The branches of the TV-land family tree can get very tangled. We've previously discussed backdoor pilots; another common offspring is the spin-off, where certain characters on an established series are deemed popular enough to support their own show. And then there is the crossover, where characters from one show appear on another show. Sometimes the crossover intersects with the spin-off (as will be seen tonight when Dr. Addison Montgomery returns to Seattle Grace Hospital in the conclusion of a multi-part Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice crossover.) Other times the crossover is something of an "in-joke" (see Murphy Brown below), while often it is just the whim of a network exec who uses a successful series to promote one that is struggling. Allow me to present a few examples:
1. Bewitched in Bedrock
For a sleepy prehistoric suburb, Bedrock had more than its share of celebrity visitors. Stoney Curtis, Ann-Margrock and Stoney Carmichael were just a few of the A-listers who appeared on the Stone Age sitcom (with their voices provided by their real-life counterparts). In Season Six, however, the Flintstones welcomed new next-door neighbors Samantha and Darrin Stephens, in an episode that featured Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York voicing the animated versions of their Bewitched characters. The gimmick wasn't so out of the blue; Hanna-Barbera had done the opening animated credits for Bewitched, which was just beginning its second season, while The Flintstones was an established hit.
2. Norm Peterson's Former Client
Since St. Elsewhere was set in Boston, producers thought it might make for some nice symmetry if Doctors Westphall, Auschlander and Craig stopped by the Cheers bar after a particularly stressful day. The only problem was that Cheers was on hiatus at the time that this episode was conceived, but Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberger and George Wendt graciously agreed to give up some vacation time in order to participate. As it happened, Carla had mentioned two years earlier that she'd had one of her babies at St. Eligius and that it had been a horrific experience, so that gave the writers a reason to have Ms. Tortelli vent her spleen at Dr. Craig. It was also revealed in this episode that Norm Peterson had once been Dr. Auschlander's accountant and had gotten him into big-time trouble with the IRS.
3. Murphy Brown's Competent Secretary
A running gag on Murphy Brown was Murphy's inability to retain a competent assistant, and as a result a different secretary appeared in each episode. Then the fates turned in Murphy's favor, and she walked into the office to find none other than Carol Kester-Bondurant (Marcia Wallace) of The Bob Newhart Show behind the desk. Carol of course was an ace at the job, and would have stayed on the FYI staff had Dr. Bob Hartley not appeared on the scene in the final moments of the episode. After a frenetic bidding battle between employers, Carol finally went home to Newhart-land, where she truly belonged.
4. Paul Buchman's Tenant
When Mad About You debuted, it was given the sweet time slot following the very popular Seinfeld. It was eventually revealed in one episode that Paul Buchman was still paying rent on his "bachelor" apartment (in case his marriage didn't work out), which upset wife Jamie. The punch line to the episode was that Seinfeld's Kramer was Paul's tenant. Crossovers tend to work best when they're sprung on the audience as a surprise, so this particular episode fell a bit flat, since it was hyped in print ads and TV commercials ad nauseum before it aired, so by the time Michael Richards poked his head out of that apartment door the thrill was long gone.
Which crossovers do you remember/love/hate? How about when Daphne (of Frasier fame) didn't understand a Caroline in the City cartoon? There's also the episode of Wings that featured Frasier and Lilith Crane visiting Nantucket to promote a book and host a seminar (this earned Kelsey Grammer an Emmy nomination). In an episode of Seinfeld, struggling actor Kramer lands the part of Murphy Brown's secretary, Stephen Snell. And how many of you remember when George and Weezie Jefferson visited the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?