Hours after news broke that NBCUniversal will re-reboot “Battlestar Galactica,” an idea colder than a Cylon’s heart, we learn that ’60s sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes” is getting the sequel treatment from series co-creator Al Ruddy.
The original premise was fun, in a lighthearted ’60s way. Despite valid concerns of “Too soon!” and genuine Nazi atrocities committed mostly against Soviet prisoners, the show worked well enough to run for 168 primetime episodes — and win a bunch of awards in the process. I grew up watching the reruns almost endlessly. Colonel Robert Hogan (Bob Crane) and his heroes were, quickly described, a white guy (Hogan), a black guy (Ivan Dixon as Kinchloe), a nerdy guy (Larry Hovis as Carter), a British guy (Richard Dawson as Newkirk), and a French guy (Robert Clary as LeBeau). Together they derailed German munitions trains, snuck spies or vital information to safety, and generally aided the Allied cause from one of the least likely places imaginable.
The two main German characters, camp commander Colonel Klink (Werner Klemperer, a German-born* Jewish actor!) and oafish guard Sergeant Schultz (John Banner), were played for laughs. They were presented as not-terribly-competent German soldiers trying to do their duty as best they could, but mostly trying not to get on the wrong side of any actual Nazis. The only regular Nazi character, Howard Caine’s Major Hochstetter, appeared in maybe a third of the shows, and was outsmarted by Hogan and his crew at every turn.
The ’60s being the ’60s, there was of course Klink’s improbably attractive secretary, Hilda (or was it Gretchen?), played by Sigrid Valdis.
Like Mel Brooks’s “Get Smart,” which aired during the same years, “Hogan’s Heroes” was really a spy spoof — a genre which flourished in the years after Sean Connery made James Bond into a box office star.
So what about the new show? Well, we don’t know much yet. We do know not to call it a reboot, because it isn’t. In the new show the descendants of the original heroes are scattered all over the world in the present day, but somehow wind up together on a global treasure hunt.
If you were looking a can-do troupe of international B-lot players with slick James Bond-type gadgets hidden in a secret chamber below a POW barracks, you’re going to be disappointed.
Hell, you’re probably going to be disappointed no matter what. Because as near as I can tell, the new show is the flimsiest excuse for a sequel since “Return to the Blue Lagoon.” Other than featuring an international cast of various accents and colors (plus various sexualities, sexes, and at least three different genders, I’d wager), the new “Hogan’s” has about as much to do with the old “Hogan’s” as Long Island Iced Tea has in common with iced tea.
The new show isn’t a cynical attempt at rebooting a classic. It isn’t even a cynical attempt at making a sequel. The new “Hogan’s Heroes” seems more like a cynical attempt at stretching a beloved brand thin enough to cover something almost entirely unrelated. Boomers are probably getting too old now to care about this stuff, so I think what’s going on here is an attempt to tug at Gen X nostalgia for the reruns we watched as kids. Sheesh, we couldn’t even get a “Family Ties II: Family Tighter.”
But that’s what passes in Hollywood today for originality, so maybe I’ll give it a look when it comes out. Especially if Hilda’s great-granddaughter turns out to be even half as attractive as she was.
*Apropos of nothing, really, I only just discovered today that Werner Klemperer is the son of famed German conductor and composer Otto Klemperer. Otto’s 1961 recording of Beethoven’s Symphony #9 is my third-favorite version. Werner was an accomplished concert violinist and later a conductor, himself.