The Psychology Behind Spin-Offs

By Giovanna Brasolin

Spinoffs have existed since the 1940s, satisfying fans’ hearts with more of their favorite shows. Two major spinoffs are streaming now. The first is a reboot of Sex and the City called And Just Like That that started airing in December on HBO Max. The original series followed a group of friends in their 30s navigating adulthood and New York’s dating scene, while the reboot follows the same characters in their 50s. The other is How I Met Your Father, a gender-swapped version of How I Met Your Mother that first aired on Tuesday, Jan. 18, on Hulu. 

According to Cynthia Gangi, associate professor of psychology at The University of Tampa, the initial appeal of spinoffs might be due to what’s called the familiarity effect in psychology. 

This phenomenon states that the more we see something, the more we like it. According to evolutionary psychologists, people might think that familiarity equals safety. Therefore, it could be a safer bet for fans to watch a reboot of their favorite TV Show rather than finding a new one, and TV producers seem to know that. 

“First of all, the producers want to make more money off of an already-established, highly successful enterprise, and they already somewhat have the formula for doing so,” said Gangi. “The audience demand is probably quite high too… the audience really liked the original show, and they want a spinoff so that they can continue to experience something similar enough to that which brought them so much pleasure.”

Despite all of that, recent spinoffs have been heavily criticized, and their ratings haven’t been the best. On IMDb, And Just Like That has a rating of 5.4 out of 10, and How I Met Your Father has a 5.1 out of 10. 

On the flip side, the ratings for Sex and the City and How I Met Your Mother are respectively 7.2 out of 10 and 8.3 out of 10. This discrepancy might result from the audience expecting to see what they remember from a show and getting something different. 

Assistant teaching professor of communication at UT, Alisha Menzies, explains that people like to feel nostalgic and revisit things they have related to in the past. 

“I think that people like storylines… we have what we call parasocial relationships…where you feel like you have a relationship with these characters,” said Menzies. “So, people like someone that they can identify with, root for, and see go through the ups and downs of life as we do.”

Alanis Cotto, junior elementary education major, believes that sometimes TV producers try too much with their reimagining of shows, and it’s noticeable. 

“I don’t know why they still keep trying to make them [spinoffs]. I think people like the old ones so much that they’re probably rewatching those and not even paying attention to the new ones,” said Cotto. “That’s what I would do. The new ones just don’t cut it as much.”

People like Cotto, think that the next steps of their favorite characters should be left to the imagination as their endings were already good enough. Based on current ratings of the reboots, critics seem to somewhat agree. 

Photo credit: Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

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