The announcement from Bryan Cranston that Walter White may not be done on television wasn’t necessarily a surprise when rumors have already circulated since the spinoff “Better Call Saul” was revealed. But hearing it directly from the actor who played the character no doubt gave fans some kind of thrill in removing the tradition that characters have to completely die or disappear from our lives once a show ends. When it comes to TV spinoffs, we’ve seen numerous examples where a character from one show crosses over into a related show, though rarely when the initial show has been off the air for a while and a character had a satisfying conclusion.
Is it always a good idea to bring a character back into a spinoff series after the original series concludes? In the case of “Better Call Saul”, some people assume Walter White will be back in the present after perhaps having escaped death. Apparently it’s been forgotten that “Better Call Saul” is supposed to be a prequel, meaning Walter White’s previous journey in “Breaking Bad” likely crosses over with the events of the other show.
Yes, that might confuse some viewers, even if “Breaking Bad” already toyed with complicated flashbacks a couple of times. What shows in history, though, worked with a character crossing over into a spinoff without needing to look back in time in order to make it happen?
Stars from “The Andy Griffith Show” Appearing on “Mayberry RFD”
Since reruns of “Mayberry RFD” are non-existent on cable in recent years, some may not remember the show was a spinoff of “The Andy Griffith Show” after the latter left the air in 1968. And since the latter show is in perpetual reruns, it’s too bad the rare cameos by the original cast in “Mayberry RFD” can’t be seen on TV. While it was only one appearance, Andy Griffith and Don Knotts made an appearance on “RFD” a year after the initial show had already left the air. The episode happened to be the marriage of Andy to Helen Crump.
Afterward, Ron Howard appeared a few times as Opie, and so did Francis Bavier as Aunt Bee. Nevertheless, they were only sideliners on the show this time around, despite reminding viewers that Mayberry was a small town and running into the characters was inevitable.
While all this expanded later in the reunion TV movie “Return to Mayberry” in 1986 (one of the best TV reunions ever done), it didn’t necessarily set off a strong wave of actors from a previous series joining forces with the spinoff.
Some of the “Cheers” Cast on “Frasier”
While there were many crossover appearances throughout the 1970s and ’80s on spinoff shows, they were all done when the initial show was still on the air. “Happy Days”, for instance, bred numerous spinoffs that also garnered brief crossover appearances by some of the cast.
It wasn’t until the 1990s when you saw classic characters show up in its direct spinoff again, despite network attempts to tempt actors in much earlier. Wisely, many actors who played iconic characters wanted to keep them as they were in viewer memories rather than end with a lifeless cameo in a spinoff. Somehow, Ted Danson and Woody Harrelson were cajoled into appearing on “Frasier” in the late 1990s, a number of years after “Cheers” left the air. Danson was already working elsewhere on TV, and Harrelson had yet to make his tremendous mark as a movie actor.
Needless to say, the cameo wasn’t all that spectacular, even if both characters were never grandiose anyway. Having a cameo from more iconic characters in the mold of Mary Richards, Archie Bunker, or Walter White creates far more of an impact and truly event television. In the case of Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore), she finally did make that appearance in the 1990s TV movie “Mary and Rhoda.” Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) never appeared in anything else after the “All in the Family” spinoff “Archie Bunker’s Place” left the air.
It’s why having Walter White back on TV occasionally may bring a new precedent to TV that a favorite character doesn’t necessarily have to end as long as they can top how they initially went out. Regardless, it may not happen again soon anyway when you consider you can count truly iconic characters on TV today with one hand.