Don't Be Cross. Cross Over.
Sometimes it's not enough to watch one television show. It drags you into another.
Yes, we are talking about crossovers, where characters from one program visit another series, with people from the latter series then returning the favor.
Last week, we saw a CW crossover when one of the stars of “Arrow” appeared on “The Flash.” The two shows about DC Comics characters take place in different cities but in the same storytelling universe, and there have been character crossovers before.
The newest episode of “The Simpsons” finds them interacting with characters from another animated show, “Futurama.” And there's a triple crossover arriving on NBC, where Tuesday's episode of “Chicago Fire” begins a story that will continue Wednesday on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Chicago P.D.”
That, by the way, is not the first triple crossover. “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: New York” did one five years ago. In the '90s, when NBC had three Saturday-night shows set in Miami — “Golden Girls,” “Empty Nest” and “Nurses” — it tied all three together with crossovers and the overlapping plot of a hurricane hitting Florida.
There was even a quadruple crossover in 1997, when Las Vegas was the setting for stories spread over four sitcoms: “The Drew Carey Show,” “Coach,” “Grace Under Fire” and “Ellen.”
The fundamental reasons for crossovers are pretty obvious: They get fans of one show to watch another, and they give networks something different to promote. And the notion of a triple crossover like NBC's should tell you we are in a major ratings period.
Beyond that, they do create an opportunity to tell a larger, more complex story. But they can also just be for grins. John Munch, the character Richard Belzer played first on “Homicide: Life on the Street” and later on “Law & Order: SVU,” appeared on numerous programs over the years, spanning networks — and not so much for dramatic purposes as to give the audience a little wink.
Still, crossovers have been around for a large part of TV history. Maverick more than 50 years ago did an episode where Bart Maverick encountered characters from Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Lawman and Bronco — all westerns that, like Maverick, were made by Warner Bros. The studio even added a touch of whimsy, shoehorning in a cast member from the distinctly non-western 77 Sunset Strip.
Of course, that was a crossover that was easy to do since all the shows were from the same company, and airing on the same network. Similarly, the NBC triple-crossover entirely involves shows from producer Dick Wolf, and the “Arrow”/”Flash” crossovers include two Warner Bros. shows airing on the same network, the CW. “Futurama,” meanwhile, is no longer in production — but has a history with Fox, and shares a creator, Matt Groening, with “The Simpsons.”
But common business connections do not necessarily make good programming. A “Family Guy”/”Simpsons” crossover earlier this season did not successfully blend the animated series' different styles and tone. I am still baffled by a 1986 crossover between “Magnum, P.I.,” and “Murder, She Wrote,” for example. Even more puzzling was an episode of “St. Elsewhere” where that drama's doctors stopped by the bar on “Cheers.” Wrong tone, clashing approaches to acting — it did not work at all.
But as long as networks think these stunts will grab some eyeballs, they will keep trying.
DOWN THE ROAD
PBS has announced that there will be a sixth season of “Downton Abbey” beginning production in 2015 — a testament to the show's popularity since the fifth season does not even begin in the U.S. until January.
NBC has announced the return of music competition “The Sing-Off” on Dec. 17, with six groups battling. Unlike previous seasons of the celebration of instrument-free vocals, this will consist solely of a two-hour special that night.
NBC has also reportedly decided to put an end to the little-watched (and largely unworthy) “Bad Judge” and “A to Z,” ordering no more episodes beyond the 13 it originally contracted for. On Friday, ABC reportedly made a similar decision about “Selfie,” saying it will be done after 13 episodes (and even some of those are already slated for pre-emption).
Of course, the completed episodes will air somewhere sometime — and “A to Z” co-star Rashida Jones tweeted that, since the show is still in production on the agreed-to telecasts, it is not really canceled yet. Which prompted James Hibberd of EW.com to invoke “The Princess Bride” (which, like “Love Actually,” should be invoked whenever an opportunity appears). "There's dead, and there's mostly dead," he wrote. "A to Z is mostly dead. It's still on the air, so things can happen. They just very rarely do."
Completely dead, meanwhile, are “Manhattan Love Story” and “Utopia.”