TV Catches Spinoff Fever

Photo Illustration by Matt Boggs
Photo Illustration by Matt Boggs

In all forms of entertainment, it has been abundantly clear that franchises dominate over originality these days. Hollywood is plagued by sequels and now even TV has developed sequelitis in the form of spinoff series. The past year has shown that the hot new thing is to keep a dying series going by creating a spinoff of that series. From the classic “Boy Meets World” to the recent phenomenon “Breaking Bad,” just about every TV series gets a child series once the parent has run its course. But have these types of shows survived historically, and what chances do the upcoming ones have of becoming a hit?

In terms of successful spinoffs throughout television history, the first that comes to mind would be the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” spinoff, “Angel.” Though this was certainly not the first TV spinoff, or even the most successful for that matter, it is surely the most noteworthy. In fact, “Angel” often had higher ratings than Buffy did.

Another prime example of successful spinoffs would be the numerous “CSI,” “NCIS” and “Law & Order” series. Though most do not see these as spinoffs, per-se, they technically are. And despite the lack of hype surrounding each of these series, they always tend to pull in high viewership and thus get continually renewed. These shows are proof that a spinoff series does not need to rely on its parent series to survive at all, so long as the formula is engaging.

Successful spinoffs are truly rare gems, though. There have been more than a handful of spinoffs that failed to bring new life to their dying parent series. Sitcoms tend to have the highest body count of poorly rated spinoff series. Comedy sensations “The Office” and “Family Guy” both took a shot with “The Farm” and “The Cleveland Show,” respectively. While “The Cleveland Show” did last for a surprising four years, “The Farm” was killed before it even had the chance to start. This was likely a smart move by the producers though, as this was not the first time they went back on the idea of an “Office” spinoff. Interestingly enough, the now widely popular series “Parks and Recreation” actually began as an “Office” spinoff. The connection was to come from the series’ mutual character Karen, played by Rashida Jones. The producers likely foresaw that a series that relied on a pre-existing character would not do as well as one that can stand on its own.

The coming year has quite a few new spinoffs in store, both continuing from last season as well as new ones in the fall. The CW has surely become the most spinoff heavy channel around. They have already done quite well with the popular “Vampire Diaries” spinoff “The Originals” and will likely continue that trend with its “Arrow” spinoff about The Flash and the recently announced untitled “Supernatural” spinoff series. The Flash series will likely have a smaller following than “Supernatural’s” simply due to the nine years “Supernatural” has had to build a fan base. But only time will tell if franchise fatigue will set in with the “Supernatural” spinoff.

The most hyped spinoff of the coming season is surely that of “Breaking Bad.” One of the most popular serial dramas of the past decade will get a comedic spinoff series in “Better Call Saul.” With the endless media attention this series has gotten recently, anticipation has never been higher for a spinoff. All of the factors that have harmed past unsuccessful spinoffs will likely not affect “Saul,” since “Breaking Bad” ended before it grew too old.

All eyes will certainly be on The CW and AMC next fall, as AMC has also even hinted at a “Walking Dead” spinoff. Hopefully, the producers at both channels have learned from the mistakes of failed spinoffs of the past and will make these promising new series stand on their own. But there is no denying that America is caught up in spinoff fever.