Television crossover events, like this week’s buzzed-about meeting between Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, are by nature complicated. Sending the characters of a lesser-known series into a more established hit (or vice versa) is a time-honored move for studios, but making the grammar of two shows mesh isn’t always easy. Take the notorious episode of The Simpsons that crossed over with The Critic, a FOX-arranged partnership that Simpsons creator Matt Groening considered enough of an imposition on his creation that he removed his name from the credits in protest. But at their best, TV crossovers encapsulate that marvelous feeling you get when two pieces of pop culture wink at each other from across the room. When they’re done well, crossover episodes are tiny links in the sprawling fictional universe of television, from Kramer’s turn on Mad About You to Detective Munch’s appearance on Arrested Development. We count down ten great crossover television episodes, after the jump.
Cheers meets St. Elsewhere
Medical drama St. Elsewhere wasn’t shy about crossing over with other shows. In its six-season run, St. Elsewhere met in some form or another with Chicago Hope, M*A*S*H, and The Bob Newhart Show, among others. But its best mash-up occurred when the staff of St. Elgius stopped by Boston’s most famous sitcom bar for a drink. Turns out that Norm is Dr. Auschlander’s former accountant and Carla gave birth to her last child in the St. Elsewhere hospital and thinks of it as a “butchery.” It’s a bizarre bit of cross-promotion, but the interactions between Norm, Carla, and the St. Elsewhere staff do justice to both shows, keeping the cantankerous-but-lovable spirit of Cheers without losing the tension that fueled St. Elsewhere. It’s a neat trick, and one that works in no small part thanks to the writers, who make parts of the episode feel like a one-act play.
The Jeffersons and Diff’rent Strokes meet The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The last ever episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air found the show wrapping with a nod to some of its comedic forerunners, crossing over with the cast of The Jeffersons and Diff’rent Strokes. Uncle Phil is selling the Bel-Air mansion, you see, and of course some of the potential buyers are Arthur and Mr. Drummond, finally enabling the joke that had hung in the Fresh Prince sitcom atmosphere since 1990:”Whatchu talkin’ bout Will…is.” George and Louise Jefferson end up buying the house from Uncle Phil, apparently still moving on up. Sherman Helmsley gets to flaunt his comedic chops by dressing down the Banks family, which is both funny and touching — a nice way for Fresh Prince to give The Jeffersons the series finale it never had.
Homicide: Life on the Streets meets Law & Order
You wouldn’t think that the Baltimore cops on Homicide: Life on the Streets would have much opportunity to run up to New York and collaborate with the cast of the original Law & Order, but in the television universe that’s what they did. What began as a successful one-off episode soon turned into a web of interconnected characters, with detectives going back and forth between shows. The fruit of all this cross-pollination was Richard Belzer’s Detective Munch, who began on Homicide and then moved over to helm Law & Order: SVU when his original show was cancelled. It’s hard to single out a single episode, but it’s oddly pleasing that the rules of the television crime world function consistently enough that Belzer could move from post to post so effortlessly.
Bewitched meets The Flintstones
In a cartoon universe, anything is possible, so the shared-reality aspect of crossovers is less of an event than a tip of the hat to another franchise — see the many, many Simpsons crossovers. The logical inconsistency of the Jetson family moving in next door, for example, can be explained away using a time machine and some of that old Hanna-Barbera magic. But importing a non-cartoon couple into The Flintstones was a more interesting move, and when Darrin and Samantha from Bewitched appear as the newest Bedrock inhabitants, it proved to be both funny and memorable.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Boy Meets World
The teen-based shows on ABC’s TGIF sitcom block night were always getting up in each other’s business, but one of the better executed crossovers was between the cast of Boy Meets World, who at that point were in college, and Melissa Joan Hart, a.k.a. Sabrina of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Sabrina appears at the end of a Halloween episode in which Cory’s brother Eric and his roommate fight over a loopy girl who turns out to be a witch. Enter, at the end of the episode, Sabrina as a potential date for Eric, who doesn’t really see anything wrong with witchcraft. It isn’t the only crossover between the two — the following week, Sabrina’s cat Salem uses his odd feline magic to send both the shows into the 1940s for no discernible reason — but it’s the cutest, and the most believable. It makes it feel like Cory Matthews and Sabrina grew up on different ends of the same suburb, which, as a tween viewer, is as delightful as it gets.
Seinfeld meets Mad About You
Mad About You began airing in the block after the enormously popular Seinfeld, so it’s not surprising that NBC saw the potential to import a little Kramer into the lives of Mad About You‘s Paul and Jaime Buchanan (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt). The operating logic behind Mad About You was different than Seinfeld, but bringing in Kramer as Paul’s subletter linked together the sitcom universes nicely. You could imagine a New York City where Kramer isn’t the goofy sidekick/neighbor, but is just an incredibly frustrating crazy-person renter to Paul’s exasperated landlord.
Power Rangers meets Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Does it make a lick of sense for the Power Rangers, a group of earnest, martial arts-obsessed teenagers, to meet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a group of sewer-mutated samurai? No. But since it doesn’t make much sense for either of those categories to exist in the first place, the episode where the two team up has a kind of giddy Dada quality, a marvelous piece of nonsense that fits squarely into both arcs of the separate franchises.
Roseanne meets Absolutely Fabulous
Roseanne‘s final Halloween episode upped the ante considerably when Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous stopped by to hobnob with Roseanne after she wins the lottery. The kicker is that, alas, it’s all a dream, but their appearance represented some of the difficulties that Roseanne Barr encountered in real life dealing with her sitcom ambitions. Barr, along with partner Carrie Fisher, had wanted to produce an American remake of Ab Fab, but the show proved to be too controversial for US networks. Bringing Patsy and Edina onto Roseanne was a small moment of rebellion, and proof that the pair could keep up with the Conners.
Arrested Development meets Law & Order
Richard Belzer reprises his Munch character all over the television spectrum, but one of the best and weirdest Munch crossover moments was on Arrested Development, a show with a structure about as far away from a police procedural as possible. It’s debatable whether it’s a full-fledged crossover, but Munch appears in a “scrapbooking” class designed to entrap Tobias Bluth, and introduces himself as the teacher, Professor Munch. It’s a clever little in-joke, and the stark contrast between the tones of the two shows make it even funnier.
Mork & Mindy meets Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days
Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley were both spin-offs from the Happy Days mothership, so sharing the same happy-go-lucky universe is not as unnatural as it might seem. But the pilot episode of Mork & Mindy brought it all together, transporting Mork to Earth with a surprised greeting from the Fonz and a date with Laverne. It’s a fun moment of pop-culture intersections, but the interactions between the actors are what make it worth re-watching. Robin Williams and Penny Marshall’s rapport is funny and well-executed, and even Henry Winkler has a chance to shine.