Recently, it was revealed that Game of Thrones would be receiving not one, not two, not even three, but four spin-off series. (There could definitely be potential there, but four separate projects? HBO is going to need a lot of objectified unnamed female extras.) It’s also been announced that a Big Bang Theory spin-off series about Sheldon’s childhood is in the works. As if the world hasn’t suffered enough lately.
So, when it comes down to it, do we ever really need spin-offs? In an age where TV is arguably overtaking film in terms of quality, why do networks feel they have to keep revisiting the same characters? Indeed, the spin-off is arguably a harder feat for television, as more content is needed for a dozen or so episodes than for a two hour film, which is perhaps why they’re more often seen on the big screen (lookin’ at you, Marvel).
Considering the offerings that have thus far been laid at our feet, usually akin to a cat proudly presenting its owner with a dead mouse, it would seem that prequels work better than sequels. They can add more to a story and fill in gaps; by delving into a fictional past, screenwriters can produce more content without stretching a plot to breaking point as most character backstories have usually already been written, to some extent. This would explain the success of Better Call Saul, the most recent creation from the brains behind Breaking Bad, and the crash-and-burn of Joey, the lacklustre attempt at a Friends spin-off. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and much of this is also down to the quality of the writing; if Vince Gilligan was in charge of Sheldon’s spin-off I might be more inclined to watch it. (Don’t hold me to that.)
And, when it comes to films, there’s a difference between a stand-alone spin-off film such as Rogue One and a five-part bonanza concerning, say, beasts of a fantastic nature. The first instalment of Eddie Redmayne gallivanting around New York in a long coat was fun, and the story is obviously veering closer to the JK Rowling’s original series with the introduction of Grindelwald, but sometimes isn’t just best to quit while you’re ahead? Franchises can rarely keep their quality consistent across multiple films, which is no clearer indicator of how much major studios prioritise art over profit.
When it comes down to it, studios are afraid to take risks. When there’s so much good content that can be enjoyed without leaving the comfort of your own home and spending an arm and a leg on a cinema ticket, viewers themselves are less likely to take risks with what they consume, and the cycle continues to self-perpetuate. The same applies to TV; audiences have so much to choose from that they’re not going to settle for anything.
So, what’s the solution? I don’t know, but I think cutting down on Game of Thrones spin-offs might be a start.