Surprising some critics, during the second decade of the twenty-first century, the 1980s has made something of a comeback on our TV screens. There is a discernible trend among TV producers to tell their stories in a 1980s context. However, it is not like this decade represents a simpler time that modern audiences can look back fondly on. What is it about the current state of the world that we can understand better by examining the 1980s in greater depth? From the music, the popular culture and the politics, the 1980s has more to offer TV and filmmakers than mere nostalgia. Why are producers plugging into this decade more than any other at the moment?
The Demographics of TV Production
Among the many reasons for choosing to set a TV series in the 1980s are the large numbers of people with disposable incomes who grew up in that decade. Generation X and those who are a little older may not remember everything about the 1980s as being great but seeing characters work their way through problems in the decade undoubtedly engages people of a certain age. In their middle-age now, such a demographic is interesting for TV makers because they are a group which advertisers wish to reach. If you ever think about the 1980s as your era for growing up, then a soundtrack which features post-punk indie bands, new romantic sounds or early electronica will probably appeal to you at some level.
You’ll notice the same sort of appeal occurs with games, too. These include popular casino games. An example would be Highlander Online Slot; see how familiar the graphics and characters are even though what it is based on is over 30 years old. The game is designed around the famous movie franchise which originally starred Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery that nearly all 1980s kids watched at some point. Of course, you don’t need to be in your forties to get the vibe of the 1980s but it certainly helps TV producers to sell their projects if they have a focus on that decade.
The Success of 1980s TV Series
One thing that breeds success is success itself. Sometimes it is not about making shows that appeal to a certain audience type but about producing what is currently on-trend. Few would argue that TV series set in the 1980s are not fashionable right now. For example, there is the critically acclaimed spy thriller, The Americans. It won a Golden Globe for the best drama series on TV in 2019 after its sixth season had been broadcast. This series echoed the Cold War concepts of Deutschland 1983, a German production, in an imaginative way, making viewers rethink what they thought they knew about this recent history. Would one have been made without the other?
Then there’s Netflix’s smash hit, Stranger Things, which is among the most popular of all the 1980s-inspired shows. Cleverly, this series integrated some of the horror genre elements the decade was known for which gave it a doubly nostalgic feel. Like The Americans, Stranger Things felt like it could have been set at any time in the decade and it refused to be pinned down to a particular period within it. This is an essential part of the successful 1980s formula because it allows viewers to impose their own interpretations in a way that more historically unambiguous production would not. Such is the success of these shows that more and more are planned. The famous movie maker, Spike Lee, is said to be in pre-production for a new series for Netflix which will be set in the same decade as Stranger Things. A remake of the popular 1980s film franchise, Lethal Weapon, is also in the pipeline for the small screen.
New Zealand has produced some TV that fits into the mould, too. It was back in 2010 that it last aired, but Outrageous Fortune was a comedy-drama that used the late 1970s and early 1980s as its setting. It went down well with audiences and ran for no fewer than six seasons. In Europe, the Hollywood actor, Chris O’Dowd, wrote and starred in Moone Boy, a comedy that was set in the 1980s on the west coast of Ireland. It was recommissioned twice following its first series.
Of course, TV makers always look back to some extent in order to move forward. It has always been that way. However, the current trend for 1980s-inspired TV shows no signs of ending. For some viewers, at least, that’s a rather good thing