The once popular prime-time practice of airing crossover episodes appears to be making a comeback.
Back in 1996 NBC made a media splash with its crossover episodes of crime dramas “Homicide” and “Law & Order.” A few years later, David E. Kelley crossed over characters from ABC’s “The Practice” with Fox’s “Ally McBeal,” while NBC did the same with “Third Watch” and a character from “ER.” But in recent years the crossover episode hasn’t been as readily used.
Until now. On Nov. 7 the NBC investigation drama “Crossing Jordan” will explore a case involving characters from the casino-based show “Las Vegas.” On Nov. 8 the story will continue, with characters from “Jordan” making the jump to “Vegas.”
Tim Kring, the creator and executive producer of “Crossing Jordan,” said the crossover makes sense, since the shows complement each other.
“They have a slightly younger, more male audience,” he said. “Our audience tends to be heavily female. Both have a crime or a caper to solve. The irreverence of `Vegas’ is a nice fit with our gallows humor. Neither show takes itself quite as seriously as a lot of other shows.”
The actors, writers and crew were excited about the stunt, but Mr. Kring said that didn’t make pulling it off easy.
“We had to incorporate letting our actors go shoot their show while we were supposed to be in production on our show,” he said. “It takes a lot of logistics. If Jill [Hennessy] is in two scenes in our show and has to drive across town and do three scenes on their show, there are a lot of complications. Each show has their own demands, and you’re stretched pretty thin here.”
The demands weren’t just from a production standpoint. Getting characters right was a test, especially for writers who were used to writing about Boston investigators rather than Vegas casino workers.
“I can’t profess to know the `Las Vegas’ characters the way those writers know those characters,” Mr. Kring said. “On their side, when our characters go to Vegas we can’t violate them too much. We can’t say, `Oh, who knew Jill Hennessy was this wild slut?’ It wasn’t really a fear, but a challenge to work with characters that are fully formed that aren’t your own.”
Mr. Kring said both writing staffs were on the same page at the pitch stage-they each envisioned a plane owned by “Vegas”‘ Montecito Resort traveling to “Crossing Jordan’s” Boston to shuttle a high roller home. When the plane lands, the high roller appears to have been murdered, and Josh Duhamel’s “Las Vegas” character is set up as the prime suspect, allowing for an investigation by “Crossing Jordan” characters.
This wasn’t the first time Mr. Kring was on a show that was asked to do a crossover. He was on the staff of CBS hospital drama “Chicago Hope” in the ’90s when the network proposed a crossover with the drama “Early Edition,” which was also set in Chicago. From the beginning there was skepticism, since “Hope” was much more grounded. “Edition,” which featured a fantasy element around a magic newspaper the lead character received every day. The crossover was eventually scrapped.
“Thankfully we didn’t do it, because how can you do a story in two different alternative universes?” he said.
Mr. Kring said he was interested in pursuing more “Las Vegas” crossovers, since the finished product worked out for both series, but noted that the logistics made it tough to pursue it as anything else than a special event.
“I don’t want to do it immediately again,” he said, “but I’d like to do it again sometime.”
Tom Bierbaum, VP of ratings and program information for NBC Universal Television Group, said these kind of intershow relationships offer networks a chance to introduce programming to viewers who otherwise might not catch the show.
“This kind of crossover event gives both shows an opportunity to be sampled by a different audience,” he said. “It also creates something to build promotion around. That’s as big a thing as anything. What can we do to keep a show exciting and give people reason to notice it? This kind of event advances our cause in that area.”
For Mr. Kring, those kinds of opportunities are few and far between for shows that don’t normally make headlines.
“If we can grab a few people who have never seen our show, it is a very alluring idea,” he said. “A show in its fourth season, it is very hard to bring new people to it. The chances of getting a whole lot of new viewers is slim, so we really relish the idea.”
Crossovers don’t have to be as comprehensive as a detailed story line or characters straddling two shows. This season UPN is continuing its tradition of having its talent guest star on other shows.
Last week “One on One’s” Kyla Pratt guest starred in an episode of the first-season drama “Veronica Mars.” In a November episode of the new comedy “Second Time Around,” Tracee Ellis Ross, one of the stars of the show’s lead-in, “Girlfriends,” will guest star as a nervous airline passenger sitting next to series regular Boris Kodjoe.
“Second Time Around” co-creator and executive producer Ralph Farquhar said he was focused on doing something that would interest the established “Girlfriends” audience in his show.
“In today’s TV world, where the competition is so stiff-we’re up against `Two and a Half Men’-you have to be able to at least hold on to your own audience,” he said. “It invites them to come in. The good news was the role was written independently of that thought, and [Ms. Ross really was the perfect person to play that part.”
Mr. Farquhar said he saw the results of crossover on one of his first jobs in the business, ABC’s “Happy Days,” where Henry Winkler and Ron Howard would pop in on the show’s sister program, “Laverne & Shirley.”
“This is not an isolated incident,” he said. “These are all part of the tools of our trade.”