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Franchise Zombie

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Bart: Hey, Dad. How come they're taking The Cosby Show off the air?
Homer: Because Mr. Cosby wanted to stop before the quality suffered.
Bart: Quality, schmality! If I had a TV show, I'd run that sucker into the ground!
Homer: Amen, boy. Amen.
The Simpsons, a rerun of "Three Men and a Comic Book" on the night that The Cosby Show's finale aired

Franchises are often created with tender loving care by writers, directors, authors, game designers, etc. These individuals have something specific in mind, and put a lot of life into their creations, and it really shows, especially when the creation becomes very popular.

But sometimes the creation does so well that an executive, publisher or someone else with a lot of power demands that the franchise continue. The author is told to write more books (or discovers that nothing else draws in the money). The game designer is told to make more games. The director is told to make a movie sequel. The comic book artist is told to draw more comics.

Sometimes this happens when the creator really doesn't want to keep going and would rather try out different things. But the creator doesn't have much choice — it's either do the sequel yourself or let someone else do it, perhaps less adequately (thereby tarnishing the image of the original) — and keeps going anyway. Sometimes, the new installments manage to be well received, and the fans stay happy. But sometimes, it results in a lifeless franchise, a franchise that has had all the originality and creativity — all the life — sucked out of it, but keeps stumbling forward anyway. This often has the tragic effect of souring the creator on their own work, sometimes preventing a more natural follow-up or continuation. If this happens, then the franchise can go on indefinitely, continued by the company long after the creator has tried to put a definitive end on the series and backed away from it permanently — or even after the creator has died. At this point, since it is effectively immortal, the phenomenon might be known as a Franchise Zombie.

Of course, this can only be taken so far (about 15 or 20 years, let's say) before Comic-Book Time becomes necessary in the work's universe. If things get really out of hand, a Continuity Reboot is the only way out.

Increasingly common in the game industry. Modern games take such a large amount of time and money to develop compared to older games, thus making Smash Hit 3 and a new intellectual property at the same time unfeasible. Some developers have remedied this by buying or hiring other development companies to work on cash-in sequels while they work on their next big thing. Furthermore, with the advent of Downloadable Content, this can even happen with single games rather than series of games, i.e. by adding on more and more pay-to-access content long after the game as originally envisioned has been completed.

A Sub-Trope of Executive Meddling (and sometimes Cash-Cow Franchise). See also Trilogy Creep, Sequelitis, and Postscript Season. Often results in Seasonal Rot and Only the Creator Does It Right, but if the right people are given the reins these tropes can be avoided. Compare Capcom Sequel Stagnation (a different style of milking) and Ashcan Copy (where a work containing the bare minimum aspect of a franchise is quickly and cheaply produced for the sole purpose of preserving the copyright to it). Contrast Cosmic Deadline, which is when a work is ended unexpectedly and forces the creator to come up with a messy and often unsatisfying conclusion for the story.

Can frequently lead to Creator Backlash and/or Later-Installment Weirdness. Outlived Its Creator is the pinnacle of this trope. Contrast with Franchise Killer and Torch the Franchise and Run. Often a source of Fanon Discontinuity, with fans pretending that the series did end when the creator wanted it to. See also Undead Horse Trope.

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Real life:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Pokémon: The Series. It was intended to end after one season but continues to run to this day, though it has had its ups and downs since the original series. There's also the movies, which currently number in the twenties. Not helping matters is that the movies continued to mechanically follow the same formula over time even as the main anime's writing and animation were kicked up a notch. It says something when the retirement of main character Ash Ketchum at the end of the Journeys seasons was one of the most surprising things revealed for the franchise in years.
  • Mazinger Z was supposed to wrap up at episode 57. However, the series was so wildly successful it continued for another thirty-five episodes. And then two movies were made. And two sequels. And more movies. And crossovers. And spin-offs. And reboots. And remakes. And Go Nagai stated that he got offers for a Mazinger-Z live-action movie…
  • Kazuki Takahashi, creator of Yu-Gi-Oh!, was very apprehensive about the idea of a show after GX, and when he created characters and concepts for Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, it was under the condition that 5D's would be the last one, and he deliberately refused to have input on it. As of this writing, there have been four shows since 5D's, and Takahashi's direct input on the anime ceased after Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, with his last major contributions consisting of various art pieces and some work on the films.
  • Urusei Yatsura got to the point where one of the movies not-too-subtly encouraged the audience to let go of it so that Rumiko Takahashi could get on with her life.
  • Naoko Takeuchi intended for the manga of Sailor Moon to end after the Dark Kingdom arc, but the producers for the anime persuaded her to continue. By the time you reach the Stars arc, Takeuchi's frustration is nearly palpable. The villains are, respectively, the Sailor Guardians of the Milky Way Galaxy and the force of pure Chaos, as if Takeuchi is daring her producers to tell her to "top that."
  • Fist of the North Star was originally planned to wrap up with the conclusion of the Raoh saga. However, due to its popularity, the manga was renewed for a couple more years, forcing authors Buronson and Tetsuo Hara to continue the story beyond its intended conclusion. Even Buronson admitted that it was hard for him to continue writing the manga after killing off Raoh and doesn't remember much of what happened afterward.
  • Monkey Punch originally intended for Lupin III to be another one of his adult parody manga series that only lasted a few chapters like most of his past works. However, Weekly Manga Action, the magazine that serialized it, started selling like hotcakes because of this and led to him continuing the manga for five years. Afterwards, TV series, movies and specials have kept the franchise going continuously. Even Monkey Punch himself expressed complete surprise over the series' sudden popularity. This didn't stop him from continuing to work on it with subsequent sequel manga, though.
  • Gundam is a very odd example. Creator Yoshiyuki Tomino didn't expect it to go beyond the original Mobile Suit Gundam, especially after it was nearly cancelled. However, its runaway success in reruns (and especially the recut movie trilogy) led to its becoming an overnight success, and for over a decade he continued to work on sequels. In 1994, fed up with Executive Meddling, Tomino sold the rights to the franchise to Sunrise and went off to work on other series. Not willing to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs, Sunrise started producing the Alternate Universe series (like Gundam Wing and Gundam SEED), while occasionally dipping back into the Universal Century timeline. As of its 34th anniversary in 2013, Gundam consisted of 12 TV series, 7 OVAs, and 13 movie adaptations note , and God only knows how many manga, video games and other media, and it shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

    It's become something of a popular fandom myth that Tomino hates Gundam and has actively tried to sink it for years, usually attributed to his reputation for killing numerous characters. In the novelization of the original series, Tomino actually kills off main character Amuro Ray; however, he explained that he was just thinking of the novels as a stand-alone story, and if he had given consideration the possibility of a sequel, he wouldn't have killed Amuro.

    This myth was reportedly debunked by the man himself when he momentarily returned to direct ∀ Gundam and later the Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam movie trilogy. During either of these two points, Tomino all but outright admitted that Gundam was his greatest creation and that, while he has some regrets, he still takes certain pride in its development. Along that line, it should be noted that either of the two series are a dramatic switch from usual Tomino storytelling methods, with Turn A being a more lighthearted character drama and the Zeta trilogy omitting many of the darker elements of the original series, which included replacing the ending with a far happier one where Kamille wasn't mentally crippled by Scirocco, the AEUG remains intact and Axis never goes to war with the Earthsphere. The latter even closes with an optimistic dialogue spoken by Sayla Massnote .
  • Case Closed was originally meant to end at two volumes. Since the manga is now approaching 100 volumes and the anime is a Cash-Cow Franchise for TMS, it definitely didn't go the way the author thought it would.
  • K-On! ended fairly definitively with the graduation of the original club members and the anime followed suit. However the following year (2011) a movie was released. The manga author, Kakifly, also started a new series of manga chapters (dividing the story between the original four's college experience and Azusa's role as club leader of the high school Light Music Club). The restarted manga is accused of being a zombie that only exists to feed off the movie's buzz (it was often said to be of lower quality compared to the original run, and its abrupt ending after two volumes only added credence to that notion).
  • Cyborg 009 was intended to only be one arc long, even killing the main character. However it proved so popular that Shotaro Ishinomori retconned Joe into surviving, and was still working on the series at the time of his death. His son later completed the original manga using notes he left behind, but animated adaptations, reboots, and expansions are still being made.
  • One Piece was initially supposed to run for only 5 years according to Eiichiro Oda. As of this writing it has had over 1,100 chapters and episodes, 14 theatrical movies, live stage shows, countless video games, light novels, spin-off and prequel manga and a Live-Action remake. Though with the recent developments of the latest manga arc, it has been made clear the end of the series is on the way, possibly sometime in the near future.

  • The Hillman Avenger, a sedan and stationwagon produced in the United Kingdom by Chrysler, then Rootes-Chrysler, went through three different badges in its lifetime, Hillman from 1970 to 1976, Chrysler from 1976 to 1979, and then Talbot from 1979 to 1981 (when PSA Peugeot-Citroen bought the rights to Chrysler Europe and lost the rights to the Chrysler name) and Sunbeam Avenger in Scandinavia. Incidentally, things would come full circle when PSA Peugeot Citroen merged with Stellantis. But that's not the end of the story; in 1982, when the design was 22 years old, it continued until 1991, after Volkswagen Argentina bought the tooling and rights, badging it the Volkswagen 1500, which was available with a 1.5-litre and a 1.8-litre engine, and not a 1.5-litre only as the cubic capacity nameplate suggested. about it here, for those interested. However, it couldn't compete with the then-new Ford Sierra, Chevrolet Monza and Toyota Corona in Argentina, which were more modern and safer to drive, and even Chrysler's own Chrysler Spirit sedan which launched a year later, as some Volkswagen 1500s were sold into 1992 that were surplus stock.
  • Vauxhall had this problem from 2002 to 2005 when some dealers were selling grey import Opel Vectra B models imported from Egypt, which were the previous generation, at a time when they were trying to heavily promote the new-generation Vectra C. In Egypt, a previous generation continuing for a while isn't a bad thing for cash-strapped new car buyers in a market where there isn't as much choice for marques, but British buyers preferred the newer car, and many ended up re-exported by Egyptian expats. In Egypt, the car continued for 3 years after production ended for the UK market.

    Comic Books 
  • Suske en Wiske: The most successful comic book series in the Dutch-speaking world started off in 1945. Quality wise the first twenty years were the best stories. In 1972 the original creator, Willy Vandersteen, left the series in hands of his successors, who failed to duplicate the quality of the originals, but nevertheless the stories kept on selling. After Vandersteen's death in 1990 the creative control vanished and the series itself quickly went downhill. As of today, new stories are still published, but apart from the main characters it has deviated enormously from the original concept. The main reason it still sells today is because of the sheer volume of work and the enthusiastic collectors who keep buying every issue. Virtually every Suske en Wiske fan agrees: it's not what it used to be at all.
  • X-Men (2019): Hickman changed the status quo of the X-Men franchise, moving the cast from Xavier's mansion to the living island of Krakoa, and forming their own mutant nation. This came with many changes, such as working with their former enemies, more political intrigue, Resurrections Protocols to bring back the dead, and mutants succeeding instead of being hunted to extinction. Originally, the Krakoa era was meant to be a temporary thing, and only expanded if the idea proved popular, with Hickman having a planned story to tell. Seeds were already planted for various ways to end the era and reset the status quo, as well as plot points that were going to be expanded to move the overall narrative forward. However, the Krakoa era ended up being so popular with fans and writers that Hickman's plans had to be changed to accommodate the extended stay. The era would go on to outlast its creator, who would leave three years after coming aboard, rushing a conclusion that also threw in some things that were very clearly meant to be set up later.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Land Before Time is on its fourteenth installment (and Don Bluth was only involved with the first). The first movie is widely regarded as a classic. The second movie, and every movie thereafter, was pretty obviously a cash-grab. That makes 13 straight movies of pure zombie, and the only reason they've so far stopped there is because Universal pulled the plug on their animation department.
  • After the Lilo & Stitch franchise's original finale film Leroy & Stitch aired in 2006, the franchise has managed to receive two more Spin-Off TV shows, both of which take place in the countries where those shows are produced after the events of the original franchise and see Stitch get separated from Lilo to become besties with other human girls. Then in 2020, this further included a manga Spin-Off where Stitch ends up in feudal Japan and befriends an adult male warlord instead, and by the following year, Disney rebranded the franchise to have it revolve all around Stitch due to his Wolverine Publicity, to the point where only a handful of characters other than him get regular merchandise, and the other characters are more often included with him instead of being on their own. Original film writer-director (and Stitch's creator and original voice actor) Chris Sanders had no involvement with the franchise after he left Disney in 2007, and even then, he only did voice acting work in the sequel films, Lilo & Stitch: The Series, and other Spin-Off media (including crossover Disney projects made after he left the company); he had no intention of making anything else past the one film. Meanwhile, audiences who did see the Asian spin-offs were put off by Stitch being without Lilo—though both shows did get their share of fans.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Garfield is a prime example of this trope. While Jim Davis, the creator of the comic, maintains creative control and signs the strips, he now only does the writing and rough sketches while his assistants do the inking and coloring. This is due to the fact that Jim Davis now spends most of his time supervising production and merchandising his characters through his company Paws, Inc. And as of 2016 he is currently an adjunct professor at Ball State University, his alma mater, meaning that he will most likely devote less time to his strip he created forty years ago.
  • Dennis the Menace (US) is a victim of this. Hank Ketcham debuted the strip in 1951, and in 1994 he retired and handed it off to Ron Ferdinand and Marcus Hamilton. Since then, the character has become the Trope Namer for Menace Decay. Where Dennis was once a hyperactive terror with a mean streak who adults genuinely disliked (and for good reason!), the current iteration of the character has more in common with the kids in The Family Circus.
  • Judge Parker fell victim to this in the last decade or so. While it always had a rather unrealistic focus on crime fighting it was still at heart a legal drama focusing on the titular Judge Parker and later attorney Sam Driver. The current writer (introduced in 2016) has no working knowledge of the legal system and refuses to write courtroom scenes because, as he said in an NPR interview, quote, “courtroom scenes are boring,” unquote. In a legal drama.

  • Super Soaker has been this ever since Hasbro disbanded Larami in 2002 and put its Nerf team in charge of the Super Soaker brand.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Ace Attorney franchise was originally intended by Shu Takumi to end with the third entry, Trials and Tribulations back in 2004. As of this writing, there has since been three mainline entries and several spin-offs following it and the franchise shows no signs of stopping in the near future. The games after Trials and Tribulations, while not regarded to be bad, are largely regarded as being inferior to the original trilogy by many fans and critics.

    Web Animation 
  • Neurotically Yours started in 2003 and for 8 years, the series was about Germaine struggling with her life and her own self while Foamy belittled her for being stupid and ranted on about the current idiotic problems in the world. The series was starting to show it was becoming stale after a while, but the creator was making money off of the show and needed the show to keep running since he had to make a living somehow. Rather than keep the show strictly formula, the creator decided to give the series a reboot to introduce new storylines and new characters in order to keep the series fresh.
  • Red vs. Blue is a complicated case, given what was just 6 episodes became 10, then a 19 episode season, which just kept going, all on the creator's choosing; Rooster Teeth have stated that as long as people want and watch the show, it will continue (neatly summed up by Creator Burnie Burns concluded the ongoing plot on Season 10, while having already decided to let one of the season's writers, Miles Luna, become the new showrunner. Miles was responsible for a new and popular story arc, The Chorus Trilogy, that ended with such a Grand Finale that he couldn't find a way to properly follow that, leading to instead supervise an anthology season that would also serve to find who would continue the story. The chosen one, Joe Nicolosi, wrote two divisive seasons, that still led to a well-liked arc closer, Singularity, under another writer and other directors. But then came a point where what could just be another Passing the Torch instead made fans think it was not the same show they followed, as amid restructurings at Rooster Teeth, where Burnie and Miles left, and co-founder Joel Heyman, who also voiced the show's most popular character, was fired, the old characters were mostly ditched (only three appear) by the crew who took on season 18, Zero, which to make matters worse was very poorly received, often considered the worst season.

  • Abnormality talks about "The Zombie Years" that TV shows that go on for too long enter into in "The Complete Series: The Lifespan of a TV Show":
    Beyond the 7th Season: The Zombie Years
    - Should it continue to air, the show will degenerate into a frightful, shambling corpse — a mocking funhouse mirror reflection of what it once was, existing only to ghoulishly maintain the careers/merchandising empire of its sinister creators.
    - The characters are almost unrecognizable from their original incarnations, now merely grotesque, unthinking husks — their personalities long since removed for easier manipulation.
    - Each season beyond the 7th cancels out one of the earlier good seasons in terms of the show's overall legacy — 14 or more seasons rendering a show essentially undead.
    - If a given show is not gracefully canceled or otherwise brought to rest when its lifespan has clearly expired, the best thing to do is get a group of friends together, arm yourselves to the teeth with shotguns and chainsaws, and corner the offending production staff in a parking garage where they can be messily dispatched for the good of civilization. Either that or stop watching the show.

    Web Original 
  • The Nostalgia Critic's Doug Walker ended his long running web series in order to finally begin his next major project: Demo Reel. As he felt it was his "dream project", Doug invested every dime he had into production only for it to fail in view counts. Channel Awesome struggled with the loss of viewers who stopped visiting the website with Critic gone. Demo Reel was then recast as a purgatory type state of being that would bring the Nostalgia Critic back. In his "Review Must Go On" commentary, Doug talked about how making Donnie Critic was to piss off demanding fans, reboot Critic has been literally called a zombie twice, and Welshy used his farewell to call out Doug for bowing down.
  • Invoked by SF Debris during his review of the infamous Star Trek: Enterprise episode "A Night In Sickbay": "And yet it's still coming! It won't stop! How do you kill a Star Trek show that's already dead?!"
  • Epic Meal Time has various spin offs run by the members of the crew just so it isn't stale (and to be fair, they always said they were in it for the money). Despite the departure of the beloved Muscles Glasses and fans complaining it isn't as fun as it used to be, the show still goes on.


    Anime & Manga 
  • Little Witch Academia (2017) has the Nightfall series, a thinly-veiled parody of the The Twilight Saga. Thanks to a constant succession of authors using the same pen name (and the same sentient pen), it's been going for 120 years at a rate of three books per year. While it's still pretty popular, the most recent books have attracted enough criticism that the twelfth and current writer — Annabel Crème — has decided to quit the series (at least, until Lotte motivates her to come back to it), though even she opts to pass the torch to Lotte rather than end Nightfall entirely.

    Comic Books 
  • In Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew!, the Robert E. Howard knockoff plots to kill off his creation once and for all. Unfortunately for him, his creation comes to life and abducts him.
  • In The Multiversity, the Gentry use the power of the Anti-Death Equation to keep Nix Uotan alive so they can corrupt him, a likely allusion to companies refusing to let go of concepts they can squeeze profit out of.
  • MAD Magazine had its "instant movie reviews", where by taking letters from the name they managed to spell out a brief review. ThE LaNd BefOre Time IV: JOUrney ThrouGH The Mist gives us "ENOUGH". Since said movie is on number fourteen and counting, it's pretty evident they didn't listen.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Weaver Option Admiral claims that the Terminator films kept trying to reinvent themselves to stay current with changes in AI technology but largely failed and stopped being any good be M4, two thousand years after the original.
  • Square Root of Minus Garfield's the "Garfield in 2053" series imagines a future in which the comic is still continuing long after Jim Davis is dead, but the current editor refuses to put any effort into it, letting it devolve into a Cut and Paste Comic in which recycled strips are reinterpreted with a single image of Garfield.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has this as a major late-game reveal: within the world of V3, the previous installments in the Danganronpa franchise were the first of a very long series which transitioned from completely fictional to using real people with their memories manipulated. It turns out that V3 is a stylistic way of writing "53", with the current installment being the fifty-third in the franchise. The endgame boils down to stopping this from going on any longer than it already has.

Financial Gaaaaaiinnss....