Watching our favorite spandex-clad super-warriors of American Gladiators the past few weeks, we've been treated by NBC wunderkind Ben Silverman to a preview of the network's upcoming Knight Rider remake. Gladiators? Knight Rider? Rambo tearing up the multiplex? It's the eighties all over again!
Given that Silverman's recipe for invigorating NBC is to pillage the glorious recent past — and given that Gladiators' ratings thus far suggest the strategy is totally successful — we thought we'd offer the tanned, gleaming genius some advice on what other shows he might nab from the era of big dreams and bigger hair.
10. The Equalizer
No, not a show about those colorful bars on your stereo. This series, which ran from 1985 to 1989, was based on a popular recurring eighties premise — a skilled, quasi-militaristic vigilante works outside the law to right wrongs (see also Knight Rider, The A-Team, Blue Thunder, Airwolf, Street Hawk, etc.). But this one came with a twist: The skilled, quasi-militaristic vigilante was a fancy British actor, Edward Woodward, playing a fancy British ex-spy named Robert McCall, ex of the shadowy "Company"! Like many eighties action shows, The Equalizer featured (a) lots of Uzi machine-gun fire and (b) no actual bloodshed, miraculously. But trust us — you can never underestimate the amount of pleasure to be derived from seeing an elderly British dude put some young punk into an armlock, then chide him in a British accent. Marvelous!
The 2008 pitch: Simply lure Michael Gambon into the title role and start equalizing.
9. Misfits of Science
This short-lived NBC superhero comedy-drama, which premiered in 1985 and didn't even survive a full season, starred Courteney Cox and Dean Paul Martin, son of Dean Martin. Misfits of Science spun adventure and laughs out of the sight of its heroes shooting lightning bolts from their hands or shrinking to seven inches tall.
The 2008 pitch: With Heroes: Origins on hold, it'd be nice to see Heroes' creator, Tim Kring, bring Misfits' comic spirit back to the small screen, whether on his own show or in some kind of lighter spinoff that isn't afraid to laugh at itself. It wouldn't be hard to Kring to pull it off; after all, he was a writer on Misfits way back when.
8. Bay City Blues
Continuing with his string of critically beloved but ratings-challenged series with the word “Blues” in the title, Steven Bochco, producer of Hill Street Blues, offered up this 1983 series that lasted just four episodes. The show followed the on- and off-field travails of a minor-league baseball team called, somewhat effeminately, the Bluebirds, and dealt with sports in a serious manner that presciently anticipated movies like Bull Durham and shows like Friday Night Lights.
The 2008 pitch: Come to think of it, you could just revive this show as Friday Night Blues, a critically beloved but ratings-challenged drama about a brooding small-town fireballer (Taylor Kitsch) who likes to pitch with his shirt off.
7. Hardcastle and McCormick
Conventional wisdom says that this transparently homoerotic, muscle-car-fetishizing action-drama — about a retired judge who avenges unpunished crimes with the help of a handsome race-car driver — probably wouldn't make it in today's p.c. ad-sales market the way it did from 1983 to 1986. But as long as they threw in some service-y one-liners about the Coyote X's substandard gas mileage, even noted environmentalist Ben Silverman would be forced to agree that this theme song is freaking awesome.
The 2008 pitch: Drop the barely-there façade and get these two out of the closet. Apart from that, there's not single thing we'd change.
6. Remote Control
Sure, not everything from this MTV game show has aged well: host Ken Ober's smart-ass attitude; the hip, happening set, complete with oversize recliners for the contestants; Colin Quinn. But the idea of rewarding TV fans for their arcane, useless knowledge is actually more relevant now, when we've all become even savvier pop-culture consumers.
The 2008 pitch: Sponsored by TiVo, Remote Control 2008 replaces the fake controllers held by contestants with real TiVo remotes and allows experienced TV connoisseurs to rewind, fast-forward, and pause their way through DVR-ed questions. Put it on your Season Pass and play along at home!
5. Tenspeed and Brown Shoe
Criminally overlooked and underwatched in 1980, this extremely charming series starred Ben Vereen as E.L. “Tenspeed” Turner and Jeff Goldblum as Lionel “Brownshoe” Whitney, a pair of oddball partners in a detective agency. One's a former street hustler; one's a stammering accountant. Guess which one was which?
The 2008 pitch: Since the appeal of the show came almost entirely from the chemistry of the two talented leads, we suggest a remake starring … Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum! Seriously, what are they doing now? It would be like Moonlighting, except with less Cybill Shepherd and more getting–run–over–by–David Foster!
4. Small Wonder
Today, TV's best-ever sitcom about a roboticist who builds an android daughter named Vicki to vacuum his house might seem like a silly, outworn relic from wacky, robot-obsessed 1985 — but by the time the writers' strike is resolved, and Ben Silverman green-lights a reboot, we predict that all American families will have their very own chore-doing cyborgs, making NBC's new version the most realistic show on television.
The 2008 pitch: We'd like to see what Josh Schwartz could do here. In his version, Vicki would be older, hotter, and — thanks to Schwartz's allergy to low-income protagonists — able to dump her chores on her family's live-in help while she drinks, takes drugs, and has robo-sex with a parade of human partners at her expensive private high school.
3. Max Headroom
This quickly canceled 1987 ABC series, featuring "computer-animated" Coke pitchman Max Headroom (actually Matt Frewer in heavy makeup), was far ahead of its time both in its use of computer effects (reportedly created on an Amiga 1000) and in its scathing satire of television itself. Set "twenty minutes into the future," the series presciently posited a world in which ratings drove coverage, personalities trumped news, and advertisements were all-pervasive. The show introduced the now-commonplace concept of the "blipvert," near-subliminal advertising that seems — on viewing the blinking, bleeping ads on this very blog — nearly to have arrived.
The 2008 pitch: Given that we're almost living in Max Headroom's dystopian future, we'd love to see the character unleashed on the present-day mass media. We think Max might have some interesting things to say about current election coverage — and we'd kill to see a reporter half as daring as Edison Carter.
2. Bosom Buddies
Before it was remembered as the show that brought together future screen legend Tom Hanks and future Tom Hanks shadow dweller Peter Scolari, Bosom Buddies, which ran from 1980 to 1982, was a classic sitcom about two guys who, desperate for an affordable apartment, dress in drag in order to get a space in an all-women hotel. (It was originally conceived as a male answer to Laverne & Shirley.) Um, real-estate desperation? Wacky living arrangements? Eighties fashion redux? What could be more relevant and more current — at least for a few more months, before the real-estate market is drowned by the recession and people once again realize that neon headbands are hideous?
The 2008 pitch: We’re imagining a remake with Topher Grace and Sean William Scott. Or Topher Grace and Dax Shepherd. Or Topher Grace and, well, anyone. Since the other guy will be forgotten eventually anyway.
1. Police Squad! and Sledge Hammer!
Two great and underappreciated comedies, Police Squad! (1982) and Sledge Hammer! (1986–1988) shared more than unnecessary punctuation. Both made ridiculous the tropes of the traditional cop show — Police Squad! by making Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) an utter dolt, and Sledge Hammer! by making its eponymous hero (David Rasche) a strutting, overconfident, super-violent buffoon. (The series' first season ended with Hammer, claiming "I know what I'm doing," disarming a nuclear bomb — followed by an atomic blast wiping out Los Angeles.)
The 2008 pitch: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, whose Hot Fuzz explored similar territory, create a new series pairing Sledge Hammer (Pegg) with Frank Drebin (Ricky Gervais) on the mean streets of London. The two cops are now counterterrorism agents, and Sledge Squad! turns into a brutal satire of 24-style anything-goes drama. Boy, we'd sure watch.
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