5 Reboot-Ready Sitcoms (And How To Do It)

5 Reboot-Ready Sitcoms (And How To Do It)

I’ve sampled Fuller House and Girl Meets World. I’ve kept up with Will and Grace, if only out of some sense of obligation. I’ve already offered my take on the forthcoming Roseanne. And I’ve clicked on the headlines when I’ve seen talks of possible Coach (which didn’t come to be) and Mad About You reboots, despite never really digging either show. (For what it’s worth, while they aren’t sitcoms, I also tuned in for Psych: The MovieTwin Peaks: The Return and Heroes: Reborn.)

Going back even further than the current crop of TV series revivals, as a kid I vividly remember tuning in to The New WKRP in Cincinnati, The New Leave it to Beaver and the ill-conceived Bradys. (Seriously? The Brady Bunch as an hour-long drama? Just…why?)

So, yes, I confess: I am a junkie for a good sitcom reboot. Hell, even a bad one. In fact, the revival craze got me thinking about some other shows I would love to see resurrected – and how they might pull it off. I’m purposefully avoiding the obvious, i.e. your heavy-hitters like Seinfeld, Friends, Cheers, etc., instead aiming for some perhaps less-obvious choices.

That being said, here are five sitcoms that I think (sort of) deserve the reboot treatment.

Empty Nest (NBC, 1988-1995) 

Original Premise: Widowed pediatrician Harry Weston (Richard Mulligan) juggled life as a middle-aged bachelor and father to a trio of adult daughters – two of whom (Kristy McNichol as Barbara and Dinah Manoff as Carol) moved back in to his swanky Miami home, which happened to be next door to The Golden Girls. Harry’s sleazy neighbor Charley (David Leisure), homespun nurse Laverne (Park Overall) and scene-stealing dog Dreyfuss rounded out the original crew. McNichol’s departure midway through the run led to some shuffling, with Night Court alumna Marsha Warfield coming aboard as Harry’s associate and Estelle Getty reprising her Golden Girls role for the last couple of seasons. (Sophia lived at nearby retirement home Shady Pines and hung out with the Westons for an apparent lack of anything better to do.).

Where We Left Off: Harry sold the house and took a teaching job in Vermont. Carol and Laverne married their respective boyfriends, with Laverne moving back to her Arkansas hometown.

Reboot Premise: A widowed Carol (now a self-published author of self-help books – Manoff’s own idea) buys and moves back into Harry’s house, along with her two adult sons. Charley is still next door and exactly the same. Golden Girl Rose Nylund has moved into Shady Pines and is now the “Sophia” of the Weston house (because…Betty White).

What are the odds? Zilch. Let’s face it: Despite my own efforts (I’ve operated this website for two decades), Empty Nest hasn’t had the pop culture longevity of many of its peers (especially its sister show, The Golden Girls), so no one is clamoring for it to return. An even bigger problem is the fact that the cast isn’t all that visible anymore. Mulligan died in 2000, and the rest of the principals are largely retired. McNichol hasn’t acted since the show’s finale, while Manoff relocated to Washington, Leisure to Utah and Overall to Tennessee.

Wings (NBC, 1990-1997)

Original Premise: Two estranged brothers, Joe and Brian Hackett (Tim Daly, Steven Weber), reunited to run a fledgling commuter airline on Nantucket. Aspiring cellist Helen (Crystal Bernard) ran the lunch counter, obnoxious Roy Biggins (David Schramm) ran a competing airline, ticket agent Fay (Rebecca Schull) ran the office and dim-witted mechanic Lowell (Thomas Haden Church) kept the planes in the air. Later additions included Tony Shalhoub as cab driver Antonio and Amy Yasbeck as Helen’s sister Casey, who sat around the airport for no apparent reason.

Where We Left Off: Joe and Helen (married by that point) moved to Vienna when Helen landed a one-year apprenticeship with a famous cellist, leaving Brian to run the airline and Casey the lunch counter until their return.

Reboot Premise: Simple enough. Lowell, who was placed in the witness protection program when Church left the show to costar with Debra Messing in Ned and Stacey, returns to Nantucket to find everything at the airport exactly as he’d left it.

What are the odds? It could happen. Sure some of the cast is busy, like Daly with Madam Secretary and Shalhoub with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. But everyone involved seems to have warm memories of the show, and they even pitched their own reboot premise in a Funny or Die clip a few years ago. This one should totally be greenlit if only to grace us with the presence of Crystal Bernard again. What the heck has she been up to lately? And…come on…Roy Biggins! Need I say more?

Soap (ABC, 1977-1981)

The Original Premise: From Susan Harris (the creator of The Golden Girls and Empty Nest), Soap brilliantly blended slapstick comedy with the high-stakes, drama-filled framework of a soap opera. The show was the story of two sisters, Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) and Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon). Jessica was married to the wealthy, conniving Chester Tate (Robert Mandan) and lived in the lap of luxury with her three children and butler. Mary was married to blue-collar, bumbling Burt (Richard Mulligan) and lived with her sons, including openly gay (and therefore immediately controversial for the era) Jodie (Billy Crystal).

Where We Left Off: Canceled abruptly after four seasons, the show ended with a string of unresolved cliffhangers. Mary worried that her baby was likely half-alien. After being hypnotized and regressed to a past life, Jodie believed that he was an old Jewish man. Burt, eying a career in politics, was ambushed by thugs who’d been told to kill him. And, somewhere in South America, a kidnapped Jessica faced an angry firing squad. The show faded to black with the sound of shots being fired.

Reboot Premise: Given the soap opera premise, anything is possible. Some configuration of the Tates and the Campbells, both from the original lineup and the next generation, could easily swing back into action.

What are the odds? Meh. Like Empty Nest, this show hasn’t gotten the same love as many of its peers, which is criminal, because it was rather unlike anything else. Soap operas aren’t quite as hot as they were back in the day, so spoofing them wouldn’t feel quite as intriguing as it did then. And while the show succeeded in pushing boundaries, what could it tackle now that might be equally controversial? Nevertheless, how much fun would this be? Of course, getting any of the original lineup to play would be the hardest part. Mandan and Helmond are both in their 80s; Mulligan, Damon and other principals are deceased; and many of the rest either work behind the scenes in Hollywood or don’t seem to be working in the industry at all. Billy Crystal is, of course, Billy Crystal, so there’s that.

Fun Fact: Fans of The Golden Girls may be interested to know that the classic “Always on your back, Blanche!” bit was a near-exact replica of a Soap scene between Helmond, Damon and a couple other characters.

The Facts of Life (NBC, 1979-1988)

Original Premise: A spinoff of Diff’rent Strokes, this show took housekeeper Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae) and transplanted her to the Eastland School for Girls to serve as house mother and, later, the school dietician. Her primary charges were spoiled Blair (Lisa Whelchel), tomboy Jo (Nancy McKeon), budding writer Natalie (Mindy Cohn) and roller-skating Tootie (Kim Fields). The show changed its setup and cast continuously over the years, with ancillary characters (one of which was played by George Clooney) coming and going and the arena changing from the school to a bakery (Edna’s Edibles!) then an art deco gift shop. Mrs. Garrett and the girls, for whatever contrived reasons, perpetually kept finding reasons to live together. Rae eventually did depart, with Mrs. Garrett getting married and joining the Peace Corps. Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman took the helm as her sister, Beverly Ann.

Where We Left Off: That depends. Are we talking the show’s finale in 1988 or the 2001 reunion movie? Let’s cover both. On the show, in a last-ditch spinoff attempt, Blair bought the ailing Eastland, became its headmistress and began admitting boys. Juliette Lewis, Mayim Bailik and Seth Green were all in the episode. Meanwhile, Natalie was moving to Manhattan to live with a group of oddballs that included David Spade and Richard Grieco (another failed stab at a spinoff). Jo had become a social worker and got married, while fledgling actress Tootie was engaged. Mrs. Garrett was still in Africa in the Peace Corps., and Beverly Ann wasn’t doing much of anything. Jump to the 2001 reunion and Blair, now a lawyer in a strained marriage, had bought and renovated an inn, providing the venue for the reunion. Tootie had become a talk show host, was a widowed mom to a tween daughter, and insisted on not being called Tootie. Perpetually single Natalie was working as a journalist in Manhattan and was embroiled in a love triangle, which provided much of the movie’s action, eventually winding up with this guy. Jo – while not in the movie –  was also mom to a tween daughter, still married and apparently a cop. (McKeon was playing a cop in the Lifetime series The Division at the time, citing scheduling conflicts for her absence.) And Mrs. Garrett was figuring out things like email and what “jpeg files” were. No mention of Beverly Ann or any of the other long list of supporting players, except for a brief shout-out to Clooney’s character because, well, of course.

Reboot Premise: This one is tricky, but how about this: after getting divorced and losing most of her family fortune, Blair is forced to fall back on all those years of experience cooking at the school and at Edna’s Edibles by landing a job as Eastland’s new dietician. So, essentially, she becomes Mrs. Garrett 2.0.

What are the odds? Stranger things have happened. But why the Blair focus? Well, McKeon is in Texas raising a family, and Fields and Cohn seem to have multiple projects cooking if their active Instagram feeds are any indication. Whelchel has been looking to revive her show business career of late, after taking a couple decades off to be a mom, author and Christian speaker before resurfacing on a season of Survivor. So she’d probably be game.

Designing Women (CBS, 1986-1993)

Original Premise: Four Southern ladies ran a decorating firm in Atlanta, but instead of doing much decorating they sat around and discussed issues such as the battle of the sexes, motherhood, AIDS and occasionally even (gasp!) Donald Trump. There was strong-willed and liberal-minded Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter); her shallow, beautiful sister Suzanne (Delta Burke); mousy divorcee Mary Jo (Annie Potts); and sweet, dim-witted Charlene (Jean Smart). Delivery man Anthony (Meshach Taylor) provided the male point of view, and wacky friend Bernice Clifton (Alice Ghostley) stopped by on occasion. Burke eventually left amid a tabloid-fueled battle with producers, with Newhart‘s Julia Duffy stepping in for a season as obnoxious cousin Allison. Forgetting to give the character even one redeeming quality, the audience hated her, and Duffy soon left, being replaced by Judith Ivey as wealthy widow B.J. Poteet. Meanwhile, Smart also vacated, with SNL alumna Jan Hooks stepping in as Charlene’s naive sister, Carlene.

Where We Left Off: Expecting an eighth-season pickup, there wasn’t much of a finale. The firm had fallen on hard times toward the end, basically being kept afloat by B.J.’s Poteet Industries parent company. After nearly losing the company in a corporate takeover, at the last minute the Sugarbakers team managed to save Poteet Industries and, therein, their own hides. Meanwhile, Burke went on to her own short-lived spinoff series, Women of the House, in which Suzanne became a congresswoman.

Reboot Premise: Well, the firm could still be operating out of Julia’s house, only now it’s occupied full-time by Mary Jo. At this point we’d be looking at a foursome of Suzanne, Mary Jo, Charlene and B.J. Hey, I’d watch that. I’ve always thought Ivey didn’t get a fair shake since the writing was rather subpar by the time she showed up.

What are the odds? Nonexistent – as they should be, honestly. Carter, Taylor, Ghostley and Hooks are all deceased. And, really, Designing Women without Dixie Carter? I mean, if anybody was irreplaceable. Plus, Tony-winner Ivey keeps busy with a stellar theater career and Potts has landed on CBS’s Young Sheldon. But, I must admit, I would love to hear these ladies’ take on a Trump presidency. In fact, I’ll leave you with this gem.

Interesting side bar: Carter herself was apparently a rather conservative Republican who would spout off Julia’s liberal tirades in exchange for the chance to occasionally sing on the show. Or so the story goes.

So there you have it. Five shows that should (or should not) get the reboot treatment. Admittedly, I’ve mined my personal list of favorites for this post. What did I leave out that you’d like to see revived? Comment below.

4 thoughts on “5 Reboot-Ready Sitcoms (And How To Do It)

  1. All in the Family and Happy Days, of course my all time favorite would be Friends and Cheers but that is an obvious one!

    1. I loved Empty Nest and have enjoyed watching the reruns on the Laff channel. Through the first four seasons I had always wished that the youngest daughter, Emily, would have made a few appearances just to see the interaction between the three sisters. I liked the episodes that she was in when she replaced the departed Barbara but when she didn’t come back I lost pretty much all interest in the show. The finale with the return of Barbara was well-done but I would have liked to have seen all three daughters together just once just to see how the writers would have had them interact.

      1. I’m not sure if the producers toyed with the idea of bringing back Emily for the finale, but interestingly enough, the actress, Lisa Rieffel, was over at CBS at the time doing the Delta Burke spinoff “Women of the House” mentioned above.

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