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4 Memorable TV Crossovers

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The branches of the TV-land family tree can get very tangled. We've previously discussed backdoor pilots; another common offspring is the spin-off, where certain characters on an established series are deemed popular enough to support their own show. And then there is the crossover, where characters from one show appear on another show. Sometimes the crossover intersects with the spin-off (as will be seen tonight when Dr. Addison Montgomery returns to Seattle Grace Hospital in the conclusion of a multi-part Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice crossover.) Other times the crossover is something of an "in-joke" (see Murphy Brown below), while often it is just the whim of a network exec who uses a successful series to promote one that is struggling. Allow me to present a few examples:

1. Bewitched in Bedrock

For a sleepy prehistoric suburb, Bedrock had more than its share of celebrity visitors. Stoney Curtis, Ann-Margrock and Stoney Carmichael were just a few of the A-listers who appeared on the Stone Age sitcom (with their voices provided by their real-life counterparts). In Season Six, however, the Flintstones welcomed new next-door neighbors Samantha and Darrin Stephens, in an episode that featured Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York voicing the animated versions of their Bewitched characters. The gimmick wasn't so out of the blue; Hanna-Barbera had done the opening animated credits for Bewitched, which was just beginning its second season, while The Flintstones was an established hit.

2. Norm Peterson's Former Client

Since St. Elsewhere was set in Boston, producers thought it might make for some nice symmetry if Doctors Westphall, Auschlander and Craig stopped by the Cheers bar after a particularly stressful day. The only problem was that Cheers was on hiatus at the time that this episode was conceived, but Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberger and George Wendt graciously agreed to give up some vacation time in order to participate. As it happened, Carla had mentioned two years earlier that she'd had one of her babies at St. Eligius and that it had been a horrific experience, so that gave the writers a reason to have Ms. Tortelli vent her spleen at Dr. Craig. It was also revealed in this episode that Norm Peterson had once been Dr. Auschlander's accountant and had gotten him into big-time trouble with the IRS.

3. Murphy Brown's Competent Secretary

A running gag on Murphy Brown was Murphy's inability to retain a competent assistant, and as a result a different secretary appeared in each episode. Then the fates turned in Murphy's favor, and she walked into the office to find none other than Carol Kester-Bondurant (Marcia Wallace) of The Bob Newhart Show behind the desk. Carol of course was an ace at the job, and would have stayed on the FYI staff had Dr. Bob Hartley not appeared on the scene in the final moments of the episode. After a frenetic bidding battle between employers, Carol finally went home to Newhart-land, where she truly belonged.

4. Paul Buchman's Tenant

When Mad About You debuted, it was given the sweet time slot following the very popular Seinfeld. It was eventually revealed in one episode that Paul Buchman was still paying rent on his "bachelor" apartment (in case his marriage didn't work out), which upset wife Jamie. The punch line to the episode was that Seinfeld's Kramer was Paul's tenant. Crossovers tend to work best when they're sprung on the audience as a surprise, so this particular episode fell a bit flat, since it was hyped in print ads and TV commercials ad nauseum before it aired, so by the time Michael Richards poked his head out of that apartment door the thrill was long gone.

Which crossovers do you remember/love/hate? How about when Daphne (of Frasier fame) didn't understand a Caroline in the City cartoon? There's also the episode of Wings that featured Frasier and Lilith Crane visiting Nantucket to promote a book and host a seminar (this earned Kelsey Grammer an Emmy nomination). In an episode of Seinfeld, struggling actor Kramer lands the part of Murphy Brown's secretary, Stephen Snell. And how many of you remember when George and Weezie Jefferson visited the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

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Pop Culture
The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox
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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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