Creating a TV Franchise Just For the Heck of It

The CW has been planning to remake Melrose Place for some time now, but I kind of figured they’d wait until their 90210 update became a more solid hit. But though 90210’s future isn’t completely secure, the network (whose future isn’t completely secure either) is going ahead with re-creating the whole franchise; a few weeks ago they hired two writer-producers of Smallville to come up with a new pilot, and today they announced the list of characters and confirmed that they’re greenlighting that pilot with Davis Guggenheim as director. Guggenheim’s best-known work is the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, though he’s directed a lot of episodic TV.

It’s unusual for a network to try and establish a franchise when the parent show isn’t settled yet; 90210’s ratings are adequate by the CW’s low standards, but the network had no idea what kind of show it wanted to do, and the highly-expected result was that the showrunners were booted out of the writers’ room (“promoted” to purely administrative duties until their contract is up). Also, the biggest problem the network had with the new 90210 is that it was too guy-oriented for their primarily female audience — the showrunners, Freaks and Geeks veterans, tended to write with a guy perspective — so they replaced them with a female Freaks and Geeks veteran, Rebecca Kirshner, who could skew the writing more toward young women. I guess they figure that if 90210 can turn itself around by the end of the season, they’ll want to have a companion piece ready to go for the second season. But this isn’t even like the WB coming up with Angel after Buffy had been a modest hit for a couple of years; this is like a network deciding that they are going to stick to their plan of re-creating the trashy ’90s prime-time soap opera, even before it’s at all clear that the plan is working, and they don’t even seem to be completely aware that Melrose‘s audience might be a little bit older than they’re looking for. But this is the CW we’re talking about here.

Actually, Melrose seems like a more obvious remake subject than 90210, considering that it was a pure prime-time soap instead of 90210‘s hybrid of soap opera and lesson-learning teen drama. But giving it to Smallville guys and once again not hiring Darren Star to come back (maybe they asked him and he wouldn’t come back, I don’t know, but it would be better if they got him to write it) are not great signs. Today’s networks have real trouble reviving the trashy style of Aaron Spelling’s shows because they can’t manufacture his total, unabashed belief in the awesomeness of trash; 90210 always seemed to be apologizing for itself and trying to prove it was cool, while the original never did. Same with Dirty Sexy Money, another network show that couldn’t bring itself to really believe in its own identity as a prime-time soap. This is one area where cable, including basic-cable shows like some of the ones on ABC Family, have fewer inhibitions.