'Squid Game' proves why endless Hollywood remakes are bad for TV fans – and for business

·5 min read

The buzziest TV show around right now is not one with superheroes, Jedi knights or a title fans can recognize from the '80s or '90s. It's Netflix's "Squid Game," and it's a total original.

In the past decade or so, Hollywood studios and TV networks have tripped over themselves to adapt existing intellectual property into new movies and shows. The goal: seemingly to remake, reboot or revive any title that audiences might recognize. Combine that with the rise of new streaming services – all fighting for eyeballs and subscribers by marketing familiar characters to potential customers – and audiences are drowning in remakes.

It's the phenomenon that leads to a new "Star Wars" trilogy, and on a much smaller scale, CW remaking USA Network's rather modestly rated 2000s series "The 4400." It's why a "Sex and the City" sequel is coming back on HBO Max, why "CSI: Vegas" is on CBS, why "Law & Order" will soon return to NBC and why "iCarly" resurfaced as an adult on Paramount+.

Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) in "Squid Game," a Korean drama that became a surprise global hit for Netflix, which calls it the biggest hit in the streaming service's history.
Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) in "Squid Game," a Korean drama that became a surprise global hit for Netflix, which calls it the biggest hit in the streaming service's history.

There are business realities and priorities behind all the remakes. It's cost-effective for entertainment conglomerates like Disney, WarnerMedia or NBCUniversal to mine existing titles, known as "intellectual property," from their vast libraries rather than commissioning original scripts. It's no coincidence that streamers like Apple TV+ aren't clogged with remakes, because Apple is new to the entertainment game and has no library of content to remake.

To compete in the so-called streaming wars, these platforms need to fill up their services to compete with the likes of Netflix, and remakes, revivals and reboots are fast, familiar and easily promoted ways to expand their offerings. Famously risk-averse studio executives are more likely to greenlight a remake than an untested concept. Look no further than Disney+ for this business model: The streamer is one big IP extension machine, adding Marvel and "Star Wars" shows to its mix but also bringing back everything from "The Mighty Ducks" to "Doogie Howser, M.D." from the company's vast archive.

But is it a good idea for audiences looking for something good to watch – or conglomerates looking to make money – to flood the market with remakes? Based on what audiences are watching, critics are loving and the TV Academy is handing out trophies for lately, probably not.

A string of mediocre and under-the-radar TV remakes and revivals this fall – including "Dexter: New Blood" on Showtime, HBO Max's "Gossip Girl" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" on Amazon – is just the latest evidence that the reboot machine has gone too far.

Even more striking is that the shows generating buzz are original stories: "Squid Game" has become Netflix's biggest show of all time, the streaming service claims. And it's not just an original idea, but a high-concept, Korean-language drama without stars recognizable to most American viewers. It's proof that unique, gripping and well-written stories are what audiences crave, and it's about time the decision makers in the TV industry took notice.

Jorja Fox as Sara Sidle and William Petersen as Dr. Gil Grissom in "CSI: Vegas." The return of the onetime CBS hit has met with a tepid response from viewers.
Jorja Fox as Sara Sidle and William Petersen as Dr. Gil Grissom in "CSI: Vegas." The return of the onetime CBS hit has met with a tepid response from viewers.

It's not just "Squid" that is generating success off of an original concept. Netflix's other recent successes, including Emmy-winning "The Queen's Gambit" and Spanish drama "Money Heist" are also bringing in viewers with no nostalgic lure.

"The truly breakthrough content like 'Squid Game' or 'The Queen’s Gambit' or 'Money Heist' feels unexpected and is the outcrop of Netflix’s willingness and ability to just spend, baby, spend on new content. (Subscriber) growth only appears to be sustained by new content spending," financial analyst Michael Nathanson said in a recent report about Netflix's content strategy.

More: The definitive ranking of TV remakes (including 'BH 90210' and 'Veronica Mars')

Outside of Netflix, recent critical, zeitgeist and Emmy-winning hits include HBO's Kate Winslet detective drama "Mare of Easttown," Apple TV+'s "Ted Lasso," which is based on an NBC Sports promo but is an original character of co-creator Jason Sudeikis; and Hulu's "Only Murders in the Building," a Steve Martin murder-mystery-comedy.

The May "Mare" finale drew 4 million viewers over Memorial Day weekend across HBO platforms, and became the most-watched new HBO title on sister streaming service HBO Max. "Lasso" won seven Emmys in September and wrapped a critically acclaimed second season. Hulu says "Only Murders," which has already been renewed for a second season, was Hulu's most-watched day-of-release comedy.

Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard, Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso and Nick Mohammed as Nate Shelley in “Ted Lasso," which (although based on a character created for an NBC Sports promo) became an Emmy-winning original series for Apple TV+.
Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard, Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso and Nick Mohammed as Nate Shelley in “Ted Lasso," which (although based on a character created for an NBC Sports promo) became an Emmy-winning original series for Apple TV+.

It's not just that recent original shows have been good. The sheer oversaturation of the reboot/remake/revival market has made it impossible for many to break through the cultural conversation. Where once a high-profile remake of a beloved sitcom like ABC's "The Wonder Years" would have been the biggest news of the TV season, the new series (which is admittedly much better than many of its fellow remakes) premiered without much fanfare. TV viewers couldn't be faulted for not knowing "Last Summer" had even been made into a TV show on Amazon, it arrived with such a whisper.

More: HBO Max's 'Gossip Girl' reboot is a stunning failure through an Instagram filter

When an original series breaks big, as so many have recently, it doesn't have to break the bank. The nine-episode "Squid Game" reportedly cost Netflix $24 million to make, a tiny price tag compared to many of the streamer's other offerings.

The reality of the TV industry now is that reboots continue to be a mostly profitable norm, and they won't be going away anytime soon. It's a bit naïve to think – even in show business, where money and numbers reign supreme – that the recent success of a few original series will make much of an impact on an industry that's deeply entrenched in what it knows. But hopefully, as more smart, funny, shocking, scary, intriguing series win awards and fans, Netflix, HBO Max and others will try more new things.

The next "Squid Game" is out there, Hollywood just has to be willing to take a chance to find it.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Netflix's 'Squid Game' proves remakes are bad for fans and Hollywood

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