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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Trends: Spin-offs keep our favorite franchises from ending

Characters continue to get a second chance as spin-offs shows and movies prevail in entertainment.

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There is a certain kind of sadness when you watch the finale of your favorite show and know that the storyline of a beloved character is coming to an end. It is what makes us crave more — why we rewatch the same shows on repeat, explore fanfiction and obsess over the actors in real life. Most notably, this desire for more is the prime reason that spin-offs have such a powerful audience. 

Some critics claim that spin-offs are just the product of greedy producers aiming to profit on a franchise and earn more money without the hassle of creating new ideas. Granted, sometimes this may be the case —  having several spin-offs of a single show can feel excessive and even anger loyal fans who think the prestige of the original show is being ruined. However, when a spin-off is done right, it can be extremely successful and popular, explaining why the trend of the number of shows gaining a spin-off does not seem to be slowing down. 

Spin-offs can generally be categorized into two prevalent types: either where an existing character is in a new setting or where new characters are introduced on popular shows. Regardless, some popular aspect has to be retained in order for it to be  successful. The fame of some major TV shows is because the foundations for their popularity were established by a predecessor: “The Simpsons” — one of the longest and most successful American sitcoms with 34 seasons and 743 episodes — originally began as a series of shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show.”

The mass popularity of previous releases encourages franchises to produce more. Prequels are a development in the film industry which have brought in more profit. An early example of a spin-off, the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy (1999-2005) brought in over $2.5 billion to the box office, despite widely being considered inferior to the originals. Since 2005, there has been an increasing number of prequels exploring characters’ origins and backstories in the “Star Wars” universe — most notably “The Mandalorian.” By the end of season one, “The Mandalorian” accumulated 5.43 billion minutes of viewership. 

The increase in the number and popularity of streaming services has enabled this increase of spin-offs, making them accessible to all. “The Mandalorian” found success through Disney+ following Disney’s acquisition of “Star Wars.” These spin-offs can stem from anything: Dug, the lovable dog from the Disney classic “Up,” has found new prominence through the Disney+ show “Dug Days.” Profitable companies like Disney are likely to fund spin-offs because they have the backing of a famous production company and an existing fan base the original product has gained, predicting substantial success. Alongside Disney+, Netflix produces many spin-offs including “Cobra Kai,” which profited on the success and cast of its original movie ‘The Karate Kid’. 

When individual characters are undoubtedly popular, they are likely to find success if brought back for a spin-off. A prime example of this is the famous TV show “Cheers” that ran from 1982 to 1993, featuring the character of Frasier Crane. Crane then went on to find more prominence in the spin-off “Frasier” (1993-2004), which had 33.7 million viewers for its finale. Recently, Paramount decided more could still be done with this franchise — producing a revival of the original “Frasier” which is due to air in mid-2023.

The proof that spin-offs can generate more money than their original film undoubtedly explains the growth of the trend. A prime example of this is the “Despicable Me” franchise with the first film bringing in $543.2 million — while the “Minions” spin-off gained $1.159 billion.

Not all spin-offs are successful, though. Additionally, some fear the trend of spin-offs is becoming too popular and prevents any one show from having a unique nature and fan base. “Family Guy” is extremely successful with an original concept, totaling an average of 1.31 million viewers in its 20th season. It has lasted the test of time and retained a clear fan base. Its spin-off, “The Cleveland Show” resembled “American Dad” whose viewership was at 642,000 in its 17th season, creating three shows by the same writer about American men and their family’s hijinks. Could this growing demand for spin-offs lead to fewer original pieces? 

An interesting trend to consider alongside this is when spin-offs are introduced as the original continues to run, creating competition and comparison in the fan base. Spin-offs can gain their own prominent audience, even when being produced alongside the original. An example of this overlap is “The Big Bang Theory” (2007-2019) and “Young Sheldon” (2017-present); Some fans believe “Young Sheldon” is superior. “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals” both aired at the same time and both garnered cult-like followings. 

Other spin-offs attempt to revive the fictional worlds that concluded over a decade ago, with the famous “That ‘70s Show” ending in 2006 and the spin-off “That ‘90s Show” being released only last month. There is a risk to releasing spin-offs years after the original, as the targeted fan base is unclear: Is it meant to draw back in fans of the original show, or a whole new generation? This may, however, be a beneficial tactic as well. If our loyalty to shows remains intact for long periods of time, a spin-off’s audience can grow with new and old fans alike. 

The increasing number of spin-offs is unlikely to decline if our loyalty to powerful characters and fictional worlds continues. Whether this will damage pop culture and the potential for new franchises to become dominant, however, will be something to keep an eye on.