by Herbie J Pilato
NBC’s reboot of Ironside, with Blair Underwood taking over the role of the wheelchair-bound detective originally played by Raymond Burr (Perry Masson), has been igniting controversy from the get-go.
While the casting of Underwood, who is African-American, was originally heralded (solidifying the colorless aspect of casting), the disabled community is not at all pleased in having a non-disabled actor in the lead.
That aside, there are other issues with this classic TV revamp.
According to last Friday’s edition of The Hollywood Reporter, Underwood said the only similarities between his show and the original Burr series are the character’s name; that he’s a detective and that he’s in a wheelchair. All else, including new supporting characters and a New York City setting (the original took place in San Francisco) are brand new.
As a result, once more, the TV remake, and the TV remake genre, in general, is in trouble.
Beyond the genius and appealing casting of Underwood in the lead, NBC is making a mistake in not sticking to the original premise of the original Ironside. Into this mix, there is talk of possibly replacing Quincy Jones’ pulsating theme music from the original series.
Clearly, this is going to be Ironside in title only – an incorrect path to follow.
With any remake, the original mythology must remain intact – including the setting. As such, with regard to Ironside, the setting should remain in San Francisco – and not New York.
The best template for classic TV remakes, at least in the detective sector?
CBS’s recent re-do of Hawaii Five-0.
Yes, the new Five-O is having its legal issues (allegedly something about the creator’s original agent, etc.), but you have to hand it to this update of the Jack Lord series: they’ve kept the original characters, the same pulsating theme music, and the same setting (what else would they call it, Oklahoma Five-8?).
In a big-screen kind of way, the Spider-Man feature films have also followed the correct re-boot path – and not just with the Andrew Garfield re-take of the Tobey Maguire movies, but with the over-all motion picture retake of the original Spider-Man comic book mythology and storyline. The new Spidey flicks have kept things the same – but added their own contemporary twists (without damage to the core material).
Back on the small screen with NBC and the new Ironside, the point is this:
If the network is going to do a remake of a classic television show then do a remake of a classic television show; it needs to stick to what made the original series a hit – and just bring the series into the 21st Century. But they don’t need to change things just to change things because, in doing so, they distance themselves from the very product line they’re attempting to profit from – and in the process, they will dilute the show’s core appeal and the potential for its high ratings audience share.
So my advice to NBC: Keep Underwood in the Ironside lead, but return his setting to San Francisco, give him his original supporting characters, and for the love of Heaven, retain Quincy Jones’ original genius theme music.
EDITOR’S NOTE by LB: Back in the day, I worked as a writer on both the original IRONSIDE and HAWAII FIVE-0. FIVE-0 was considered a class act then, its quick editing, no-nonsense dialog, and driving story separating it from the rest of the cop show pack. When I see the rebooted version I see the opposite. Another bunch of quippy cops telling the same stories we’ve seen before, with a little extra emotional intensity tossed in. Not a big fan.
I haven’t seen more than a trailer for IRONSIDE so I have no idea what it’s storytelling is going to be like. I hope it works, but I can tell you right now that I already miss seeing San Francisco’s hills in the background. Sigh.
Thanks for writing about this, Herbie. You’re the greatest.