The announcement of a new That ‘70s Show spin-off has resurrected talk of the early 2000s flop That ‘80s Show, but Netflix’s That ‘90s Show can easily avoid some of the problems that led to the show’s early demise. That ‘70s Show premiered in 1998 and ran for 8 seasons, compared to That ‘80s Show’s 13 episodes and failed debut season. That ‘70s Show and That ‘80s Show came out around the same time and had a few of the same creators – so what went wrong, and how can That ‘90s Show do better?
That ‘80s Show debuted in 2002 and was a period sitcom about a group of 20-year-old friends living in San Diego. The main characters of both shows, Eric Forman (Topher Grace) and Corey Howard (Glenn Howerton), were first cousins but, this was one of the only connections the shows shared. By comparison, That 70s Show creative duo Bonnie and Terry Turner will be back for That ‘90s Show, which will be about Eric and Donna’s (Laura Prepon) daughter visiting her grandparents, Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith), for the summer.
There were a few glaring problems with That ‘80s Show that ultimately led to its failure, but luckily That ‘90s Show has already avoided some of them before it has even been released. Common complaints about That ‘80s Show were that it was created too close to the 1980s to be funny and that it wasn’t connected enough to the original show. Other contributing factors could have been that the spin-off attempt was made while That ‘70s Show was still on the air; it wasn’t similar enough in spirit or humor to tempt viewers of the parent show, and yet not unique enough to create a substantial enough fan base of its own. While two of That ‘70s Show’s creators were onboard for That ‘80s Show (Terry Turner and Mark Brazill), the show tended to rely more on the time period to supply the humor rather than its characters. Viewers of That ‘70s Show know that it was the mixture of the two that made the show such a success.
Already, That ‘90s Show has a better chance at success than its doomed predecessor. The show will be set in 1995, leaving a solid 26-year buffer between the decade the show will focus on and today. The show has the potential to recruit fans of That ‘70s Show as well as ‘90s babies who are now in their late 20s or early 30s. Furthermore, it has been 15 years since the last episode of That ‘70s Show, and there have already been two fan-favorite characters confirmed to return. Fans of the original show will likely tune in to see what has happened to the Formans since they rang in the New Year in 1980 in the series finale.
It is unclear whether any other main characters will make appearances on the show, but bringing back Kitty and Red is perhaps the best thing the second spin-off attempt could have done. Netflix’s That ‘90s Show will likely have a lot to prove, but it already has a leg up on That ‘80s Show and will hopefully capitalize on the many opportunities to reference characters and events from That ‘70s Show.