On Uncle Buck’s Cancellation And Why Every Remake Isn’t A Good Idea

July 8, 2016  |  

Image: ABC

Image: ABC

If you blinked, you probably missed the short-lived run of the TV series Uncle Buck. The ABC show, which ran back-to-back episodes Tuesday nights at 9 and 9:30 p.m., ran for eight episodes, and is now canceled. An all-Black remake of the 1989 film of the same name, Uncle Buck starred Nia Long and James Lesure as the Russells, a married couple who begrudgingly enlisted the help of crazy Uncle Buck, played by Mike Epps, to be their children’s “manny,” or live-in nanny.

I’m typically not keen on remakes. One, because Hollywood suffers from remake syndrome and operates on the lazy assumption that reproduced works are automatically akin to financial success. And two, I believe there’s an overflowing fountain of unheard, highly imaginative stories that audiences have yet to tap into, especially from underrepresented creators. But Uncle Buck initially caught my attention for one reason and one reason only. Her name is Nia Long.

Yes, she’s played characters who’ve had comedic lines and moments in movies like The Best Man, Big Momma’s House and Are We There Yet? (and their respective sequels), but we’ve never seen Nia Long in a live-action sitcom. Strike that. We haven’t seen her in a live-action sitcom since The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That was eons ago. I was eager to see the actress take on a role I’m not typically used to seeing her perform. Real talk, though – why haven’t we seen Nia Long as the lead of her own damn show? Comedy, drama – she’ll slay either or. Nia, if you’re reading this, hit me up, girl. Seriously. Let’s make something happen.

But back to Uncle Buck. With the Will Packer-produced show’s lack of success (his other sitcom, Truth Be Told, met the same fate), you can’t help but wonder where it all went wrong. Well, let’s start with the network. As I mentioned, Uncle Buck, which premiered on June 14, had an eight-episode run. ABC aired two episodes of the show per week, back to back. In the TV world of yesteryear, summer was often synonymous with reruns. Not so much anymore, as there are at least 15 new and returning shows airing this summer. But summer is also testing grounds for some networks, where shows with unproven formats (like American Idol and Survivor when they first arrived on the reality and competition scenes) or, in this case, unsure networks, get exactly that – a test run.

Uncle Buck seems to have fit in the latter category. It’s as if the network said we don’t have much faith in this show so, here ya go. Take it for what you will. Don’t say we never gave you anything. It’s an odd way to operate if a network is trying to cultivate an audience. Not to mention, the first episode of Uncle Buck premiered on Hulu before it actually hit ABC’s airwaves. It’s not a move that networks typically utilize, but this is summertime and they definitely wanted a go at the streaming audience. Generate interest, earn viewers. But that didn’t quite work out.

Or was the show’s short run more of an indication of its content? It goes without saying that we’re all down for diverse, positive representations of Black families on television and film, but not even the cute Russell kids of Uncle Buck could keep audiences engaged if the material falls flat. Exhibit A: Uncle Buck uttered the line, “I don’t know karate, but I know ca-razy.” This, while trying to escape an intrusive neighbor’s drone. That line was dated long before Mike Epps uttered it (see James Brown’s “The Payback” from 1973), and it’s been said so much in the not-even-recent past that one, it’s been retired, and two, it is no longer funny. Build a show around enough of these types of moments and the audience won’t tune in week after week.

There’s also the issue of the remake. Are audiences tired of them? Or does it just depend on the material? The all-female remake of Ghostbusters is coming out next week, and it’s one of the most highly anticipated movies of the summer. A Will Smith-less Independence Day flopped at the box office and all we’ve heard in its aftermath is crickets. But Roots, which was also remade by Will Packer, fared a lot better than Uncle Buck. It’s not fair to compare these two considering that they are vastly different stories with their own respective histories, but clearly, one was favored by audiences over the other. And when you take our country’s current climate into consideration – when innocent Black men, women and children are killed at the hands of cops and their murderers aren’t punished for their heinous crimes – it’s easy to see why a classic miniseries like Roots, remake or not, made such a powerful impact. I wrote about whether or not we needed another Roots movie and the answer seemed to be a resounding yes.

Remakes don’t seem to be going anywhere, but it’s clear that viewers, myself included, want above all else, well-written, engaging and, yes, original content.

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