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10 TV Show Shared Universes, Ranked Worst To Best


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Summary

  • Creating a successful shared universe requires crossovers, similar themes with unique twists, and purpose behind spin-offs.
  • The Cheers universe, with shows like Frasier and Wings, lacks a strong connection compared to the original and feels less cohesive.
  • The Walking Dead universe expands with new spin-offs and rewards viewers with Easter eggs, making the world feel lived in without forcing the concept.

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It’s not just movies that can have a wide array of projects within the same franchise, television has conquered this arena as well, but not every TV show with a shared universe is created equal. The concept of having multiple television series that all take place in the same universe is not new. Still, the popularity of franchises working this way has exploded in recent years. Using the shared universe format allows for deep focus to be placed on the lore of the world, and expands the opportunities for multiple generations to experience the story.

However, creating a shared universe is not as simple as having a spin-off and having little to no characters, concepts, or stories in common. A truly successful universe has crossovers, deals with similar themes in unique ways, and introduces new ideas and canon to the narrative seamlessly. At the heart of this, there must be purpose. There must be a why behind the spin-offs, and a clear niche within the universe that each show fills.

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10 The Cheers Universe

Cheers; The Tortellis; Frasier; Wings; St. Elsewhere

Sam, Diane, and Frasier in Cheers

Cheers

Release Date
September 30, 1982

Cast
Ted Danson , Shelley Long , Nicholas Colasanto , Rhea Perlman , George Wendt , John Ratzenberger , Kelsey Grammer , Woody Harrelson , Kirstie Alley , Bebe Neuwirth

Genres
Sitcom

Rating
TV-PG

Seasons
11

Writers
James Burrows , Glen Charles , Les Charles

Directors
James Burrows , Andy Ackerman

The two best-known iterations of the Cheers franchise are the original show, Cheers, and the just as successful spin-off, Frasier. However, there are also two other, lesser-known, additions, as well as the canonical truth that all of these shows take place within the St. Elsewhere universe. Though there are many theories about just how many shows take place inside St. Elsewhere, the four core shows all have some overlap. The Tortellis focuses on two regulars from the Cheers bar, Nick and Loretta, and Wings following the events of a small New England airport where characters from Cheers had been known to make an appearance.

Though this is a sizable franchise and the sitcom tone of the shows remains consistent, it’s only Cheers and Frasier that feel like they truly share a place in the TV universe. Part of this is due to the popularity of these shows, and Frasier‘s central character, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), spent so long playing this role on Cheers before the spin-off. The success of the two main shows, unfortunately, does not make up for the loose connection to the others, and being in the St. Elsewhere universe calls into question the reality of the entire franchise.

9 The Vampire Diaries Universe

The Vampire Diaries; The Originals; Legacies

The Vampire Diaries

Cast
Nina Dobrev , Ian Somerhalder , Steven R. McQueen , Paul Wesley , Kat Graham , Michael Trevino , Michael Malarkey , Zach Roerig , Candice King , Matthew Davis

Seasons
8

Franchise
The Vampire Diaries

Story By
L.J. Smith

Writers
Julie Plec , Kevin Williamson , L.J. Smith

Directors
John Dahl

Showrunner
Julie Plec

The Vampire Diaries was a wildly successful teen drama when it aired, so it only made sense to expand into a greater universe of characters. The Originals tells the story of the original vampire family after they leave Mystic Falls and Legacies centers on Hope (Danielle Rose Russell), the daughter of one of the originals. Each show introduces the characters in the show that came before and the myths, legends, and monsters that populate each story remain the same. Despite this, after The Vampire Diaries, the magic of that series was never quite recaptured. Though the battles for good and evil were just as epic, the spin-offs weren’t as good.

8 One Chicago

Chicago Fire; Chicago P.D.; Chicago Med; Chicago Justice

Voight talks on the phone in Chicago PD

One Chicago

Created by
Derek Haas , Michael Brandt

First Episode Air Date
October 10, 2012

Cast
Jesse Spencer , Taylor Kinney , Monica Raymund , Jason Beghe , Jon Seda , Sophia Bush , Jesse Lee Soffer , Nick Gehlfuss , Yaya DaCosta , Torrey DeVitto , Rachel DiPillo , Philip Winchester , Joelle Carter , Monica Barbaro , Carl Weathers , Yuri Sardarov

There have been many One Chicago crossovers throughout each show’s run, but nothing less can be expected from a universe created by Dick Wolf. Though technically part of the larger Dick Wolf universe that also encompasses the Law & Order franchise, One Chicago has grown into its own fully-fledged universe with enough shows to prove it. All centering around different branches of the first responders’ units in Chicago, every show bursts with drama and life-or-death situations. Despite this, it doesn’t have the same impact that other procedural universes do. The formula and stakes of the crossover events can quickly become repetitive, and it’s easy to lose interest.

7 The NCIS Universe

Jag; NCIS; NCIS: Los Angeles; Hawaii Five-0; NCIS: New Orleans; Magnum P.I.; NCIS: Hawai’i; MacGyver; NCIS: Sydney

Mark Harmon in NCIS

Though by far the most significant, NCIS was not the first show in the universe, but the second. Jag premiered first and then NCIS was developed in its wake. From there, the universe exploded with several series focusing on Naval and Marine criminal investigations, and others being more general crime procedurals. Regardless of where the shows take place, they all have one thing in common; they’re popular and consistent. Shows in the NCIS universe engage the viewers by exposing them to an aspect of criminal investigation they’re not familiar with and developing strong characters that hold their own in the crossover episodes.

6 Arrowverse

Arrow; The Flash; Supergirl; Legends of Tomorrow; Black Lightning; Batwoman

The CW's DC Arrowverse Shows The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, Black Lightning, and Legends of Tomorrow

Arrow

Release Date
January 10, 2013

Cast
colin donnell , Paul Blackthorne , Willa Holland , Susanna Thompson , Katie Cassidy , David Ramsey , Stephen Amell

Seasons
8

Story By
Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg

Writers
Greg Berlanti , Marc Guggenheim , Andrew Kreisberg

Directors
Andrew Kreisberg , Greg Berlanti

Showrunner
Andrew Kreisberg

Though D.C. Comics has gained plenty of recognition in the film realm, the television shows that take inspiration from the comics have been just, if not more, successful. Within the Arrowverse, many great heroes have risen to prove themselves, but not all the shows stood the test of time. Beginning with Arrow, which tells the story of Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) aka the Green Arrow, the franchise soon exploded, but no series had the longevity of The Flash.

The Flash ran for nine seasons, and it’s an indicator of how strong a universe is when the show that starts it all is eclipsed by a spin-off. Despite The Flash‘s popularity, the other shows were still strong, and they were all capable of standing alone within the franchise. Each show brought something original to the universe and used crossovers to their advantage instead of relying on them for drama and drawing in viewers.

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5 Buffyverse

Buffy The Vampire Slayer; Angel

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Release Date
March 10, 1997

Cast
Sarah Michelle Gellar , Nicholas Brendon , Alyson Hannigan , Charisma Carpenter , Dan Rubin , David Boreanaz , Seth Green , James Marsters

Seasons
7

Story By
joss whedon

Streaming Service(s)
Hulu , Disney+

It’s a testament to how effective a franchise is when all it takes are two shows to create a loyal and dedicated following. Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel work so well because they sustain each other, and make their existences possible. Angle (David Boreanaz) was a main character on Buffy for the first three seasons, and as such an important part of Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) life, it was impossible that he could fade away and never be heard from again. Though it’s not vital to watch the crossovers to know what’s happening in the respective shows, it adds depth and complexity to the rich world of the characters.

4 The Walking Dead Universe

The Walking Dead; Fear The Walking Dead; The Walking Dead: World Beyond; Tales of The Walking Dead; Daryl Dixon; The Ones Who Live; The Book of Carol

Rick Grimes and Michonne looking to the side in The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead

Release Date
October 31, 2010

Cast
Steven Yeun , Andrew Lincoln , Chandler Riggs , Laurie Holden , Jeffrey DeMunn , Sarah Wayne Callies , Melissa McBride , Norman Reedus , Jon Bernthal , Iron E. Singleton

Seasons
11

Story By
Tony Moore, Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard

Streaming Service(s)
Netflix , AMC Plus

Franchise(s)
The Walking Dead

Directors
Greg Nicotero

Showrunner
Frank Darabont , Angela Kang , Scott M. Gimple , Glen Mazzara

The universe of The Walking Dead keeps expanding, and it’s for one reason: the amazing characters. Like the original show, the additional series provides compelling characters who are easy to spend time with. Many of the spin-offs explore individual stories for these characters, like The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon and The Ones Who Live, but some simply explore the expanded universe and delve into the hidden details of the world. Seeing overlap between the shows and finding Easter eggs within them feels like a rewarding treasure hunt for those watching, and doesn’t force the concept of the franchise, merely utilizes it to make the world feel lived in.

3 The CSI Universe

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; CSI: Miami; CSI: NY; CSI: Cyber; CSI: Vegas

CSI

CSI

Created by
Anthony E. Zuiker , Carol Mendelsohn , Ann Donahue , Jason Tracey

Cast
William Petersen , Marg Helgenberger , Gary Dourdan , Paul Guilfoyle , Jorja Fox , Louise Lombard , Ted Danson , David Caruso , Emily Procter , Adam Rodriguez , Gary Sinise , Melina Kanakaredes , Patricia Arquette , james van der beek

There’s a reason that procedurals do so well in creating franchises, particularly crime procedurals. Crime is everywhere and so are the people who solve it. In the CSI universe, the characters all have a special way of investigating criminals, but the location and team who do the investigating make all the difference. Each CSI series follows a similar formula, but there’s a way to keep a formulaic show interesting, and the franchise achieves this through exciting criminals and plots.

Additionally, though the shows stick to science and facts most of the time, they don’t shy away from ramping up the interpersonal drama when needed. This comes through in the crossovers, as each team leader has a different style, and they occasionally chafe against each other. It’s hard to know who to root for, as so many of the best characters in the CSI universe stay with the audience forever.

2 Law & Order

Law & Order; Special Victims Unit; Organized Crime; Criminal Intent; Trial by Jury; LA; True Crime

The first and best of the Dick Wolf universe is the Law & Order franchise. Though the tone and themes have changed greatly since the original Law & Order premiered in 1990, each spin-off carries a piece of the show with it. Since the beginning, the universe has revolutionized the crime procedural by showing not only the detectives doing their work but also the lawyers in prosecution. Though the shows that followed stuck largely to that format, they differentiated themselves by dealing with unique aspects of the criminal justice system. The success of Law & Order: SVU showcases how significant and popular the universe has become.

1 Star Trek

Star Trek: The Original Series; The Animated Series; The Next Generation; Deep Space Nine; Voyager; Enterprise; Discovery; Short Treks; Picard; Lower Decks; Prodigy; Strange New Worlds

Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Picard. Patrick Stewart as Admiral Jean-Luc Picard. Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway, Robert Beltran as Chakotay, Roxann Dawson as B'Elanna Torres, Garret Wang as Harry Kim, Jennifer Lien as Kes, Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, Tim Russ as Tuvok, Robert Duncan McNeil as Tom Paris.

Not only one of the greatest TV and film franchises in history but also one of the longest-running. Since the premiere of Star Trek: The Original Series in 1966, the adventures of those traveling through space at the behest of the Federation have to suit modern themes with every new iteration. This is no easy task and one of the reasons that Star Trek is a household name to this day. As space is infinite, so are the adventures of the crew that man the star ships of the universe, and the ability of the series to stay true to the original lore while creating new history themselves.

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