When a popular television program decides to call it quits, a couple things are bound to happen: One of the show’s main characters will go on to star in a series which will inevitably fail, someone else will have a few special appearances on another show, and the remainder of the cast will drift away into obscurity and be forgotten by the viewing public. But then, something will happen that will thrust these people into the spotlight for one more night. I’m talking about the reunion, a TV event that’s supposed to be special and able to rekindle the magic of the program it is celebrating. Unfortunately, it fails.

Janna Hutz

The reunion is a good idea in theory. By bringing back the old favorites one more time to reminisce about the good old days, viewers will hopefully look back on the show more fondly. It’s quick, easy and usually gets a good rating. However, nothing really new comes from these specials, and when viewers see their beloved characters again, it’s a disappointment. The actors are well past their prime, obviously just trying to ride out their past success for as long as possible. Why tarnish the legacy?

Last month, two wildly popular series from the last two decades held reunion specials: “Dallas” — the most popular show of the ’80s — and “Seinfeld” — the most successful show of the ’90s. I watched them both; mainly because I was a huge fan of both shows, but I also wanted to see for myself if Michael Richards and Larry Hagman were still, in fact, actually alive.

The “Dallas” theme was played, and its two-hour special began. Since I think I’m the only college student in America to see every episode of this prime-time soap opera, I was looking forward to seeing the old cast once again. The downside came in the actual program. The event was nothing more than a hokey, corny abomination of a show, with more obvious facelifts and plastic surgeries than actual humorous moments. The cast looked way over-the-hill, and despite their tremendous acting ability from 20 years ago, the segments with banter between the former stars were grade-school-play bad.

“Seinfeld,” on the other hand, failed to live up to expectations by not being a reunion at all. Sure, Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer were all there, but the special was more of a look back at how the show began, including interviews with the cast mixed in with old footage. Michael Richards looked old and Jason Alexander hardly seemed like the same guy who played George Costanza so brilliantly. Sure, the documentary was interesting, but it seemed like it was an extra on a DVD set. Their actual reunion on “Oprah” was much better and was what everyone wanted to see anyway.

So then how do you make a great TV reunion? The answer is simple: you don’t. Let the show live on in syndication and let the actors be known for their work on the show instead of what they became afterwards. Consider “Saved by the Bell.” Don’t have one of the best shows of our generation be ruined because “Showgirls” star Elizabeth Berkley, fledgling comic Dustin Diamond and Dennis Haskins (Mr. Belding) need to get on TV one more time. Let the episode where Jessie overdoses on caffeine pills stand proud on its own. It’s earned it.

People watch reunion specials, so it looks like there will be plenty more in the future. But when the cast members of “Full House” come together one last time — which, with Bob Saget, John Stamos, Dave Coulier and the Olsen twins, should be done just for comedy’s sake — and make fools of themselves, you’ll never see the show in the same acceptable light again. Don’t do that to “Full House” or the actors.

Except maybe Stamos.

 

— Although Doug hates TV reunions, he is anxiously awating Jaleel White’s return. E-mail his support at dwernert@umich.edu.

 

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