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Background:

There is a widespread approach in sci-fi/fantasy franchises to use alternate timelines/parallel universes as a technique/device to continue/extend/expand the franchise. Notable examples I can think of include Superman, Star Trek, SG1.

I know that some fans like me who appreciate a well built fictional universe, specifically for its continuity, find the abuse of such device to be problematic - they may appreciate an odd SG1 episode dealing with parallel Universe, but would not necessarily be interested on a whole series based on it (like the new Star Trek movie seems to be ushering in). I'd be curious as to whether such attitudes are odd or common. Therefore...

The Question:

Is there any evidence (popularity/ratings/average, user-reviews/revenues/scientific surveys) to indicate whether using such a device increases or decreases or doesn't affect the success of a franchise?

I'm interested in (preferably systematic) evidence, not personal opinion.

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    I'd argue that you've got 2 categorically different uses of the alternate universe plot device. One is a 'our heroes visit an alternate universe' like many Star Trek episodes or a few SG-1 episodes. Then you have 'alternate universe as a way to avoid canon' such as many Superman stories (e.g. All-Star Superman) and the recent Star Trek movie. Most long-running sci-fi will include the former, as it's a trope at this point. The latter pretty rare, outside of comics where side universes allow writers freedom to do things like kill Lois Lane that would never fly in mainstream continuity. – user1027 Apr 24 '11 at 16:45
  • @Keen - I am more interested in the latter - as I clumsily alluded to in the question, the former, in moderation, is not really an issue. And the new ST movie was the impetus for the Q - though I haven't seen it yet :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 24 '11 at 23:14
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There are definitely some examples where it clearly does help, mostly in the rebooting phase of things.

For instance, the series Smallville, the new BSG, and SG1 were all popular, even though they had some significant differences from previous versions. Almost all TV/movie shows about comic books are significantly different than the comics they came from. That seems to draw in a different crowd than the one attracted to the comic books.

However, there are definitely cases where the re-done version hasn't done as well. V is a great example of this. Also, we've all seen a movie made from a book, where they really botched the movie, and as a consequence, the movie was terrible.

I'd say that the evidence is, parallel universes don't really seem to help or hurt the series. They can certainly help, if done correctly, but they can certainly harm it as well.

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I would argue that the use of parallel universes, as a place to visit, such as in the episode Mirror, Mirror, of TOS or the entire series Sliders is generally seen in a positive light.

However, the use of parallel time lines, such as in the 2009 Star Trek reboot are not received as well primarily because they are revisionist in nature and people don't necessarily react well the revisionism.

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