Here's where connections between shows get tricky. A guy goes from one show to another... solid connection. Easy. But when different shows just reference elements from other shows without a full on crossover, you have to be careful. Where's the line between a reference joke and a full connection to another show? It can get to be a line call.
For my purposes I go with two factors in making that decision. Call those factors content and intent.
Content means there has to be a solid irrefutable, airtight reference to another show. No vagueness in there. So somebody saying, "I know an F.B.I. agent named Fox Mulder," would be solid. Someone saying, "I know a wacky FBI agent who believes in UFO's," would not. Clearly they are referencing the X-Files but not solidly and definitively.
Intent means the writers are intentionally referencing a specific show and not just accidentally creating a connection. For instance, lets say the writers on Friends create a fake chain store called Jumbo-Mart. Then Two And A Half Men needs a chain store for an episode and also by happenstance also come up with the name Jumbo-Mart, not as an intended reference but for the same reason Friends used the name: it's an available, believable fake name for a store. Then there is no real intent to create a connection between those shows and so Jumbo-Mart shouldn't be counted as a connection.
For me, if a possible connection between shows lacks content or intent, it's crap. That's how I make my line calls. That said, lets take out some crap...
First off, lets get into some BFCs: Big Fake Companies. This would be the Jumbo-Marts. Now some connections between shows via a BFC are legit. The Morley Cigarette Company for instance. Morley's started on The X-Files and are a solid, irrefutable piece of that show's universe. If a pack of Morley's pops up on another show, a connection back to The X-Files can be assumed. No other show is going to accidentally come up with the Morley Cigarette brand. And using such an established, well known X-File element implies some intent.
Chuck (2007- )
Diagnosis Murder (1992-2001)
Lost (2004- )
The War At Home (2005-2007)
But not all BFCs are created equal. Lets get into Oceanic Airlines, the flying deathtrap of the air. It was an Oceanic Airlines flight that crashed and stranded those poor bastards on Lost. At first glance it would seem just like Morely's: a company that is a well know, established part of a show's mythology. So any other show mentioning must surely be making a knowing connection to Lost, right?
Yes and no. The problem is that the name Oceanic Airlines is a good generic fake name for an airline. So good in fact that it was used as a name in movies, TV and film well before Lost came along and turned it into THE Oceanic Airlines. Lost premiered in 2004. But eight years earlier, waaay back in 1996, the name was already in use in the movie Executive Decision. Were the folks on Lost purposely trying to reference that movie? Probably not. They just both stumbled on the same BFC name. Then a number of other pre-Lost shows also used the name. Many of them used the name specifically because they used stock footage of the plane from Executive Decisions to save money. So, years before Lost made Oceanic a "name", shows like JAG and Diagnosis Murder use stock "Oceanic" footage from a movie having no connection to Lost... and that should constitute a valid connection? Hell no. The content is there but there is no intent for a connection.
On the other hand, references to Oceanic Airlines coming AFTER Lost debuted are a different matter. Anyone referencing Oceanic after Lost hit the air clearly have to have an awareness of the name as being tied into Lost...Alias: no brainer. Alias was created by the same folks as Lost and the show made additional references to Lost beyond Oceanic Airlines.
LAX: Set an airport, the show included various background elements referencing Oceanic. The show debuted the same season as Lost. The references to Oceanic came late in the season. This was pretty clearly not an accident but an intentional wink to Lost. Content, check. Intent, check.
The War At Home: Now things get weird. The show referenced Oceanic Airlines AFTER Lost's debuted but they used the name so that they could use stock footage from Executive Decision. So... did they use Oceanic as an intentional reference to Lost or did the show just want to use the old stock footage? Content is there but the intent is iffy. The fact that they used the stock shots from the movie sways me to this being a non-cross.
Chuck: And then Chuck comes along and blows my head up in a whole new way. The show Chuck was about a guy (Chuck) who accidentally gets tons of secret government files downloaded into his brain. I hate it when that happens! He ends up continuing to work his geek job by day but also secretly working for the CIA. In the episode Chuck Vs The Helicopter, Chuck accidentally spits out the fact that Oceanic Flight 815 (the flight that crashed on Lost) was shot down by a surface to air missile. The intent is there. This is clearly an intentional reference to Lost. But it falls apart on content. Lost has revealed what brought down its Flight 815 and it wasn't a missile. An experimental science station accidentally blasted an EMP pulse (or something very like it) at the plane, knocking it from the sky. So while the reference is intentional, the facts don't line up. Non-cross.
The John Larroquette Show (1993-1996)
Star Trek (Various Series, Various Years)
This has to be the biggest sci-fi BFC around. Let's get into the history of this illustrious fake company...
Yoyodyne was as a fictional defense contractor created in 1964 by Thomas Pynchon for his book V. Cut to 1984 and the debut of the cult movie The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. The film features a defense contractor named Yoyodyne that is merely a cover for a group of aliens bent on world domination. Clearly the use of the name was a reference to Pynchon's novel; a reference but I would not in any way say the book and the movie were intended to be linked as part of the same world. Interesting note though is that Pynchon returned the favor making sly allusions to Buckaroo Banzai in a later book.
While Yoyodyne originated in Pynchon's book, it really caught fire with Buckaroo Banzai. The film gained a large following including other sci-fi writers and such. As a result Yoyodyne started getting dropped into other shows as a sort of cool reference joke. Various future tech on Star Trek started getting labeled as being made by Yoyodyne, more than likely as a joke from the props department. The final season of Angel had Angel running the demonic law firm Wolf, Ram and Hart. In one episode, a couple famous fictional companies were revealed to be clients of the firm: Weyland-Yutani from the Aliens movies and Yoyodyne.
Now some people would say the references on Trek and Angel would link them as part of the same universe. I can't go there. The content is there. They say Yoyodyne. The intent is there. They're dropping that name intentionally. The problem is the Yoyodyne name Is almost too diluted to me. At this point it's sort of the sci-fi equivalent of the ACME company from the Warner Brother's cartoon. It's the go-to company for sci-fi folks needing a company name and a winking joke. I mean, between V and Banzai there's already two separate realities each with it's own Yoyodyne. So while Trek and Angel are likely referencing the Banzai Yoyodyne, who can say for sure? It's muddy. Muddy's no good.
Now in addition to the genre shows, Yoyodyne also got some love from a sitcom, The John Laroquette Show. This connection is just as muddy. Ya see John Laroquette is a fan of Pynchon's. His show was littered with references to Pynchon and his books. So when he dropped the Yoyodyne name, he definitely did it as a wink to the book, not to Buckaroo Banzai, not with any intent of linking to Star Trek or Angel. Nice reference joke but utterly useless as any sort of connection to other shows. And since the name came up lets move on to...
The "Alien" Movie Universe
Another line call close enough to inspire headaches. Weyland-Yutani started as the company in the movie Alien that Ripley and her friends worked for doing space salvage. If Yoyodyne is the BFC associated with military contracting, Weyland-Yutani is the sci-fi world's evil heartless corporation.
The fourth Alien film, Alien: Resurrection, was written by Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon. When Whedon created his own sci-fi series, Firefly, he threw Aliens some love by making Weyland-Yutani a part of the world of Firefly. Angel was also his series. So when he dropped Weyland-Yutani into that show he got a double reference joke. Fans of the Alien movies read it as an Alien joke, those who only knew Firefly assumed he was merely referencing his own work.
So where do I fall on this one? There is content and intent. But it also drags a film series into this. For sanity sake I'd like to not go there but in this case, if I count it how do I not? For simplicity's sake I'd like to say no on this one but... man, I just can't quite do it. I mean, Whedon had a hand in the Alien movies, Angel and Firefly. That's pretty damn solid.
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