Monday, December 10, 2012

New Wheels on an Old Concept?

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in NBC-TV. When I was a boy back in the 1970s, it was my favorite American entertainment network, offering not only the fabled NBC Mystery Movie (Columbo! McMillan & Wife! Banacek!), but also The Rockford Files, The Magician, City of Angels, Ellery Queen, Petrocelli, Banyon, Search, Police Story, and the now largely forgotten Kingston: Confidential. NBC went on to solidify my loyalty by scheduling such other classics as Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, Crime Story, and The West Wing.

Nowadays, though, do you know how many NBC shows I watch? One. That’s right, of my hours of boob-tube viewing each week, the only NBC series I regularly tune in is Tuesday night’s Parenthood. The network has practically fallen off my radar.

And I’m unlikely to spend more time with NBC, if it continues to make stupid decisions. Two years ago, the network tried to launch a remake of The Rockford Files, starring Dermot Mulroney. Fortunately, the project was soon shelved.

But now NBC hopes to resurrect another well-remembered drama: Ironside, the 1967-1975 series starring Raymond Burr as the San Francisco Police Department’s wheelchair-bound former chief of detectives. According to New York magazine’s Vulture site,
Michael Caleo, who wrote Luc Besson’s upcoming Tommy Lee Jones–Robert De Niro thriller Malavita, is working on a script for the Ironside reboot, with Dave Semel (Person of Interest) attached to direct the pilot if it’s ordered to production. We have no idea if producers plan to retain the very cool Quincy Jones theme song, but as in the original, Detective Ironside will once again be a sarcastic, sometimes-abrasive type who’s aided by a team of specialized experts that help him solve the toughest cases. We’re tempted to call this House in a wheelchair, but Ironside got there first--by about 40 years.
I have to admit, I’m somewhat less opposed to remaking Ironside after all these decades than I was to the Rockford revival. In the latter case, actor James Garner was so closely entwined with his role as a compassionate and perpetually impecunious Los Angeles private eye, that I can’t imagine anyone else filling those same shoes. (And no, the goofy Vince Vaughn won’t do the job any better in a theatrical translation of Rockford than the too-gentle Mulroney might have done in a small-screen revision.)

On the other hand, Burr’s Robert T. Ironside was a more surly sort, a chili-consuming spitter of TV-acceptable epithets (“flaming” being his favorite substitute for a certain other f-word). Because the character never struck me as reflective of the actor’s real personality, I can picture the part being taken by someone else--maybe Vincent D’Onofrio of Law & Order: Criminal Intent fame, or John Goodman. (I can even see Willem Dafoe making the Ironside role his own, though he’s mostly given television a wide berth during his career.)

So I am not going to rail on at length here about the injustice of relaunching Ironside (although if, as the A.V. Club blog suggests, the network decides to turn Chief Ironside into a robot, I’ll be sharing with it some choice insults). I still think, however, that it’s idiotic and lazy for TV executives to keep trying to recapture the magic of once-popular programs. NBC has already failed with big-budget reboots of The Bionic Woman, Knight Rider, and The Munsters. Yet it has a rich history of coming up with creative concepts for programs and protagonists. Why can’t it take an honest shot at trying something fresh and risky once more? Or is that too much to ask of U.S. television in the 21st century?


Gary Phillips said...


Don't know what they'll do with Ironside, but I believe Mamet is supposed to be writing and directing a reboot of Paladin modern day?) and someone else was working on a modern day Cisco Kid -- young Afghan war vet returns to the barrio to right wrongs.

Me, i'm holding out for the ultimate mystery wheel: Cannon (but done like Lee Child's Reacher, a nomadic, enegmatic cat who goes by the one name) McCloud as the cowboy in the big city never gets old; Honey West, set in the late '70s; and Peter Gunn -- done in black and white a la the stylized Sin City.

And speakin gof Dermot Mulroney, did you see the SNL bit, "Is it Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney?"

Kelly Robinson said...

I might sctually get the TV out of the closet to see what they do with Ironside.

Randy Johnson said...

Lord no. Ironside was one of my favorites way back then. Couldn's see anyone else playing the role anymore than all those other reboots that failed.

The only one I enjoy is Five-O, mainly because I got tired of Jack Lord after five years or so and never watched another episode.

S said...

Oh I remember the NBC Mysteries - those were entertaining back in the day. I was a faithful Ironsides fan too, and I think your choice of Vincent D'onofrio to reprise the role is a good one. He could pull that off.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Five-O should be called CSI HAWAII as it has so little in common with the original.

I could live with an Ironside remake if they are not totally stupid with it. But, this is NBC so....