Why 'Prison Break,' 'X-Files' & every other canceled TV show will rise from death
In the future, every canceled TV show will be revived for 15 minutes.
Coming your way this fall will be NBC's "Heroes Reborn," and over the next year, we'll be getting sequels to everything from "Coach" to "Twin Peaks" to "Full House." As I wrote a few months ago, this trend can be exciting if you're a fan of the original, maddening if you hated the original, and frustrating all around for what it says about the difficulty of launching wholly new series in the current TV ecosystem.
It's FOX's day at press tour, and network chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman opened up their panel by showing critics an entire scene from the first episode of "The X-Files" miniseries(*), debuting in January. And they made official that they're working on a similar sequel miniseries for "Prison Break," to be written by that show's creator, Paul Scheuring.
(*) (Very minor clip spoilers) On the one hand, I got chills when Mulder said "The truth is out there, Scully," but having him say that within 30 seconds of Scully telling him, "You want to believe" was perhaps too much fanservice. (Or resembled the "X-Files"/"Simpsons" crossover too closely.)
Walden raved about how "Prison Break" has acquired an entirely new audience on Netflix, saying "It was one of the most successful library shows that they have platformed." And in a day and age when it's extremely difficult to launch original properties — even for the network that gave us "Empire" — having that brand recognition has huge promotional value.
But there are some stumbling blocks. The "Prison Break" follow-up will take place several years after the events of the series, and feature both Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell. But the series ended with the death of Miller's Michael Schofield, and he will be alive and well in this.
"I don't think (Scheuring) is going to completely ignore what happened in that episode," said Walden, "but what he pitched to us was a completely logical and believable in the world of 'Prison Break' explanation for why our characters are still alive and moving out in the world."
(The phrase "completely logical and believable in the world of 'Prison Break'" feels like an oxymoron, but it definitely says the bar is low for plausibility.)
A larger problem with these revivals is that they're so often being done by the people who were still running the shows by the time they went creatively aground, necessitating their end in the first place. Scheuring wasn't around "Prison Break" by that show's final season, but he was for the silly second and third seasons. Chris Carter was there for the entirety of "The X-Files," as was Tim Kring with "Heroes," and now running "Heroes Reborn." These people were responsible for what audiences fell in love with at the start, but also responsible for how bad things got later.
"'X-Files' ran nine seasons, pretty successfully until the end," Walden argued. "It was a changing television landscape, and nine seasons is a long time to be telling stories about the same characters.... Having taken a break now, it's been an enormous time since it went off the air. And 'X-Files,' like 'Prison Break,' has been viewed on SVOD (streaming video on demand) platforms. A whole new audience has come to the show. They feel ripe for reinvention, and a great opportunity to reunite meaningful characters who people were attached to, tell fresh stories about them. They've taken significant hiatuses, and they're event miniseries. We're not suggesting that we're rebooting 'X-Files' long-term. It felt like there was a great opportunity to bring back two characters who have enormous chemistry together, and tell new stories for new fans and people who remember it from the original run."
The brand names have value that a new show doesn't, and so the networks and studios have to hope that the original creators can access what made them work at the beginning, rather than what made them fall apart at the end. And unless all of these reboots flop utterly, expect to see even more, not less, as a survival tactic for networks trying to figure out how to get attention for anything.