers will have to settle for "The Conners" as a result.
"Murphy Brown" would probably not be on the fall schedule if the hugely successful "Roseanne" hadn't been on the spring one. But "Magnum P.I." — starring Jay Hernandez as Thomas Sullivan Magnum, private eye — is more closely aligned with the upheaval in network TV right now. Gone 30 years, there was no groundswell for a return, no fan club clamouring for Thomas and his 'stache. "Magnum" had all but been forgotten.
To CBS that hardly mattered because "Magnum" plays to the crowd that actually watches network TV these days and nights — 65-year-olds and up, who spend an average of 48 hours a week with network TV, for a 6 percent increase over the past five years, according to Nielsen data. Older people are by far the largest consumers of commercial network TV. By contrast, teens and older millennials (25 to 34) are by far the smallest. Last year, they watched an average 11 and 18 hours a week, respectively, down 45 and 32 percent, respectively, over the past five years.
More telling numbers: Total viewership for ABC, CBS and NBC fell 12 percent between 2016 and '17, and the drop is likely to be about the same for this year. Nevertheless, as more viewers drop out, those that remain are getting older ... and older.
Networks have always had a habit of playing to their strength, and for the moment, that strength happens to be those older viewers. For them, the reboots are comfort food, nostalgia kicks and known commodities that can be consumed in one easy bite. Viewers of a certain age don't need to be told what "Magnum" is (or who he is) because they already know. They don't need to be sold because they'll watch anyway — the power of curiosity triumphant over the power of scepticism.
Meanwhile, as Millenials and Gen Xers age, they, too, are being targeted with shows from their own happy viewing past. Gone just 10 years, "Charmed" is back. Meanwhile, NBC is hardly discouraging comparisons of "Lost" to newcomer "Manifest." The CW's "All American" appears to channel "Friday Night Lights" and "Beverly Hills 90210."
So settle in, kick back and muse upon the great Yogi Berra, who once told us that it's deja vu all over again.
If he only knew.