It's the time of year where TV networks announce the new shows they're bringing to television screens, which means it's also time for a lot of trailers — and for CBS, that includes MacGyver and Training Day. And no, you're not crazy, those names do sound awfully familiar, because repurposing old movies and shows has become a TV craze in recent years. But the results have been spotty, ranging from excellent (Hannibal), curious (12 Monkeys), hilarious (Ash vs. the Evil Dead), and all the way down to utterly forgettable (raise your hand if you remember the Minority Report show).
So if you're a network, you probably want to go beyond just capitalizing on a familiar title. You want to make sure that you're dealing with a character dynamic or premise that you know your viewers will respond to. Which is probably why the trailer for the Training Day show seems so much like the new MacGyver.
First off, let's set aside that every single line of dialogue in the Training Day trailer plays like a bad one-liner. And let's ignore the fact that the show's creators have broken The One True Immutable Law of Bill Paxton: that you only give him action cliché dialogue if you're satirizing the genre. (Watch True Lies or go on a "Game over, man!" rant if you need further proof.) What I want to focus on is the very simple recipe going on in both situations.
1. Take one grounded, by-the-book police officer.
2. Add one reckless / inventive / self-destructive cop.
3. Season with an age difference.
4. Flavor with rock soundtrack to taste.
The elements may get flipped around from incarnation to incarnation, but ultimately it's all the same show — and the good ol' buddy cop chestnut has been successful going back decades. Reese and Finch in Person of Interest. Dr. Sam Beckett and Al Calavicci in Quantum Leap. Thomas Magnum and Higgins in Magnum, PI. Maddie and David in Moonlighting (swapping age difference for gender difference). Adam-12. Dragnet. It's as rock solid as it gets.
The formula is as rock solid as it gets
Which is probably why another recent TV show trailer also seemed so familiar: Lethal Weapon. With the original 1987 film, writer Shane Black essentially defined the buddy-cop movie for a decade, and here the dynamics are coming back to their familiar home on television with an added dash of slapstick and complete lack of stakes — because Riggs is never going to off himself when he's on a weekly network series.
A lot of television is all about the familiar
But that's fine, because a lot of television is about the familiar — the same dependable thing, week in and week out. It's why procedurals and sitcoms are so soothing to some. They're bits of bite-sized drama, and you know precisely where things will end up at the end of this week's episode, because it's the exact same place where they started. But if this is the way we're going to use these well-known properties, as simple catnip to entice people into a familiar formula, it does beg a certain question: what, if anything, will keep people watching week to week? That will come down to the execution, writing, and characters themselves, which will extend the audience's relationship with the new Martin Riggs, or the new MacGyver, far beyond what they know about them when they tune in for the first time.
So maybe — just maybe — that familiar buddy cop structure could be used as it once was, to tell new stories, about characters we don't already know from a show or movie we watched 30 years ago. Because I don't know about you, but I'm getting too old for this remake shit.