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A crossover is the placement of two or more otherwise discrete fictional characters, settings, or universes into the context of a single story. They can arise from legal agreements between the relevant copyright holders, unauthorized efforts by fans or common corporate ownership.
Crossovers often occur in an official capacity in order for the intellectual property rights holders to reap the financial reward of combining two or more popular, established properties. In other cases, the crossover can serve to introduce a new concept derivative of an older one.
Crossovers generally occur between properties owned by a single holder, but they can, more rarely, involve properties from different holders, provided that the inherent legal obstacles can be overcome. They may also involve using characters that have passed into the public domain with those concurrently under copyright protection.
A crossover story may try to explain its own reason for the crossover, such as characters being neighbors (notable examples being the casts from Golden Girls and Empty Nest) or meeting via dimensional rift or similar phenomenon (a common explanation for science fiction properties that have different owners). Some crossovers are not explained at all. Others are absurd or simply impossible within the fictional setting, and have to be ignored by the series' respective continuities. Still others intentionally make the relations between two or more fictional universes confusing, as with The Simpsons and Futurama, where each show is fiction in the other.
- Parodic crossovers can be directly established as being outside of the continuity of one or all of the properties being crossed over. A good example is the crossover between The Simpsons and The X-Files, which was largely accepted as being outside of standard X-Files continuity.
- One episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy shows that after Mandy smiles, she, along with Billy and Grim, are transformed into The Powerpuff Girls with a cameo by Professor Utonium.
- They can occur by virtue of a dream sequence, in which the characters of one show will appear as part of a dream had by a character on another show. This method was perhaps used most famously to explain to audiences that the entirety of Newhart had been the dream of Bob Newhart's character on The Bob Newhart Show. It has more recently been used to demonstrate that cast members of The Young and the Restless appeared in a dream of a character on The King of Queens.
- Parodic crossovers can take the form of "gag" cameos by characters of one property appearing on another. Characters from King of the Hill have appeared on The Simpsons to comment on a peewee football game. Gag cameos may also include the appearance of an actor from another show, but not necessarily the character that the actor played. For instance, on the ABC/CBS show Family Matters during the closing credits of the episode "Scenes From a Mall" (Season 5, Episode 12), a scene which was shown earlier in the episode featuring Reginald VelJohnson is re-played, but this time with one of the child actors stating that he "looks like that fat guy from Fresh Prince," referring to James Avery who played Judge Phillip Banks on NBC's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. To the obvious surprise of the studio audience and VelJohnson, Avery walked onto the set with an angry look, being in on the staged joke himself. Ended the episode (but with the cameras filming still), VelJohnson and Avery hugged and smilingly greeted the public.
- Crossovers of this type can also be completely wordless. This type of crossover is more common on animated programmes, such as when Bender found and ate Bart Simpson's shorts on Futurama, or Milhouse had a talking Bender doll on The Simpsons. This would seem to be another case when a popular franchise is acknowledged as fiction and not a crossover of the stories.
- Perhaps the most obvious parodic crossover is found when characters from two series interact outside of either series. This occurs most commonly on a sketch comedy show or as a humorous interlude on an award telecast. Such crossovers may sometimes involve the real actors—for example, a sketch on Royal Canadian Air Farce saw Yasir and Sarah from Little Mosque on the Prairie buying the gas station from Corner Gas, with many of the characters in the sketch being portrayed by the shows' real actors—although they may also feature one genuine star from the show amid a cast comprised otherwise of the sketch show's own stable of actors. Such crossovers are generally immediately apparent as parodies to the audience—and in no way considered a part of either show's continuity—due to the need for the hosting show to approximate the sets and costumes of the satirized programmes quickly and inexpensively. When Patrick Stewart appeared in a Star Trek: The Next Generation/The Love Boat crossover on Saturday Night Live, for instance, few Star Trek fans would have been fooled by the visual design into believing the event "counted" as an episode of the show. However, there are some cases of this type of parody having some canonical resonance with viewers. For instance, the British charity appeal, Comic Relief often contains parodic crossovers of a technically higher quality than the typical sketch show. Many of these Relief sketches are produced by the cast and crew of the actual programmes being parodied, and hence appear to be "normal" episodes. A good example of this is the sketch, "BallyKissDibley", an 11-minute piece in which the leads of Ballykissangel appeared on the sets of The Vicar of Dibley, alongside most of Dibley's cast. Since the sketch derived its humor from all actors remaining in character, the extent to which these parodies "count" as part of either show's canon is more open to interpretation than most sketch crossovers.
- Parodic crossovers can be used to lend verisimilitude to the fictional world of a programme. Characters from a fictional television series may appear on a stylized version of an established non-fictional television series, such as game shows or reality shows. These crossovers between celebrity hosts and fictional characters are quite common on situation comedies. Mama's Family once appeared on Family Feud and the townsfolk of The Vicar of Dibley have had their heirlooms valuated on Antiques Roadshow, for instance. In such cases, it is generally the non-fictional show which ends up being the most satirized, due to a need to compress the experience to its most recognizable elements. However, these crossovers can happen on dramatic television, such as when Blue Peter provided narrative exposition on The Sarah Jane Adventures. Rarely, brief crossovers between two fictional programmes can be used for this same purpose. In the episode, "Army of Ghosts", Peggy Mitchell was seen in a fictionalized scene from EastEnders in order to demonstrate the degree to which the titular ghosts had permeated the popular culture of Doctor Who's Britain. Here, too, time constraints caused the satire of the guest programme (EastEnders) and not the host programme (Doctor Who).
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