TV Trend Alert: Fall Spinoffs Hoping to Turn Hits Into Franchises
Spinoffs for the CW's "Arrow" and "Vampire Diaries," ABC's "Once Upon a Time," NBC's "Chicago Fire" and even "Breaking Bad" illustrate how TV producers are looking to stretch marketing dollars.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The spinoff is having a bit of a moment.
The CW announced July 30 that it will use its hit Arrow to spawn another DC Comics-themed series featuring the Flash. In addition to the Greg Berlanti-, Geoff Johns- and Andrew Kreisberg-penned Flash pilot, the network is prepping a planted spinoff of Supernatural for the latter part of its ninth season. And in the fall, The CW will launch The Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals. "We're using [existing shows] as an additional platform for developing," CW president Mark Pedowitz tells THR.
Pedowitz is not alone in looking to established properties to reduce the financial risk associated with launching shows. ABC has ordered Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. NBC has Chicago PD, a spinoff of its modest first-year hit Chicago Fire, set for midseason, and Sony TV is readying a Breaking Bad spinoff centered on Bob Odenkirk's character Saul. Showtime also hinted there could be life left in Dexter beyond its final season.
"Marketing dollars are really challenged, and for a spinoff you've already got a built-in audience and you probably don't have to work as hard to promote it," says CBS TV Studios president David Stapf. "In all those cases, it sounds like smart business." (CBS tried unsuccessfully this pilot season to make a spinoff of NCIS: Los Angeles.)
While spinoffs aren't new on TV (Happy Days begot Laverne & Shirley; Cheers led to Frasier), the recent wave comes as the failure rate for freshman series continues to rise (only 11 of the past season's 37 scripted broadcast shows were renewed). "Where the cost-effective part comes in is if you're introducing characters or a storyline [in an episode of a show], it's a way to try it out and see if that works -- like Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice," says Bela Bajaria, whose Universal TV is behind Chicago Fire with executive producer Dick Wolf.
Casting is underway for the role of super-speedster Barry Allen in the Flash project. He will appear in episodes eight and nine of Arrow's second season before receiving an origin story in episode 20.
"Hopefully as the story unfolds, people will see why we picked the Flash," says Berlanti. "It fits well into both the show and in terms of what a Flash show could be."