TV lists

5 Shared Fictional TV Universes

Most fictional TV series tend to exist within their own little bubbles, and they don’t generally bump into each other, or cross each other’s paths. For example, you wouldn’t tend to expect Killing Eve’s Villanelle to pop into the Queen Vic for a pint, or Granville from Still Open All Hours to be serving Del Boy Trotter (short of cloning Sir David Jason, which isn’t too likely without a hefty hike in the TV Licence).

Sometimes, however, unexpected things can happen, and shows which don’t appear to co-exist end up overlapping after all. Like, for example, the time that characters from EastEnders arrived in Weatherfield, while simultaneously ones from Coronation Street decamped in Walford, for a Children In Need crossover, called ‘East Street’. Or when Liz McDonald from Corrie crashed the Queen Vic’s virtual pub quiz night.

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Here’s where things get a little bit wibbly-wobbly, soapy-wopey, however, as there was a Children In Need special which mixed Doctor Who with EastEnders in 1993, called ‘Dimensions In Time’. But the Doctor landed his TARDIS in Albert Square and also on the cobbles of Coronation Street for a special intro to the 2011 National Television Awards. So, arguably, the two soaps and the sci-fi drama are all a part of the same continuity.

Just these sorts of things are the stuff of arguments and debates which keep internet forums burning into the wee small hours. However, there are many more examples of different TV programmes colliding, and sometimes in the most unexpected of ways. Here are just a few such mind-bending instances, for your consideration.


Transformers

Transformers / Inhumanoids / Jem And The Holograms / G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

All four series were made by Sunbow Productions, and as a TV reporter and journalist was needed for an episode of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, the character Hector Ramirez was created, ostensibly as a parody of Geraldo Rivera (there was a different Rivera parody appearing in Quantum Leap’s episode ‘Roberto!’). As similar roles arose in the other three cartoon shows, out of pure expediency Sunbow decided to use Ramirez in the same capacity across all of them, and in the process linked the four series together.

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The X-Files

Homicide: Life On The Street / Law & Order: Special Victims Unit / Law & Order / The Beat / The Wire / Arrested Development / The X-Files / Luther

Richard Belzer must surely be a serious contender for the record of actor who’s appeared as the same character in the most number of TV series. He first turned up as Detective John Munch in American crime drama Homicide: Life On The Street back in 1993, until the show was cancelled in 1999. Belzer was then offered the opportunity to carry on playing Munch, by having the character transfer across to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

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In addition to being promoted up to Sergeant and stepping down from being an SVU regular in 2014, he’s also been in four episodes of the original Law & Order, and crossed over to appear in one episode each of Police series The Beat and David Simon’s acclaimed The Wire. While he didn’t actually make an appearance, Munch was name checked in the first season of BBC’s Luther, with Idris Elba’s John Luther saying Munch was an SVU contact in the NYPD.

The X-Files story ‘Unusual Suspects’ – told as an origin for supporting characters the Lone Gunmen, in a flashback to 1989 – was based in Baltimore, and it required a Detective character; as Homicide: Life On The Street was also set in that city, it was decided to see whether permission could be granted to use Munch. Curiously, Munch was also used in two episodes of sitcom Arrested Development, in which he was part of a sting operation, trying to get Tobias Fünke to spill Bluth family secrets.


The Brady Bunch

Fantasy Island / The Love Boat / Charlie’s Angels / Vega$ / Martin / The Brady Bunch / Father Knows Best / Leave It To Beaver / Happy Days / The Cosby Show / Family Ties / Sister, Sister / Instant Mom

Aaron Spelling was pretty much the king of US TV during the 1970s, with three of the hits he produced being The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Charlie’s Angels. For the fourth season premiere of Charlie’s Angels in 1979, the agents of the Charles Townsend Detective Agency set sail aboard the cruise ship the Pacific Princess from The Love Boat, in ‘Love Boat Angels’.

It wasn’t the Angels’ first crossover, as they also met up with private detective Dan Tanna (Robert Urich) of the crime drama Vega$ in two-part Charlie’s Angels story ‘Angels In Vegas’ a year earlier. As for The Love Boat, it overlapped with Fantasy Island during a special event in 1980, where Loni Anderson played an actress travelling on the Pacific Princess to the island of mysterious Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban), with Anderson carrying on the story between the two shows.

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In a 1997 two-part episode of the sitcom Martin entitled ‘Goin’ Overboard’, Martin Payne (Martin Lawrence) took a cruise on the Pacific Princess, and he encountered several characters from The Love Boat. When The Love Boat came to an end in 1987, the finale – ‘Who Killed Maxwell Thorn?’ – had cameo appearances by Mike and Carol Brady of The Brady Bunch; June, Wally and Beaver Cleaver from Leave It To Beaver; and Betty and Margaret Anderson from Father Knows Best.

A 2014 episode – ‘Not Your Mother’s Day’ – of the sitcom Instant Mom, starring Tia Mowry-Hardrict as stepmother Stephanie Phillips, saw Stephanie go to a day spa. While in the sauna, she ended up receiving parenting advice from Carol Brady (Florence Henderson, The Brady Bunch), Lisa Landry (Jackée Harry, Sister, Sister), Marion Cunningham (Marion Ross, Happy Days), Elyse Keaton (Meredith Baxter, Family Ties), and Vanessa Huxtable (Tempestt Bledsoe, The Cosby Show).

(Through the Happy Days connection, all the shows above theoretically co-exist with that programme’s various spin-offs, namely Laverne & Shirley. Blansky’s BeautiesMork & Mindy, Out Of The Blue, and Joanne Loves Chachi.)

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Friends

Friends / Seinfeld / Mad About You / Caroline In The City / The Single Guy / Madman Of The People / Hope & Gloria / The Dick Van Dyke Show / Cheers / Frasier / The Tortellis / Wings / The John Larroquette Show / St. Elsewhere

As any fans of Friends worth their salt will know, actress Lisa Kudrow played twin roles – sisters Phoebe and Ursula Buffay. Kudrow was initially cast in a recurring role in Mad About You as an incompetent waitress, before getting her big break in Friends. Both shows were broadcast on NBC, and they both aired on Thursdays, with Mad About You at 8pm, followed by Friends at 8:30pm.

As it was thought there might be questions asked by the viewers as to why the same actress was turning up in two consecutive sitcoms, it was decided an explanation was in order. Consequently, the waitress – Ursula – was turned into Phoebe’s identical twin. Helen Hunt and Leila Kenzle‘s Mad About You characters turned up in Central Perk and mistook Phoebe for Ursula in the Friends episode ‘The One With Two Parts, Part 1’.

In the last episode of Mad About You’s original run back in 1999, entitled ‘The Final Frontier’, they did a flash forward some 22 years, to a future where Ursula had become New York’s Governor. In 2019, Mad About You was revived by Spectrum Originals for a 12-episode run, and it was due to return at approximately the same point in time at which the original finale had been set; however, despite speculation in some quarters, Kudrow didn’t make an appearance, so there isn’t any clear indication as to whether the prediction about Ursula’s future actually came true.

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Lisa Kudrow didn’t just crossover into Mad About You, as she also turned up – this time as Phoebe, not Ursula – in another NBC sitcom, Hope & Gloria. In the episode ‘A New York Story’, the two leads take a trip from Pittsburgh, and while visiting New York they drop into Central Perk, where they spy Phoebe; however, they’ve actually mistaken her for an actress from daytime soap All My Children.

Now, in the Mad About You episode ‘The Apartment’, Paul Reiser’s character discovers that he’s still subletting his old bachelor apartment, and goes to settle the lease with the sitting tenant, who happens to be Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards). However, in the Seinfeld episode ‘The Engagement’, George Costanza (Jason Alexander) is in bed watching an episode of Mad About You, in something that has been referred to as a ‘Fridge Logic’ moment.

In 1960s sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, his character of Rob Petrie was a writer for the fictional comedy The Alan Brady Show; with Mad About You’s Paul Buchman (Paul Reiser) making a documentary all about the history of TV, he approached Alan Brady (the late Carl Reiner) to narrate it. Helen Hunt also played her character Jamie’s mother in newly-shot ‘archive’ clips of The Alan Brady Show.

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On Thursday November 2nd 1995, Caroline Duffy (Lea Thompson) from Caroline In The City turned up in the Friends episode ‘The One With The Baby On The Bus’, in which she mistakes Chandler and Joey for a gay couple who’ve adopted. Then, in the Caroline In The City episode ‘Caroline And The Folks’ aired that same evening, Chandler (Matthew Perry) turns up in a video store, and attempts to pick up Caroline’s friend Annie (Amy Pietz).

In the same episode, Jonathan Eliot (Jonathan Silverman) – the lead character of another NBC sitcom, The Single Guy – briefly crossed paths with Caroline as she was leaving a restaurant. To wrap things up, again on that same evening, The Single Guy’s episode ‘Neighbors’ had a special guest appearance by Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), who was a friend of Jonathan’s friend Janeane (Jessica Hecht, who also played recurring character Susan Bunch on Friends).

Almost exactly a year earlier, on Thursday November 3rd 1994, NBC did a special evening of programming, dubbed ‘Blackout Thursday’, which was themed around a major power outage in New York. Mad About You opened with ‘Pandora’s Box’, where Jamie (Helen Hunt) was the actual cause of the power loss; Friends followed with ‘The One With The Blackout’; and it wrapped up with Madman Of The People’s ‘Birthday In The Big House’, connecting all these shows.

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Caroline In The City also offered crossover opportunities into another NBC sitcom, as in the episode ‘Caroline And The Bad Back’, Frasier‘s Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves) was seen reading one of cartoonist Caroline’s comics while in Frasier’s Seattle apartment; Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce) also makes a cameo appearance in the scene, with Daphne and Niles discussing the comic strip.

Frasier himself turned up for a brief cameo appearance in The John Larroquette Shows third season opener, ‘More Changes’. At the start of the episode, recovering alcoholic John Hemingway (John Larroquette) is persuaded to speak to a psychiatrist over his relationship troubles; John thinks he’s having a private phone consultation, only to realise he is actually live on Frasier’s phone-in radio show (all of the clips of Kelsey Grammer were in fact stock footage).

When they were still regulars in Cheers, Frasier and Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) appeared in ‘Planes, Trains And Visiting Cranes’, an episode of Wings, which was a sitcom set in a small Nantucket airport. Cheers crossed over a number of times into Wings, with Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) in ‘I Love Brian’, and Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) and Norm Peterson (George Wendt) propping up the airport’s bar in ‘The Story Of Joe’.

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The producers of Cheers and Frasier decided to set the latter in Seattle, to ensure that it was as far away from Boston as possible, so as to avoid NBC from demanding characters from Cheers to turn up during Frasier’s first season. Eventually, however, Cheers regulars did appear – Diane Chambers (Shelley Long) on four occasions; Sam Malone (Ted Danson) in ‘The One Where Sam Shows Up’; Woody Boyd (Woody Harrelson) in ‘The One Where Woody Shows Up’; and in ‘Cheerful Goodbyes’, Frasier returns to Boston for Cliff’s retirement party, and encounters Norm and Carla.

Although Frasier was famously a spin-off from Cheers, it wasn’t actually the first one: in 1987, a short-lived series called The Tortellis launched, based around Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya), the ex-husband of Cheers’ waitress Carla (Rhea Perlman), who appeared in the pilot episode of The Tortellis in a dream sequence. Norm and Cliff also guest starred in The Tortellis’ third episode, ‘Frankie Comes To Dinner’.

Medical drama St. Elsewhere wrapped up its third season with an episode called ‘Cheers’, where Drs. Westphall (Ed Flanders), Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) and Craig (William Daniels) drop into the Boston bar for a drink. Cliff tries to tap the three medics for free medical advice; Auschlander spots Norm, who was his former accountant, and tears a strip off Norm for getting him into hot water with the IRS over his taxes; and Carla vents over the bad experience she had while giving birth at St. Eligius Hospital.

Which leads us onto…


St. Elsewhere

St. Elsewhere / everything else

Right, if you thought the last set of crossovers was a bit complicated, then strap yourselves in, because this final one’s a humdinger…

When the final episode of St. Elsewhere – appropriately entitled ‘The Last One’ – aired in 1988, it threw viewers a major curveball. Towards the end of the episode, some of the actors were suddenly portraying either a very different version of their character from the show, or an altogether different person in one case. It was strongly suggested the entire programme had taken place within the imagination of the autistic character Tommy Westphall.

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It was further reinforced by Tommy’s precious snow globe being shown to contain a miniature version of St. Eligius Hospital. Over the years, this has sparked a furious online debate over the theory that has come to be known as the ‘Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis’. The basis of this theory is that because St. Elsewhere has crossed over with other TV shows, some of which have in turn crossed over to others, and so on, there’s a thread connecting them.

As a result, this means that any series which can be linked back to St. Elsewhere are all, therefore, taking place inside Tommy’s mind. This has spawned a website, by the writer Keith Gow and Ash Crowe, which has meticulously charted all of the various links and minutiae which connect what’s been liberally estimated as something like 90 per cent of all television back to St. Elsewhere and Tommy Westphall. Lose yourself down this particular rabbit hole if you dare…

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