Taking a spin

Game of Thrones fans had much to cheer about earlier this year, even before the seventh — and penultimate — season aired last month. According to multiple reports, HBO had already set in motion plans to continue the humongous success of the show by developing as many as four spin-off shows. Later, according to a report in Rolling Stone, Casey Bloys, president of programming at HBO, clarified that the network is weighing as many as five possible ideas as the foundation for the prequel. However, most probably only one spin-off series would make it to air.

On the surface, certainly, this appears — depending on whom you ask — to be a case of sheer greed, or a coldly logical business decision. After all, Game of Thrones is one of the most-watched and feted television shows of all time. It has managed to build a loyal viewership, and that number is constantly growing. The last season, for instance, enjoyed an average viewership of 25 million, surpassing popular shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Sunday Night Football and The Walking Dead. Moreover, the New York Times reported that the show earns HBO more than $1 billion a year. Which right-thinking executive could possibly let pass an opportunity to milk the story — and its characters — further?

Living up to expectations

Beneath the surface, jitters are certain. Spin-offs can be tricky, more so when they have to bear the burden of expectations carried forward from the original show. In that sense, the concept of a “pre-sold franchise”, as it is sometimes called, is a boon and a bane. The ready audience that it gets without having to build a reputation, is also an audience weaned on the original. Expectations are fulsome — and often too large to satisfy. Perhaps the most famous squib of the past two decades was Joey, a spin-off from the incredibly popular Friends. It barely dragged through two seasons before being cancelled.

Taking a spin

Expectations, of course, are not the only danger. Two additional challenges plague spin-offs. First, the need to preserve and nurture its own identity. There comes a tipping point in each spin-off’s life-cycle where it either breaks free from the shackles of the original, or remains forever cursed to live under the shadow of its older relative. Better Call Saul, a spin-off of Breaking Bad remains the best-known example of a great show managing to earn its stripes despite the over-large shadow of its predecessor. Now in its third season, the show continues to enjoy critical acclaim. In earlier years, Angel, a spin-off of Joss Whedon’s iconic Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ran for five seasons and received high ratings.

Second, most spin-offs run the danger of diluting memories of the original. Fans particularly attached to the popular show, Sex and the City, will recall how its spin-off prequel, The Carrie Diaries, affected their fond memories of the Carrie Bradshaw character in the original series.

Too many, too soon?

Sentimental reasons, however, hold little water when there are huge profits to be made. Unsurprisingly, spin-offs appear to be creeping up like weeds in American television. Consider for instance the shows being produced this year: The Blacklist: Redemption; 24’s next chapter, 24: Legacy; Sons of Anarchy’s spin-off Mayans MC. Groan-inducingly, even a Big Bang Theory spin-off called Sheldon — about the petulant genius, Sheldon Cooper, as a 12-year-old — is being planned. Perhaps the most promising involve a Supernatural spin-off called Wayward Sisters, about a group of troubled young women, all orphaned by supernatural tragedy.

Taking a spin

The origin story

Interestingly, it appears that spin-offs might become more popular on Indian television as well. According to reports, two popular soaps have spin-offs. While Star Plus has launched Dil Bole Oberoi, which borrows from its popular show Ishqbaaz, Zee TV’s Kumkum Bhagya will get Kundali Bhagya. Fittingly, however, the best-known has been engendered by the Baahubali phenomenon. The creators have launched an animated series, Baahubali: The Lost Legends, as a prequel to the film story. It is available on Amazon Prime Video, and is soon to appear on the television channel, Colors.

Ultimately, however, my favourite spin-off trivia concerns a show whose origins few people remember. Did you know The Simpsons is actually a spin-off? It first appeared on The Tracey Ullman Show, which used to feature sketch comedy and musical numbers, as 30-second clips before and after commercials. However, creator Matt Groening soon saw its inherent potential and, in 1989, launched it as a half-hour series. The Simpsons now holds the record as the longest running scripted prime-time US television series. Arguably, a spin-off’s greatest success is widespread amnesia of its origins.

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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 11:59:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/taking-a-spin/article19516979.ece

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