So if the great ratings for the season premiere of Weeds hold up, will that make this a case of a show that was retooled and revamped successfully? This season of Weeds has a new setting, new cast members (including some well-known ones like Albert Brooks) and will drop the theme song “Little Boxes” because, as creator Jenji Kohan explains, she’s no longer in a little box. Basically the show has undergone a classic, textbook, Laverne-and-Shirley-move-to-L.A. re-tool, and it seems to be working out OK.
This may turn out to be an example of what a show maybe ought to try when its premise gets exhausted — and as Kohan notes in the linked interview, the show was getting a little stale and her staff was getting a little antsy — move your protagonist to a new place, abandon the old sets and some of the old characters, and try to inject some life into the show that way. Despite the new setting, some of the show’s original premise remains intact, but so many externals have changed, so much surrounding the main character has changed, that the audience can kind of feel like the show has freshened itself up without feeling that it’s Abandoned Its Roots.
Also, the old-school re-tool seems to be really quite popular on cable, maybe more so than on broadcast. Broadcast networks have become a little more conservative about moving the characters to a new setting or adding a famous person to the cast to get more attention; they still do it, but they don’t do it nearly as often as they used to. (Used to be that you could almost guarantee that if a show was picked up for a second season without great ratings, the characters would have new neighbours, new jobs, and maybe a new house.) Showtime, on the other hand, is a re-tool machine, sometimes for good, and sometimes for ill — ask Bryan Fuller what they did to Dead Like Me. FX has done retool-ish stuff like this too on occasion, like adding Danny DeVito to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. By comparison, networks are actually more hands-off with shows that are on the bubble; 30 Rock keeps getting renewed despite low ratings, but NBC has made no apparent move to add new stars or retool the show in any obvious way. It’s just an odd thing because I’m used to thinking that broadcast networks interfere so much less than cable.