What's Trending: The Sequel Series

What's Trending is a series looking at what is popular or will become popular, and spitballing ideas of what this means for the present and the future.

Looking at what's coming up on television, we've got some cool stuff coming out. We've got series like Heroes, Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Full House, Coach, and Prison Break. Oh sorry, those are just some of my DVDs. Here's the actual shows: Heroes, Twin Peaks...The X-Files...Full House... Coach...and Prison Break. Well, here's a new trend.

Recently, inbetween the usual batch of spinoffs, adaptations, pointless remakes, and clever ideas that could work for a season but then go way downhill, we've been getting a rise of sequel series: shows that take place directly after the events of another show. It hasn't really been all that common nowadays until just recently, but why is it being done now? Are audiences sick of new shows? Is it cheaper? Was the cast and crew just bored? Well, the only way to find out is to do some analyzing.

Now the beginning of the trend arguably started with the Netflix revival of Arrested Development, but it really hit its stride with 24: Live Another Day and Girl Meets World. The idea of bringing a show that was still popular and well-liked for one more time sounded like a great idea on paper. In fact, before LAD even aired, NBC announced they were planning to return the mixed action drama Heroes back to TV with the sequel series Heroes: Reborn. But while Live Another Day was well-recieved and didn't tank per se, it certainly wasn't the huge blockbuster many ratings fans expected it to be. Granted it aired in the summer, but there was a huge amount of hype for the show, and it really only delivered in the beginning, settling in the mid 1s by the end of the season. Girl Meets World however, was much older, and even had the two main actors now parents teaching their kid about the world. The show started out relatively strong, but as time had gone on, interest too had started to wane. It is still a hit to this day, and is one of Disney Channel's flagship series, but it hasn't been a megahit the size of Hannah Montana.

But even with these middling performances, the sequel announcements still came. A return of Twin Peaks with original cast members returning was announced in October of 2014, taking place 25 years after the events of the original series. The X-Files, with Scully and Mulder returning, was then announced in March 2015 as a six-episode "event series". Another announcement arrived in March 2015 as Coach, that 90s sitcom with Mr. Incredible and Patrick Star, will be returning to NBC with Craig T. Nelson reprising his role as Hayden Fox. After countless rumors, Netflix announced the sequel series Fuller House, a show taking place years after that one corny show that really doesn't hold up, and starring Not Mary-Kate and Not-Ashley reprising their roles. And now, in June 2015, a sequel to Prison Break is in development, re-teaming Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell. Seems strange all of these shows are returning, especially with two flameouts already occurring. So is there some sort of other reason?

Well maybe instead of looking at examples, perhaps it's best to look at the landscape. Nowadays, there aren't just several channels, there are nearly hundreds, and the majority have new content you can't find anywhere else. And when adding in premium channels and streaming services, there's not a lot of wiggle room to stand out, and if you need to get views, it's really tough with a new idea. So it's common for networks to adapt, remake, or reboot previous shows and concepts that worked before, and give them to a new audience. However, there's always that fear people can have over whether a new cast and crew can replace the original show successfully. But when you have original cast members and sometimes even writers, these timeless characters are apparently in good hands. And that's not even excluding the fact that old properties stay in our minds much longer. For instance, in the adaptation world, you have two shows on HBO: one is about a group of geniuses attempting to make a startup company in Silicon Valley. It has a great creator, some cool actors, and is apparently very funny. But also on HBO, there's a series retelling the Song of Ice and Fire series. No matter how well someone praises the former, the latter captures the attention first. The series is known and popular, so there is some connection to the listener. And if the reaction is positive, then it's guaranteed that the show will get at least one viewer. Or heck, going back to sequels, let's look at the biggest movies of the year so far. So far this year, we have had Furious 7, Avengers 2, and Jurassic World all earning billions at the box office, because of the connection people have with the original stories. So with a sequel series, there is going to be at least someone watching the show due to remembering these characters and stories, and wanting to relive them again.

So the idea itself seems fine and well, so this is a good trend, right? Well, the thing to know is that comparing the movie industry and TV industry is very much apples and oranges. A movie usually is in theaters for a few months, and then later just stays in the ancillary market for the rest of its life. A TV show is supposed to last on TV for 4+ years and with dozens upon dozens of episodes to broadcast. And that's not including how it's very hard to strike lightning twice. Even with the same cast, you won't always be guaranteed the same crew members, and even if the crew returns, they haven't done anything with these characters in years, making things real rusty. So when it isn't the same show as it was all those years ago, some of the audience will go away.

But I feel the best way to showcase the issue is to look at the most popular shows of the season, and using the phrase "good artists copy, great artists steal". It seems irritating to talk about this show when almost every other television site is talking about it, but Empire was easily one of the biggest smashes of the year, and of this decade. And it was a completely original idea, with no original idea or story we can connect to. Instead, by using inspirations from older, popular shows ranging from Dynasty to The Sopranos to Nashville, it created a fresh, original take on the hip-hop music industry, and became a monster hit. And using these shows earning a sequel, series' like X-Files helped develop supernatural dramas like Grimm and Supernatural, while Twin Peaks inspired mystery shows like Desperate Housewives and Wayward Pines, and all of these four have earned some sort of financial and/or critical success.

The main point of this editorial though is to explain that while these TV sequels will be around, like most movie sequels, they won't be nearly as well-known or beloved as new and fresh ideas and takes and won't share the same amount of success as their predecessor. So while we may groan about these new iterations, just remember that the real heavy-hitters is just a channel away.

-Eric McInnis

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