Downton Abbey. Breaking Bad. Deadwood. And now Psych. On the surface, these peak-TV shows don’t have much in common save for more than 150 combined Emmy nominations. But in 2019, all four properties are being adapted into movies, begging the question: are we seeing a trend?
Just this week, these movie projects have come to the forefront of our release radar as new details have surfaced around their development. The Psych: The Movie sequel was officially greenlit, and Vince Gilligan’s upcoming Breaking Bad spinoff movie now has a dual-platform release deal between Netflix and AMC.
While the synopses of most of these projects are still shrouded in mystery, these announcements at least offer some small amount of demystification and have us continuing to speculate about what’s in store. More importantly, though, the news has us wondering about the bigger picture: just why are there so many movie spinoffs coming up in the first place?
Of course, the concept of television shows becoming movies — and successful ones at that — is nothing new; just take a look at properties like Twin Peaks or Veronica Mars for proof. However, that doesn’t mean that the concept hasn’t gained some interesting traction in recent years.
Indeed, there’s something to be said about the shrinking distance between these series and their revivals as films. Downton Abbey aired its last episode in 2016, Psych already emerged with a successful TV movie follow-up in 2017, and Breaking Bad lives on in its prequel spinoff series Better Call Saul, which is still on the air.
The only outlier here is Deadwood, which unexpectedly ended its run in 2006. But, seeing as its upcoming film project has been in development since the series’ cancellation, the revival is living proof that the series has stayed in the cultural conversation enough to warrant its return, heralding good news for fans hungry for some closure.
Seeing as all of these series have come and gone in the past decade or so, one has to wonder if the sheer breadth of the New Golden Age of Television contributes to these relatively quick turnarounds. After all, as the amount of content available to us continues to exponentially grow, it is to be expected that more projects will be developed around previously successful properties.
What’s more, as audiences are pushed further down the long tail of available content, a reliable metric of success is rooted in grabbing the attention of a niche but ardent fan base — another thing all of these shows have in common. If anything, the reemergence of all of these series in movie form is a testament to the success of the franchise model itself, with television simply being a single vehicle in a broader, Mad-Max-like caravan.
With that said, there’s still some interesting stratification surrounding these adaptations, as each of these new installments are being released on platforms of varying scale. Psych and Deadwood will air on their original networks (USA and HBO, respectively). Breaking Bad will be shared between streaming and cable, as was just announced. And Downton Abbey, ever the sight of prestige, is heading to theaters this September. If the Golden Age of Television has proven anything, it’s that small screen content is more than capable of ascending to a cinematic quality. So, why aren’t more of these adaptations being released in theaters?
Here, the answer lies in the question: because they don’t need to. The dearth of quality television that has emerged over the past decade and beyond proves that the medium is well-suited for franchise marketability. In other words, whether a movie airs on cable, or is dropped on Netflix, or is screened in theaters, fans will make sure they see it in droves if it is based on a property they love.
As a result, since these shows already have their audiences built in, we can understand this TV-to-movie trend as not only characteristic of the New Golden Age, but also an inevitable consequence of it.
So this means we’re getting a Community movie soon, right?