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Back to the Future: TV Formats that Should Come Back (Updated 1/24/12)
Start Your DeLorean
Even though there seem to be a plethora of television stations on the airwaves right now, there isn't much diversity in programming. Yes, there are those all or nothing channels strictly devoted to sports, music, family programming, etc. But for those of us who watch the big four or what we really like to think of as the big snore, we want something new and engaging that doesn't require blondes in hot tubes, talk shows, cops, doctors, or lawyers. Even on cable, it's hit or miss trying to find something interesting that hasn't been overdone or reruns that you could practically recite word for word. So I got to thinking, what kinds of shows are we missing in the present? Which formats in the past were successful and how can they be reinterpreted in the modern era? Let's find out together.
Triple Threats and Good Bets: The Kids' Variety Show
Now, in the age of American Idol and the soon to debut X-Factor, it's great to imagine new talents coming into the forefront. However, growing up in the 90's we were fortunate enough to have casting agents who actually found talent and gave us an excellent platform for seeing them launch.
Variety shows that featured children and teens, most notably All That, Kids Incorporated and The All-New Mickey Mouse Club were all the rage. Smartly combining pop culture wits with everyday kid stuff, they were not only funny but clever. Not only that, they had an incredibly high success rate in casting future headliners.
All That produced the likes of Nick Cannon, Kenan Thompson and Amanda Bynes. While Kids Incorporated sired the careers of Rashaan Patterson, Fergie, and Jennifer Love Hewitt. And obviously we know the power of MMC's ability to launch heavyweights such as Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
With all of the YouTube sensations like Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black taking off, how about a new kids' variety show were kids can make submission through social networking? What about even having children who want to work behind the scenes as well? I think it could go quite well. I mean who doesn't love a pint-sized kid who is funny, sassy, and multi-dimensional?
Mature Mystery Solvers: Reformed/Retired Sleuths
If you watch any number of reruns, there's bound to be an encounter with a show such as Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, or Diagnosis Murder. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was commonplace to have a mystery show with an icon from a previous era such as Dick Van Dyke or Andy Griffith moonlighting as a mystery solver.
These shows captured the public's attention because it featured someone who had already had a career moving on to a new frontier. Diagnosis Murder was particularly interesting because it featured someone whose career wasn't necessarily related to solving murders but somehow inserted himself into fighting crime. Murder, She Wrote was the same way in that J.B. Fletcher wrote about murders and somehow positioned herself into solving them.
Not only that, but it reflected an era when television wasn't so obsessed with youth and looks, but also spotlighted talent and maturity. There are plenty of great actors and actresses who could possibly do a show similar to Matlock or Diagnosis Murder. What about a retired professor who captures campus criminals? Or a former chef who solves supposed accidental deaths and food poisonings in restaurants?
Classic Cuts: Music Showcases
There used to be a time every Saturday morning you could catch Soul Train. Or every afternoon you could watch American Bandstand. More recently, you could turn to TRL. What all of these shows had in common was that they provided a platform for new artists and established acts.
The music industry has changed, but that doesn't mean people still don't want to hear music. If YouTube hits and iTunes downloads account for anything, there's always a place for music in society. Each show I mentioned was essential to that era's youth in discovering and maintaining a lasting interest in music.
Soul Train was great for breaking new acts who previously had a hard time getting a national audience. American Bandstand was wonderful for young artists who wanted a break. And TRL was excellent at launching cultural phenomenons and connecting different genres.
I think this show could succeed now if there was a focus on newer talent as well as internet sources of music. The newly revamped MySpace and iTunes would be great sites to contribute to this.
Variety is the Spice of Television
Even though there are new genres out there, nothing can compare to a great variety program. And while there are shows like Glee that combine the troupes of music and comedy, it's not the same as a live or live to tape program that emphasizes talent.
Another thing that I enjoy about variety shows is that it is a type of show that everyone can enjoy. There's nothing offensive or raunchy about a variety show, which is what makes it so appealing. Of course, I think there would have to be some type of change emphasized to incorporate new age television.
Just like with other genres I suggested, I think there should definitely be elements of social media spliced in. Nothing overboard but something just like voting for upcoming guests or something like that.
In terms of hosts, we need someone who is multi-faceted and can do it all. Old-school triple threats like Neil Patrick Harris or Kristin Chenoweth. Not to be a reductionist but essentially anyone who has been on Glee or SNL and really knocked it out of the park.
And it could go on a night not really known for outstanding and compelling television, like Sunday. Of course this would work for football networks since they need something to run pre and post season that will attract decent numbers.