Recycling television: The logic(s) and practice(s) of TV revivals
It is always a melancholic moment when a TV series concludes its cycle, when the finale is aired and the viewers realize that it is time for them and the favourite characters to go separate ways. Although reruns provide an opportunity for fictional worlds to return and for viewers to become immersed in them again, it’s foregone that the end is definitive. After all, closure is an important part of real-life experience and narrative closure is (often) an organic component of stand-alone or serialized fictions. In that sense, television revivals, i.e. new episodes of TV series that have seemingly concluded their onscreen journey, constitute an almost miraculous spectacle, a Lazarian-style return from the dead that defies the usual order of things and spreads joy to (television) believers.
Television revivals are wanted, expected, demanded, even owed in some instances. A television revival, not to be confused with the term ‘television reboot’,[i] is all about bringing the original cast together after a significant amount of time since the original broadcasting period, often responding to the popular demand to reunite the characters and the feeling of curiosity about ‘where they are now’.[ii] Recent examples from the US context reveal how this process takes place in textual terms, with an emphasis on how returning shows manage to recreate the spirit of the originals. For instance, NBC’s Will & Grace, which originally ran between 1998 and 2006, came back in 2017, effortlessly reintroducing viewers to the lives of Will, Grace, Jack, and Karen, in the age of Donald Trump. [iii] Also, in the four-part miniseries Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life released by Netflix in 2016, the viewers catch up with Lorelai Gilmore and daughter Rory nine years after the end of the original series. [iv] Moreover, the cult mystery horror drama television series Twin Peaks, directed by David Lynch, came back in 2017 featuring a mix of old and new cast members; Twin Peaks: The Return was described as a ‘a dazzling work of filmmaking’ and was praised for its recreation of a mysterious and uncanny but, at the same time, creepily familiar universe. [v]
Received with varying degrees of satisfaction, the aforementioned revivals as well as many others are part of a contemporary industrial trend which does not only cultivate fan engagement and sustain popular anticipation about a possible cast reunion but actually satisfies it. [vi] At the same time, there are some television revivals that remain in the sphere of imagination waiting somehow for the right time to re-emerge and make their way back into our lives, such as the iconic NBC show Friends (1994-2004). When asked about the possibility of a reunion of the original cast and production of new episodes on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in June 2019, Jennifer Aniston, one of the show’s stars, said she ‘would do it’ and expressed her certainty about the rest of the members of the original cast being on board. What actually goes on in the minds of the producers and showrunners often exceeds our knowledge, but it is easy to observe that mere talk about any return of such scope is enough to titillate audiences. What this example tells us is that television revivals are powerful, not only when they are on air, but more so when they are in the air, meaning when buzz is building for a potential return. Nowadays, more than ever, it seems that revivals of popular and loved TV shows with a significant cultural footprint are, to quote Rachel Green, Aniston’s character in Friends, ‘never off the table’. [vii]
Television revivals: An academic overview
The academic world has been following the phenomenon closely, offering a number of interesting lenses through which we can understand this growing industrial and cultural practice with an emphasis on US television. The main question is simple: why do these shows come back? In other words, what is the logic behind recycling old and – in one way or another – concluded stories? Kathleen Loock presents the idea that televisual afterlives (including revivals) are a consequence of both the way television industry works in general, but also an outcome of today’s crowded televisual landscape; television programmes are then understood as both ‘commodities supported by a capitalist system of cultural production that favors innovative reproduction and the potentially endless renewal, expansion, and continuation of serial texts’ (2018: 300), as well as ‘a direct response to the oversupply of television shows and the fierce competition between traditional television networks and new, digital players like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu’ (ibid: 301). Amanda Ann Klein and R. Barton Palmer make a similar argument claiming that it is an inherent characteristic of the television industry to rely on ‘the replication and repetition of successful formulas as a central part of its production strategies’ (2016: 9). They also test – drawing from Henry Jenkins (2008) – the notion of the ‘extension of pleasure’, as they try to understand the relationship between ‘multiplicities’, i.e. adaptations, sequels, remakes, imitations, trilogies, reboots, spin-offs, etc. and their audiences. They argue that, particularly in the case of cinema and television,
[e]ntertainment now includes the promise that pleasure does not have to end after the lights go up or the series finale airs, that limits can always be exceeded by what the immediate future will bring if only the viewer will return.
(Klein & Palmer, 2016: 5-6)
Nostalgia is a powerful tool in this sense and TV revivals have been said to feast on nostalgic longing. Revivals are not branded as new programming; rather, they seek to reactivate an already established relationship with television audiences and fans (which does not mean they are not interested in attracting new ones) by capitalizing on prior emotional investment. The concepts of mourning/melancholia could, according to Ryan Lizardi, be applied as a way to understand how revivals work; mourning creatives (including writers/directors and actors) sometimes experience revivals as feelings of longing for the past or opportunities to remedy intended endings, whereas TV networks encourage melancholia so as to profit from a nostalgic re-consumption of the original programme and an emotionally-driven attachment to the revival (2018).
The phenomenon could also be interpreted with the help of the notions of temporality and seriality, which in this case acquire a philosophical dimension regarding the existence of fictional characters and worlds across time. Christine Geraghty talks about the process in which viewers are made to believe that fictional characters have an ‘unrecorded existence’ in between episodes:
This feeling is usefully described, in terms of the novel, by Carl Grabo as being the convention of ‘unchronicled growth’. ‘In the novel,’ he argues, ‘when the story shifts from one sub-plot to another, the characters abandoned pursue an unrecorded existence’ (Grabo, 1978: 67). The characters in a serial, when abandoned at the end of an episode, pursue an ‘unrecorded existence’ until the next one begins. In other words, we are aware that day-to-day life has continued in our absence even though the problem we left at the end of the previous episode has still to be resolved.
(Geraghty, 1981: 10)
Along these lines, what’s stopping us from assuming that fictional characters also have a life after the finale?
Television revivals in the Greek context
Talk about television revivals within the Greek context has occasionally appeared throughout the years and can be directly linked to audiences’ attachment to certain iconic TV shows. The most obvious example is the persistent demand for a reunification of the cast of Oi Aparadektoi/The Unacceptables (1991-1993, MEGA Channel), even though creator Dimitra Papadopoulou has explicitly ruled out such a possibility, especially after the death of one of the key members of the original cast, Vlassis Bonatsos. In fact, some revivals have actually taken place albeit not in the world of fiction but in the world of advertising. In 2017 a popular coffee brand collaborated with the creators and the original cast of the ‘first Greek sitcom of private television’ (Kaklamanidou, 2017), Oi Treis Charites/The Three Graces (1990-1992, MEGA Channel). The result was a branded web series reuniting the inseparable sisters Olga (Anna Panayiotopoulou), Maria (Nena Menti), Eirini (Mina Adamaki) and their younger brother Andreas (Michalis Reppas) 25 years after the last episode of the original cycle. The commercial spots were written and directed by the creators of the show, Thanasis Papathanasiou and Michalis Reppas, and managed to recreate the sassy interactions of the Charitou sisters, characterized by teasing jokes, sarcasm, and micro-tensions that only verify the strong bonds between them.
Recently, however, Greek television viewers and critics have had the opportunity to witness more of this practice. S’agapo M’agapas/I love you, You love me, Logo Timis/Word of Honor and To Kafe tis Charas/Chara’s Café constitute three different cases of television revivals which can tell us something about how this general cultural phenomenon appears in the Greek televisual landscape. By discussing the conditions and the outcome (when applicable) of their return, we might be able to enrich our understanding about the logic behind the revival and the practice of (re)establishing rapport with old and new audiences.
The revival of S’agapo M’agapas is currently the only case out of the aforementioned which has made a full comeback giving us new episodes, albeit not in the original broadcasting format. Oscillating between short webisodes and long commercials, the adventures of Dimitra (Dimitra Papadopoulou) and Thodoris (Thodoris Atheridis) returned as part of a telecommunications company’s marketing campaign and was streamed on YouTube. The original format of the programme, based on the Canadian sketch-comedy series Un Gars, Une Fille (1997-2003, Radio-Canada), featured weekly episodes of approximately 25’ of duration and was broadcasted by MEGA Channel between 2000-2002. Each episode included brief sequences from the everyday life of an urban heterosexual couple focusing on the things that bring them together and the ones that drive them apart. Continuous punchlines, goofy behaviors, and Dimitra’s recurring question ‘When I am going to become a mother?’ constituted the key elements of this TV show that ran for two seasons and was praised for the chemistry between the two protagonists. Its revival resurrected all these features but repackaged them in episodes of approximately 3’ of duration, which were uploaded weekly (two at a time – a total of 10 installments, as well as one ‘making of’ and two ‘best of’ compilations) between February and April 2019.
In the revived version, the essence of the show is still there, Dimitra and Thodoris smoothly reconnect with each other and the viewers, the only true novelty being the fact that they are teched up. The webisodes are concerned with how big of a role technology plays in a couple’s life nowadays which works satisfactorily in narrative terms since the show has always been about everyday life, as well as the small and big negotiations and compromises that make it possible for two people to be long-term partners. This adaptation to contemporary living and technological conditions makes more sense when the viewer slowly realizes that this is actually the main motivation for the return of the programme, to subtly advertise communication products and services provided by the telecommunications company.
So what kind of revival is this a case of? Everything looks and sounds familiar, but even though the press release brands the return of Dimitra and Thodoris as a revival of the original, adapted to the format of webisodes and designed in order to facilitate viewing on smaller (mobile) screens, the 2019 version of S’agapo M’agapas should rather be understood as another case of branded web series, a commercially oriented endeavor whose main purpose is to contribute to the promotion of specific commercial products.[viii] Similar to the case of Oi Treis Charites, the original’s cultural capital and huge resonance is used for commercial purposes; the presentation of new narratives does come second, as is the connection to old plotlines that remain unresolved. [ix] Actually, the extent to which the plotlines are blended with (or even driven by) new technologies present a remarkable case of convergence between entertainment and advertising, with the latter being so embedded in the former, it does no longer qualify for the function of sponsorship, but more so for the main reason for the existence of entertaining content.
The revival of Logo Timis aired in September 2019 under the title Logo Timis: Eikosi Hronia Meta/Word of Honor : Twenty Years Later. The original series was broadcasted between 1996-1997 by MEGA Channel. The story revolved around the lives of a group of friends who are making their first steps into adulthood. Written by Mirella Papaoikonomou and directed by Lambis Zaroutiadis, Logo Timis is still remembered for the intensely dramatic representations of friendship and romance as the protagonists transition to life in the big city after graduating high school, but also for introducing a young generation of actors who went on to have a successful career on and off television.
The revival of Logo Timis was wooed by a number of different suitors (including the public broadcaster) before eventually finding a new home in the programming of commercial broadcaster SKAI TV. In fact, before actually securing a deal with any broadcaster, the team had, according to Konstantinos Markoulakis agreed to release a teaser on social media in order to ‘warm things up’ and perhaps test the audience’s reactions; a kind of a mini-pilot which would presumably leverage positive reactions to secure as good of a deal as possible. [x] As a result, a first partial reunion took place on social media.
The teaser begins with a segment from the original cycle where Manos (Alkis Kourkoulos) and Michalis (Konstantinos Markoulakis), after a rough start of their friendship, reconcile by giving dap. We then fast forward a couple of decades later and see the same people in the same positions, the replication of the scene implying that the friendship has lasted throughout the years. The two are then joined by the rest of the gang, making the reunion visually complete, while the original title song starts playing. The visual and aural elements complement each other in the creation of an extremely emotional moment which comes with the promise that the viewers will have the opportunity to reconnect with the protagonists.
A short comment about the title song seems fitting at this point. Roughly translated as ‘Eyes don’t change color’, the title song can be argued to be one of elements that gave the programme a nostalgic aura even during its actual broadcasting moment. The song was already mourning the loss of young adulthood before it was over. But it was also promising a return before it was decided. The lyrics are telling:
Στα ίδια μέρη θα ξαναβρεθούμε / We will find each other at the same places
Τα χέρια θα περάσουμε στους ώμους / We will put the arms around the shoulders
Παλιά τραγούδια για να θυμηθούμε / In order to remember old songs
Ονόματα και βλέμματα και δρόμους / Names and looks and streets
Χρώμα δεν αλλάζουνε τα μάτια / Eyes don’t change color
Που θυμάσαι και θυμάμαι / That you remember and I remember
Τίποτα δεν χάθηκε ακόμα / Nothing is lost yet
Όσο ζούμε και πονάμε / As long as we live and hurt
Χρώμα δεν αλλάζουνε τα μάτια / Eyes don’t change color
Μόνο τρόπο να κοιτάνε / Only ways to look at
Κι αν άλλαξαν οι φίλοι μας λιγάκι / And even if our friends have changed a little
Αλλάξαμε κι εμείς με τη σειρά μας / We, in turn, also have changed
Χαθήκαμε μια νύχτα στο Παγκράτι / We lost contact one night in Pagkrati
Αλλά βλεπόμαστε στα όνειρά μας / But we see each other in our dreams
In general, the period before the actual return was extremely interesting for the analysis of the phenomenon, since it is when the actual terms and conditions are discussed, surmised, and announced. In this sense, revivals can also be analysed with the help of the notion of hype and the idea that texts are pre-decoded before even starting to exist (Gray 2008). Of course, in the case of TV revivals, the returning texts come with a lot of baggage but that does not mean they don’t bring with them a lot of uncertainty regarding their content. In this sense, the official Instagram account of Logo Timis can be addressed as a platform of paratextuality, contributing to the pre-creation of meaning before the programme was actually released. As such, a number of Instagram posts had been informing viewers about the nature of the return, which seemed to take the form of a reunification of the original group of seven with the addition of some new characters whose relationship to the original ones is not entirely clarified. The account also provided behind-the-scenes photos and videos, isolated lines and dialogue from the script, as well as visual material from 20 years back, synthesizing a limbo space which brings together past, present, and future brimming with nostalgia and anticipation. The viewers were then encouraged to start investing in the programme again, having their imagination teased and their memory activated.
To Kafe tis Charas
The final example is a case of a revival in the works. To Kafe tis Charas, written by Charis Romas and Anna Chatzisofia, is scheduled to return to the prime time of ANT1 in the spring of 2020. To Kafe tis Charas could be described as a comedy-drama taking place in the fictional village of Kolokotronitsi; it is constructed around the love/hate relationship between mayor Periandros Popotas (Charis Romas), proponent of order, discipline, and tradition, and Chara Chaska (Renia Louizidou), free-spirited newcomer and owner of the local cafeteria. [xi]
After running for three seasons and building a strong following of fans, the programme concluded in 2006 with an unhappy but somewhat open ending. In the last scene of the final episode, Chara loads up the car and drives away together with her daughter while mayor Popotas runs behind them in an ultimate desperate attempt to ask them to stay. Even though Chara sees him, she continues to drive away and Popotas never manages to communicate to her that he can’t live without her. After returning home exhausted and heart-broken, he utters to his son, but also to himself (and perhaps to the viewers), in a consoling manner: ‘They will come back, my boy. They will come back’.
It is unclear whether the creators were meaning for the programme to come back at some point in the future or whether the open ending of To Kafe tis Charas aligns with the uncertainty involved in handling incompatible romance on Greek television in general (Aitaki, forthcoming). In any case, the scheduled revival feels almost like something that is owed to the audience, since the open ending left viewers wondering about the outcome of the romance. At the same time, as Greek television fiction is slowly exiting a dark and lean period characterized by limited productions and a lot of disappointment, it would be interesting to further investigate whether To Kafe tis Charas, as well as other relatively recent successes such as I Polykatoikia/The Block of Flats (2008-2011, MEGA Channel; also returned on SKAI TV in September 2019) can be read as low-risk investments, the blue chips that can guarantee returning audiences and incoming advertising revenue.
This brief overview of the logics and practices of recycling television included some representative scholarly attempts for the theorization of the phenomenon, as well as some mini-studies illustrating the ways it appears within the Greek media landscape. Joining the voices of researchers who see in such televisual returns not just a global trend driven by medium-related practices and trends, but also an indication of how contemporary audiences experience television, we should continue the observation and the uncovering of the whole range of parameters involved, including industrial practices and logics, creative incentives, audiences’ demands and pleasures, among many others. [xii]
Aitaki, G. (forthcoming), ‘Authorship potentialities in Greek television fiction: The social dramas of Manousos Manousakis’, Screen.
Fairclough-Isaacs, K. (2015), ‘Celebrity culture and ageing’, in J. Twigg and W. Martin (eds), Routledge Handbook of Cultural Gerontology, Oxon & New York: Routledge, pp. 361-368.
Geraghty, C. (1981), ‘The Continuous Serial - A Definition’, in R. Dyer (ed), Coronation Street, London: BFI Publishing, pp. 9-26.
Gray, J. (2008), ‘Television pre-views and the meaning of hype’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, 11:1, pp. 33-49.
Jenkins, H. (2008), Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press.
Kaklamanidou, B. (2017), ‘Introduction to the Greek Sitcom: The Case ofI Tris Charites / The Three Graces’, Filmicon: Journal of Greek Film Studies, 4, pp. 138-154.
Klein, A. A. and Palmer, R. B. (2016), ‘Introduction’, in A. A. Klein and R. B. Palmer (eds), Multiplicities in Film & Television: Cycles, Sequels, Spin-offs, Remakes, and Raboots, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, pp. 1-21.
Lizardi, R. (2018), ‘Mourning and Melancholia: Conflicting Approaches to Reviving Gilmore Girls One Season at a Time’, Television & New Media, 19:4, pp. 379-395.
Loock, K. (2018), ‘American TV Series Revivals: Introduction’, Television & New Media, 19:4, pp. 299-309.
[i] Television revivals build on the concept of continuity between the new and the old version of the television text featuring at least some members of the original cast, whereas television reboots recreate the fictional universe with the use of new cast. For a discussion of their differences, visit:
[ii] This question also often translates into ‘what do they look like now?’, visible in the gossip industry through articles based on ‘then and now' visuals (often focusing on child and female stars) activating discourses around growing up and ageing in celebrity culture (a discussion of the general phenomenon can be found in Fairclough-Isaacs 2015).
[iii] Despite the criticism of appearing rusty in terms of its critical approach towards contemporary politics, a review for The Guardian emphasizes that the revival is legitimated because of its ability to convince about the continuity of the characters and relationships: ‘What ultimately remains unchanged – and ensures the revival, which has already been picked up for a second season, will be a surefire success – is the camaraderie between Hayes, Mullally, Eric McCormack and Debra Messing. It’s a tall task asking viewers to pretend Will and Grace never went their separate ways or had kids, and surely there were ways the creators, David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, could have stuck to their original finale and still produced a fitting revival. But it works mainly because the foursome is as sprightly and dynamic as ever, especially when onscreen together, exchanging wisecracks and wordplay’. For the full review, visit https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/sep/28/will-grace-review-rusty-revival-feels-worn-out-in-the-age-of-trump .
[iv] As a matter of fact, Ryan Lizardi argues that, by reviving the adventures of Lorelai and Rory on Netflix, Gilmore Girls managed to attract not just returning but also new audiences (translating in new subscribers for the streaming platform) and illustrates ‘how its creative process, continuity with the original, commentary on contemporary society, and character development all factor into how this revived series effectively speaks to fans of the original and those making their first trip to Stars Hollow’ (2018: 380).
[vi] Another recent example is the 1990s teen-drama sensation Beverly Hills, 90210; the original series stars - Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering, Gabrielle Carteris, Brian Austin Green and Tori Spelling - returned to the small screen in 2019 through BH90210, a revival with a strong meta flavor in which the actors, playing themselves, contemplate whether or not to shoot a revival of the original show.
[vii] In episode 13 of season 10, entitled ‘The One Where Joey Speaks French’, Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) explains to long time on-again-off-again boyfriend Ross (David Schwimmer) that when it comes to the two of them getting back together, ‘it’s never off the table’.
[viii] It is actually not uncommon for fictional characters to return/reunite in the world of advertising. Some examples of US TV characters that have returned in commercials is listed here: https://bornlicensing.com/6-tv-characters-returned-commercials/
[ix] Spoiler alert! In the final episode of the original cycle and after the couple has decided to go separate ways, Dimitra announces to Thodoris that she is pregnant. No reference to this event is made in the new cycle.
[x] According to Konstantinos Markoulakis: ‘We made a teaser in order to warm things up, in order for this thing to […] - before even securing any agreement with a broadcaster or streaming platform – become real. To have the shape of a plan. I didn’t believe it myself, I said okay, this is also a bit cheesy, to show ourselves as bearded 50 year-olds. It could come out as weird. A month after shooting, they sent us the teaser to share it on social media etc. When I watched it I got goosebumps!’. For a full presentation of the actors’ reactions to the revival, visit https://www.ethnos.gr/lifestyle/12447_epistrefei-logo-timis-20-hronia-meta-pos-einai-simera-oi-protagonistes-pics
[xi] For a complete presentation and analysis of the series, see Chairetis, S. (forthcoming), Queering the Greek Television "Comedy": Popular Texts, Dissident Readings , Doctoral Dissertation, Oxford University.
[xii] This blog post is based on a paper recently delivered at the ECREA Television Studies Section Conference in Groningen. The author would like to thank the conference participants for their valuable comments and suggestions.