CBS’ Lost in Space, a seminal sci-fi TV series from the late 60s, returns next month as a massively updated Netflix original, but is it the next Battlestar Galactica or the next Bionic Woman?
Sci-Fi TV in the 60s and 70s was a weird, wonderful place that Hollywood continues to revisit, for good and for bad. What’s extraordinary are the number of shows that lasted only one to three seasons, yet captured an audience of young, devoted fans (primarily through reruns). These hardcore viewers championed their favorite series for decades… and once in a great while, that patience paid off.
Star Trek, Logan’s Run, Battlestar Galactica, Space: 1999, The Outer Limits, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Prisoner — just a few of the many, many short-lived but hard-to-forget sci-fi series that couldn’t make it beyond a third season (most were cancelled after one season). There are, of course, a few sci-fi series that lasted longer (Dr. Who, The Six Million Dollar Man), but those shows are outliers.
Hollywood has struggled to reboot these fan-favorite shows over the years. One obvious exception is Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica — he completely reimagined the core concept rather than simply rehashing it. The result was a deep, mature, and compelling examination of major themes like man vs. machine and the origins of life (the show sometimes got over its skies with philosophical arguments it couldn’t pull off). Battlestar Galactica was outstanding sci-fi, but to-date its the exception when it comes to rebooting TV’s sci-fi classics.
Hollywood has a terrible track record when it comes to rebooting old TV series, regardless of genre. According to The Atlantic, “no matter what approach shows in this genre go with — a straightforward remake, a stylized modernization, picking up where the original left off — they fizzle out quickly.” Given the fragmentation of today’s viewers and the existence of so many channels, services, and platforms it’s a wonder any show can find traction.
Now Prison Break‘s Zack Estrin is taking his shot with the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space. Estrin is hoping to repeat Battlestar Galactica‘s success, but he’s going about it in an old school kind of way, according to an interview with EW:
“Fans of the original show should know we maintain the core of what was special about that experience of watching that as a child — that here’s this incredible family that’s off on this amazing adventure… We are taking that core of an idea — the Robinson family is striving to hold together and survive in this incredible circumstance — and as much as this show is Lost in Space, it could be a shipwreck on an island. It just happens to be in space and we think it’s going to have a broad appeal beyond genre fans.”
Moore reinvented Battlestar Galactica by combining updated visuals with modern storytelling. Estrin is similarly updating the appearance of Lost in Space, but his narrative approach is back-to-basics, which might be risky.
Lost in Space was a mostly silly, campy exercise in low-budget sci-fi TV (particularly its final two seasons). The core premise combined nuclear family drama with a fight for survival in outer space. This sort of storytelling was common in 60s TV, as seen in any number of westerns or high-concepts like Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson (which predated Lost in Space by five years, but is essentially the same idea).
Will Estrin’s 60s storytelling spine work with modern audiences? (To be fair, this is Netflix, whose business strategy ignores industry-standard ratings and reviews models.) The Atlantic identifies a possible root cause for reboot failure, “TV reboots are hot commodities when they premiere in the fall, debuting to big ratings. But the curiosity wanes as viewers realize it’s not the same viewing experience.” Recent iterations of Star Trek have run into this particular issue too — there is only one Shatner!
The new Lost in Space trailer certainly looks good, and it has a few innovations on the original (cast diversity, an alien-origin ‘Robot’ character, and a legit budget). Whether these changes and the upgraded visuals are enough to capture an ongoing audience will soon become clear (or not, this is Netflix, after all). However, if the new Lost in Space can match the Battlestar Galactica reboot’s success, then maybe there’s hope for Future Cop or Supercar — you remember those, right?
What’s your favorite 70s sci-fi TV show or movie? Let us know in the comments down below!
Lost in Space hits Netflix on April 13, 2018.