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'Stale Prince of Bel Air': Why a 'Fresh Prince' adaptation may fall flat

A screencap from the 1990s TV sticom
A screencap from the 1990s TV sticom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," whose producer Jeffrey Ian Pollack was found dead on Dec. 26, 2013.

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The web was abuzz this weekend upon news that a "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" reboot was in the works. Sources later clarified that Will Smith's production company is planning a "Fresh Prince"-like show. Though not much is known about the proposed production, many are left to wonder if the old fish-out-of-water plot line is still relevant more than 20 years later.

There's safety in remakes

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says remakes and reboots are seen as generally safe bets to production companies -- thus the recent deluge of remakes and reboots.

"If you're an executive at this time in the media, it's hard to know what people want to watch," Deggans said. "But if you go out and spend a bunch of money to make a version of 'Minority Report' or make a version of a movie or a TV show that's already popular with the people, well who can blame you for spending the money?  And if it doesn't work out, I think there's a sense that 'it was a good try.'"

Though taking a bigger chance holds the lure of a bigger payoff, new shows frequently flop.

Audiences want 'Fresh' plots

Nonetheless, Deggans says it's clear that audiences favor organic plots to programs that borrow on old concepts. He points to last seasons hit shows as an example.

"[You] wonder, 'are TV executives even paying attention to their own business?' Because, the lesson from this last TV season is you find talented actors and producers of color who have an original story they want to tell, and surprise -- you wind up with a story that feels fresh, but also resonates with a lot of people," he said.

Take successful shows like "Black-ish," "Empire," and "Jane the Virgin" for example.

"They were all inspired by creators who have something unique to say about cultures involving people of color," Deggans said.

The TV critic says the fish-out-of-water narrative may be seen as passé by modern audiences.

"All of those things are much more familiar to fans, and I think you'd have to find a fish-out-of-water story that felt unique," he said.

Deggans thinks studios should focus their finances and energies on nurturing new talents who will take shows in a new direction.

"That's why it's also so important to give creators of color -- who have original ideas -- the resources to make those voices into compelling television," he said. "Because then we get new voices added to the mix, instead of the same old ideas recycled again and again."

To listen to the full interview, click on the blue audio player above.