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The Flash and Arrow: TV's crossover series model isn't dead yet

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One of the first television series to seriously strike a chord with me was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A teenage girl who fights the forces of evil, all whilst dealing with the trails of being a high school student, who is strong as well? It hit the mark in so many different ways.

One of the most interesting things that Buffy did in its substantial television run was to spawn a spin off series existing in the same universe, which would go on to have several crossover episodes, with characters moving between the two series with ease.

This model seems to have only grown over the years as producers create new characters within the same universes to form spin-offs, or existing shows come together for special crossover episodes. NCIS: LA  (which itself is a spin-off of NCIS) crossed over with Hawaii 5-O, Greys Anatomy spawned Private Practise, Breaking Bad has spawned prequel show Better Call Saul.

Crossovers have had varied success, and The Flash and Arrow are the first live action superhero shows to share a combined universe.

Originally The Flash, or Barry Allen as he is known without his mask and super red suit, appeared in a couple of episodes of Arrow last year, with the intention of introducing the world of Central City later on in the series. However, the runaway success of the character, played by Grant Gustin, lead the CW to greenlight the show before a backdoor pilot was created.

The Flash season one premiered on the CW this year, and on Sky Living and has gone on to set respectable viewing figures - steady inspite of a general decline in TV drama viewing.

The first proper crossover episode of the two series showed in America last week, and gave The Flash a major ratings hike, clearly bringing watchers of Arrow along with the central character Oliver Queen. 4.2 million people in America tuned in to see the first part of this crossover, with the storyline concluding on Arrow on Thursday night

Of course, being cynical you could say that crossover episodes are a desperate attempt by show runners to pull the audience of one show over to watch the other - if your favourite character disappears for an episode then the logic is you will follow them across to where they go. You are then engaged by the new characters you encounter, and decide to continue one watching the new show. This certainly explains the appeal for creating backdoor pilots in existing shows - in showing the characters to an audience before committing to the concept the creator can test the waters, so to speak. However, creating a show from an existing franchise is no guarantee of success - Bones, a show which is on its tenth season currently, is a spin-off of The Finder, which only lasted a series and had some pretty poor ratings.

Admittedly the crossover model wouldn't work for all dramas or shows - The Flash and Arrow come from a convoluted and complex set of source materials; comic books. The nature of comic books mean that characters flit from title to title, from heading their own franchises to being part of longer team based storylines - both Green Arrow and The Flash are integral parts of The Justice League. The superhero genre practically begs for intertwined programs as films, with fans begging for character x to make an appearance in one or another of the films or shows about a certain character.

This is seen most clearly in Marvel's Cinemagic universe, where fans have been asking where Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye has been throughout Phase Two, which included the destruction of everything that was integral to his character - and yet not one frame features him, apart from the upcoming Age of Ultron Avengers team-up.

With The Walking Dead set to spawn a spin off series, it seems that the backdoor pilot and spin-off model is not going anywhere any time soon. In the case of Arrow and The Flash, it seems to have been a resounding success, but past failures show that a combined universe and a built-in fanbase cannot guarantee a hit.




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