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Will ‘The Walking Dead’ Spinoff Succeed Where Others Failed?

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AMC Networks'  (NASDAQ: AMCX  )  The Walking Dead continues to be the top show on cable, and much like its zombies, the franchise...just...doesn't...stop. There are video games, comic books, novels, action figures, a talk show, and even a companion spinoff in the works. Will it succeed where others have failed?

What's the franchise worth?
In late 2011, 24/7 Wall Street and NBC News estimated the size of the "zombie economy" to be nearly $6 billion. Blockbuster movies like 28 Days Later and Zombieland accounted for about half of this figure, while the remaining dollars were split mostly between games, comics, and television. Assuming reasonable growth over the past two years, aided by World War Z, and Dead's rising popularity -- season four viewership is double that of season two -- $7 billion isn't out of the question.

Courtesy of AMC.

But what's The Walking Dead franchise worth? As fellow Fool Tim Beyers writes, international distribution and "the richest content wellspring in all of entertainment" indicate it could be ten figures. A billion-dollar valuation would rival what some think James Bond and Iron Man are worth, and while that seems a bit high, AMC's Dead still has a long way to go.
The current series has covered about 40% of Robert Kirkman's ongoing comic book storyline, meaning there's potential for at least six more seasons. Given that Kirkman himself has already revealed plans for Issue number 200 (78 issues from now), the television show could last well beyond 10 seasons. Perhaps there is some truth to jokes made by AMC CEO Josh Sapan last year, who remarked that the show could still be on the air in 2022.
Will a spinoff work?
But that's not even the most intriguing aspect of The Walking Dead. AMC has also announced a companion series, or spinoff if you will, that Kirkman says, "will be another group of characters, surviving in another part of the world," according to ComicBook. He adds, "The [primary] show will continue uninterrupted, as if the other [spinoff] show doesn't exist." A target date of 2015 is about all else that's known at the moment.
Over the past four decades, there have been plenty of spinoffs. Successes like Private Practice (based on Grey's Anatomy) and Frasier (preceded by Cheers) have been released alongside epic failures. Some of the worst include Joey, a spinoff of Friends, and Joanie Loves ChachiIn recent years, though, the good mostly outweigh the bad.

Sources: Television Obscurities, Business Insider, IMDb. Because majority of historical ratings data is unavailable, shows are designated as Hits (Green) or Flops (Red). A show flops because it either: (a) generates significantly less viewership than the original, (b) is canceled after its first season, or most likely, (c) both.

One point is abundantly clear when looking at the data: The majority of past spinoffs were comedies, and of those remaining, almost all were legal and romantic dramas. The Walking Dead will be the first survival horror to join this club. 

In addition to novelty, AMC's companion series is in a good position to succeed because it will debut while its primary show is still on the air. In recent history, the majority of spinoffs in this position were hits -- Private Practice, CSI: New York, CSI: Miami, Stargate Atlantis, and NCIS -- and it makes sense. Viewers are more likely to support a spinoff if they're still watching the original. Many of TV's biggest flops, like Joey and The Golden Palace, failed in part because they didn't follow this strategy.

The bottom line
It's easy to understand why fans are excited about The Walking Dead's spinoff, and considering recent history, AMC should be psyched too. No matter what time slot the series is given, it will be the second most popular show on cable TV if it can just draw half of Dead's current audience. 

The zombie-filled world Robert Kirkman created will only get bigger with time, and that's good news for everyone, except maybe its original characters. I don't know if Daryl, Michonne, and the rest of Rick's crew can survive beyond 10 seasons.

How to profit
Despite the success of The Walking Dead, many argue that cable as we know it is going away. Do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last. And when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Hint: They're not Netflix, Google, and Apple.

Read/Post Comments (19) | Recommend This Article (11)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 12:14 PM, InvisibleZombie wrote:

    No mention of any "Star Trek" spin-offs? Weird. Anyway there are so many different scenarios a Walking Dead spin-off could take, it all comes down to "What makes zombie movies entertaining?" combined with "What could we see stretched out longer?". A post-ZA world lasts 90 minutes in a theater but we know in real life it would drag on for years, that's why a series was so needed. (Or sequels, same as any post-A world like "Mad Max".)

    So what works in the movies? "Land of the Dead" used a walled city as a survivor device. A beginning of the ZA show could be an idea. Another "on the road" series could either be good or redundant. Give them my number, let 'em run it all past me, I'll help!

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 12:14 PM, DarkB wrote:

    There is little doubt it will succeed, because of several reasons:

    1. It will let the viewer see different parts of the world other than rural Georgia, and Other Eastern States.

    There is talk of Britain, Japan, Etc. Like what's happening in those countries.

    2. They do not have to follow any format or Comic Book, which means freedom to insert characters that were as of yet unknown.

    3., They can look at different groups of survivors and interact with them and even if they have a whole new cast of characters we start to like they can have fun with them.

    4. There is talk of a Laboratory set up in an isolated part of Alaska where a cure is being created, to cure the living that are infected.

    Although it is a rumor, they could do it giving hope to the remains of humanity.

    5. The point is it will give people a look at what's happening outside of the little prison group, and how others are dealing with it.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 12:17 PM, Ekkis25 wrote:

    There are enough interesting characters in the current series that they could be spun off easily. A new group that reveals more about the outbreak will be watched and it should be set in New York or London, but no matter where I will be there to watch it.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 1:09 PM, Facer5 wrote:

    It's cool that most people like it but I'm personally so tired of the whole zombie thing.

    Oh well.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 1:23 PM, BrightEyes wrote:

    There would be plenty of people who escaped to sea, in everthing form pleasure craft to nuclear subs.

    A Waterworld-type tale of a rag-tag fleet dealing with seaweed zombies and human pirates, along with many diverse ports of call, would have a lot of potential.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 1:39 PM, disiskurt wrote:

    To nitpick that neat little graph that was featured in this article...Saved By The Bell is a retooling/reformatting of Good Morning, Miss Bliss, not a spinoff. It features characters from the original show (Zach, Screech, Lisa, and Belding,) but not all of them, and the setting is completely different (Indiana vs. California.) A spinoff has to have some semblance of continuity with the universe of the original show, which Saved By The Bell does not.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 2:07 PM, BMFPitt wrote:

    They should do two spin-offs. One they do out on the western US somewhere, and another that they license off to the BBC and do in England (and rebroadcast on AMC.)

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 2:15 PM, i12bnmovie wrote:

    No mention of Star Trek's or Buffy. Both have a seriously loyal fan base, and fairly popular spin-offs. Once again, a half-assed article.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 2:24 PM, scottyn wrote:

    Can't wait, but Jake, whoever put that bar graph together forgot that Mork & Mindy was also a spinoff of Happy Days, which was a spinoff of Love, American Style!

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 3:11 PM, beatriceisright wrote:

    They should do a prequel to Walking Dead based on J. Rices' "For Those Who Worship The Sun"!!!! Most people have probably never heard of it but it is a story how the zombie virus began in the Amazon jungle.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 3:45 PM, skinn wrote:

    sigh...28 Days Later is not a Zombie movie. There are no Zombies in that movie. There are sick people infected with the RAGE virus. Just saying...

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 5:29 PM, norm5919 wrote:

    I really hope they will time any spinoff to fill the LONG gap between seasons of TWD.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 7:02 PM, celtics187 wrote:

    If there is a train near them, Is it possible for them to use it to get out of that area?

    If they do it would be cool to start it at the orgin, And have a total different show.

    (or) Maybe just have The Walking Dead movie the begins in a normal world and it begins showing what happened in the beginning. While the power is still up they can show feeds from other countries of the virus and how it hit several areas. Like a morgue or hospital with fresh death, where lots people are still waiting to imbalmned. The body bags and sheets set up and come to life and let the chaos begin.

    In Japan where tons are dead from tsunami, hundreds of the suddenly turn, then it takes over Japan. Hell it could have started from that nuclear disaster and spread throughout the world. Maybe they had other nuclear experiment there for stuff other than power.

    I wonder why animals are not infected??? Be awesome if crazy dogs and birds, etc were infected and there was more to worry about.

    Then it goes back to org. Walking Dead and they run into their 1st pack of zombie Dogs or a Walker-Bear.

    So many awesome ways to write these shows yet they show a hour of Beth and Darryl doing absolutely nothing this week lol.

    The 1st and 2nd Res evil games would be perfect to take some ques from since RE did not go that direction in the movie series.;

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 7:35 PM, celtics187 wrote:

    Resident Evil would be an amazing show rather than just do movies. Totally different from WD and R.E. movie(s) story too.

    It could be called Unbrella inc., R.e., S.t.a.r.s., Raccoon city or something along the lines..

    R.E. have so many characters that are already loved.

    It could follow the games a little starting at R.E. Zero(on the train), it crashes leading to a mansion (R.E. 1) then incorporate stuff from R.E. 2 ,Nemisis and maybe a little Code Veronica (2 episodes) and R.E.`s 4,5,6.(somehow ending up in Africa i guess lol)

    Def so many ways to do this but it has to begin slowly, showing them creating the T-virus and Unbrella`s intentions. 1st big character to be seen - Wesker.

    Then go to Rac city and it begins as a normal cop-drama showing S.T.A.R.S. and Rac City Police doing business as usual-arresting people, busting a meth lab, etc.

    Then BOOM a small outbreak on a train, it eventually crashes the few survivors including Claire and Chris stumble upon a sketchy mansion, which is a lab underneath with Tyrants, a Shark,, a and other stuff.

    An underground tunnell leads to a bigger lab they investigate, gather clues, but they are continuing on until they reach the city(which is destroyed within a few hours. They go to a police station(somehow), finding cops and civillians along the way.(and a city full of Zombies) But Nemisis appears while they are fighting their way to the Rac City Police dept. He was in the 2nd lab in the tunnell and was released by accident.

    That is all my imagination has...Anyone like this idea? I do since this is what I expect the movies to be. But a 6-7 season series of this would never be dull and have so much potential, even more than Wlk dead.

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 8:57 PM, adtvtx wrote:

    Is there any talk about a Walking Dead movie?

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 12:38 AM, smartfone wrote:

    Is it going to be called Dancing with Dead Stars?

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 12:39 AM, smartfone wrote:

    How about The Flappy Dead?

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 2:00 PM, sternfan wrote:

    Hope it doesn't go six more seasons.

    I've read every issue of the comic and at this point (most recent issue is #123) it's REALLY stale.

  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2014, at 11:03 PM, YAOLT wrote:

    A Walking Dead Spinoff would be very successful, if they place it somewhere in Latin America. The Latin American market is huge, and any successful show that would make the move to place itself within Latin America, is a guaranteed money maker. Not only would we see the introduction of new characters, but we would get to see how the different Latin American Cultures deal with the outbreak on the social, racial, political, and economic levels. It could involve how the Latin American Governments, Cartels, Rebel Groups, and Wealthy land owners lock horns with each other, over everything from the control of resources to the sharing of political power, the mixing of the racial and social classes on a whole other level, the clash of theological viewpoints between indigenous religions and the catholic church and the new emerging evangelicals and how these religious groups view and deal with the Walkers, and the emerging presence of hordes of refugees from North America and the two coasts in which some are peaceful and some are not, and we cannot forget..... all the cool zombies we'll see in Latin America!

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Jake Mann

Jake Mann covers sports, economics and politics for the Motley Fool.

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