Fifty years of The Walking Dead? Welcome to ‘Franchise TV’

AMCs boss has disclosed The Walking Dead could be at the start of a decades-long run. With similar plans for Game of Thrones will viewers simply burn out?

In terms of TV, 2017 has been the year of the spin-off, sequel, reboot and remake. Will and Grace came back. Curb Your Enthusiasm came back. Twin Peaks came back. 24 came back. Star Trek came back. Even Legion, arguably the most deliberately esoteric series of the last 12 months, was technically an offshoot of the X-Men movies.

The television landscape is littered with differences on existing properties, because networks are increasingly cloistered away behind their own paywalls and there is a requirement to big, recognisable names to draw subscribers. Original notions, always harder to market, are starting to lose ground fast. It’s the same pit that the movies have been stuck in for a decade.

And now, already, this trend seemed to be situated its natural endpoint. Because AMC wants to keep The Walking Dead on air for much longer than you’d expect. The network’s CEO, Josh Sapan, has even was beginning to hurl the F-word around.” The utilize of the word ‘franchise ‘, we don’t take lightly. It’s not a sloppy or casual word ,” Sapan recently said.” We’ve studied the best. Some have been around 30, 40, 50 years. We have a chance for a lot of life in the franchise .”

Oh God. If AMC has its route, The Walking Dead will keep running long when you are and everyone you love has died. Maybe even longer. I’ve got a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that, even if the world is destroyed in a fiery commotion of nuclear detonations, AMC will somehow find a way to cinema and broadcast a new cockroach-based Walking Dead spin-off bookended by a new Talking Dead spin-off where distracted celebrity cockroaches gather together to add absolutely nothing to the viewing experience.

‘ There’s an awful lot to be said for bowing out at the right time’ … Mad Men Photograph: Justina Mintz/ AP

Worse, AMC isn’t alone in thinking this. After the Kevin Spacey abuse accusations started percolating out, reports that Netflix was considering all manner of House of Cards spin-offs rapidly followed. There’s apparently a Doug Stamper series in the works, and Robin Wright will want something, and why not run the whole hog and do a Young Sheldon-style House of Cards prequel called Lil Frankie?

Similarly, HBO seems equally committed to fracking Westeros for narratives once Game of Thrones ends- it is said to be simultaneously developing five separate spin-offs– even though this last season has shown the mess that can be made when showrunners let go of George RR Martin’s hand.

Perhaps this is the way of the world now. Perhaps the Golden age of TV was simply a Big Bang, and 50 years from now when we’re all snared up in a dingy mycelium of eighth-generation franchise spin-offs, we’ll be able to tracing all of television back to a single clutch of presents made during a miraculous five-year period when people actually invested in original notions.

I hope this isn’t the case. There were signs that eyeing up franchise TV isn’t the smartest idea- Dread the Walking Dead has started to eroded the audience of its parent series, so the tactic carries with it a real danger of diminishing returns- plus in retrospect the best shows from the Golden Age were the most finite.

Mad Men resisted the recommend to make a spin-off, and as such has retained all its power. As much as everyone clamoured for a follow-up movie at the time, The Sopranos now feels like a satisfying fiction with a definitive aiming. I’m convinced that The Leftovers will only grow in stature over time, because nobody will ever think to dilute it with The Further Adventures of Nora Durst. There’s an awful lot to be said for bowing out at the right time. Hopefully TV will remember this. It is, after all, what attains it better than cinema.

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