Everyone's take on the recent trend of television revivals is wrong. To recap:
Will & Grace returned to the air in September after an 11-year hiatus. Roseanne is about to start a nine-episode run after being off the air for 21 years. Last week, CBS announced Murphy Brown would be returning to television after a 20-year break. Beyond the networks, Netflix has revived Arrested Development, Full House and The Gilmore Girls.
Even before this recent surge, critics such as Alex Schager at the Daily Beast were tiring of this trend:
"Requiring little imagination because they prey so easily upon nostalgia, only to then dash fans' hopes - and sully their own legacies - by failing to live up to their prior outings' lofty standards, the Remake and the Revival are the enemy of surprise, the adversary of originality, the poison in the well of true inspiration. Often greeted warmly by diehards, and then cursed and vilified by those same aficionados once the euphoric bliss of anticipation has given way to [cold, hard disappointment], they are a pox upon the pop-cultural landscape."
Revivals are cited as an example of a bankrupt and unoriginal television landscape. A few years ago, FX Networks started trying to get a count of the number of scripted original television series. Here's what it found in 2016, Variety's Maureen Ryan wrote:
"According to FX Research, 455 scripted original programmes aired on American television in 2016.
"That all-time high is almost three dozen more than were released in 2015, the year FX president John Landgraf coined the term 'Peak TV.' In the middle of 2015, some critics found it 'moderately terrifying' that there might be 400 scripted shows that year. FX Research, which constantly updates its data, now says that 421 scripted programmes arrived in 2015.
" ... Variety asked FX Research to tabulate how many scripted shows there were in 2006, and they came up with 192. That means that over the course of a decade, the amount of scripted TV went up by 137 per cent.
"Earlier this month, Landgraf told Variety that there were 487 scripted shows in 2017 - a new record. There has been a surge in revivals, but that is because there has been a surge in every kind of scripted television programming. The number of these shows has more than doubled in the past eight years, much of it coming from streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu."
With this kind of growth, it is not surprising to see a secular increase in all kinds of shows: adaptations from comic books, adaptations from comic strips, dramedies, gritty sci-fi, zombies, doctor dramas, brilliant and inventive comedies that defy definition and yes, revivals.
It's not rocket science why these revivals are occurring. In a fragmented television landscape, a revived programme from the pre-streaming era has the possibility to capture viewers looking for the televised equivalent of comfort food.
I get why critics don't like this - they have to review all this stuff. But from the consumer's perspective, it is a mistake to think that a Will & Grace comeback will somehow prevent another Atlanta from emerging. There isn't a scarcity problem for television in 2018. And for all the laments about the lack of creativity, let me suggest that one of the most original hours of television last year came from a reboot of Twin Peaks.
An increase in quantity is hardly a guarantee of an increase in quality. It does offer the possibility, however, of a greater diversity of programming. It certainly does not augur badly for television creativity.
• Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.