The news yesterday that AMC will be creating a “companion series” for The Walking Dead, set in the same post-apocalypse but following a different set of characters, is hot on the heels of news of a new Harry Potter movie and a Saul Goodman prequel that will follow the crooked lawyer from Breaking Bad. All of these moves feel relatively familiar — they’re attempts to cash in on valuable properties that are driven by no particular creative imperative. I understand why the folks involved with them are doing them. And yet I’m bored.
What if, instead, networks and studios decided to develop spinoffs that both relieved creative pressure on existing commercial properties, separating out characters who still have enormous story potential but are underserved on their present shows, and finding ways for them to have their own series? Here are five ideas for perfectly viable shows — some more tongue-in-cheek than others — that would make the shows they’re spun off of better, and expand worlds we’re already fond of.
1. Sloan Sabbith, Lady Reporter: Olivia Munn’s character is the only remotely appealing thing about The Newsroom, but Aaron Sorkin seems determined to abuse her as much as possible, dispatching her to deal with Sex and the City bloggers instead of letting her report the news, making her obsessed with a charity auction out of some misguided notion of integrity, and shutting her out of the conversation on election night. If Sorkin hates Sloan so much, why not let her go? A show where Sloan, underappreciated and underutilized by her employers, bolts for Al Jazeera America, where she gets to do trenchant reporting on the nomination to Fed chair, anchor her own election night coverage, and bewitch Don in between broadcasts would be a terrific, kicky little program — and a lot like the story about the rise of Rachel Maddow as MSNBC’s franchise anchor that Sorkin should have told in the first place, rather than pretending that Keith Olbermann was any kind of fresh voice. Maybe she can hire Adriana from The Bridge.
2. Megan Draper In The Valley Of The Dolls: I know there are a lot of folks who would like to see Ken Cosgrove quit the ad business and follow him as he writes science fiction full time. But Megan Draper, who quit her soap opera job to get ready for a career in California, only to have Don pull the white shag rug out from under her, has been queued up for a better exit. Megan should take this marriage and shove it, head for the West Coast, and embrace the inevitable stardom, weird experiences with drugs, and sexism and artistic promise of Hollywood that awaits her there. The idea that ad sales were always secondary to the rising power of television and established power of the movies has long been embedded in Mad Men. Why not get even more meta and examine not just a business that’s adjacent to the television industry, but the television industry itself?
3. Wendy Case In Treatment: Sons of Anarchy is a wildly overstuffed show, and there’s no character who really ought to get out of Charming, California for good than Jax Teller’s ex-wife, a lesbian whose ex has literally been pushed into both overdose and a lapse in sobriety by her mother-in-law and ex-husband. There’s some strong material for Wendy ahead in the current season of Sons. But Drea De Matteo’s a strong actress who’s done time in the trenches on two significant anti-hero shoes, The Sopranos and Sons. It would be great to see her get her own star turn. And in a world where Orange Is The New Black can be a critical hit and claimed as a commercial success, there’s got to be room for a show about the lesbian community and the culture of recovery, somewhere.
4. Eli Gold Goes To Washington: I actually think The Good Wife has done a beautiful job with Alan Cumming’s hilarious, brusque campaign operative, and could keep doing great work with him in the Governor’s Mansion. But if The Good Wife wants to lay groundwork for a presidential run for Peter Florrick (something Alicia would hate, by the way, so let’s see how the show handles that), Eli Gold should probably go to Washington and start developing a relationship with national money people and policymakers. Eli as an independent campaign operative, even more so than Armando Iannucci’s caustic Veep, is the show Washington deserves right now, focused more on process than policy, savvy about the role of the media and social media, but alive to the glory of political blood sport as well as its grubbiness. Plus, repeated crossovers could keep both shows fresh.
5. The Citadel: Mentioned only in passing in HBO’s Game of Thrones and only slightly less fleetingly in George R.R. Martin’s novels, the academy where Maesters receive academic training — and where rogue Maesters are experimenting with forbidden knowledge — is a fantastically rich potential setting for a series. Think Harry Potter, but with actual grown-up sex and violence, and without the protective barrier between wizards and Muggles as magic reemerges into a world that thinks it’s dead. Game of Thrones is already wildly expensive to produce, so it would be nice to see HBO get some more use out of sets, props and costumes to get some return on its infrastructure investments. Plus, it would be goodto set a precedent for building out the world Martin created.