How ‘Bones’ and ‘Sleepy Hollow’ Are Fueling a Crossover Comeback

The totally unrelated Fox dramas may seem like strange bedfellows, but the payoff could be substantial

“Bones” and “Sleepy Hollow” don’t appear to have much in common aside from sharing a network, Fox. But judging by recent history, gambling on the success of Thursday’s two-part crossover could turn out to be a smart bet.

It may seem like a crazy idea, especially for two unrelated shows — one a realistic procedural drama, one a fantasy series dabbling in the supernatural — but the potential payoff from crossovers has proved too enticing to ignore, with The CW and NBC programming major crossover events last season, and doing so again this season.

“If you look at the history of crossovers, they tend to help both shows,” “Bones” EP Jonathan Collier said. “There actually is a science to it.”

Crossovers are nothing new, and used to be a regular feature of sitcom blocks like ABC’s TGIF and NBC’s Must-See TV in the 1990s and 2000s.

In the modern era of too much television, they’ve proven to be an effective strategy for goosing ratings that generally pale in comparison to the numbers drawn by classic broadcast primetime shows.

When NBC broadcast a mega-crossover last April for three of its Dick Wolf-produced procedurals — “Law & Order: SVU,” “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago PD” — it resulted in record ratings for all three shows.

“Chicago Fire,” which kicked off the three-night event, got a 2.2 Nielsen live-plus-same day rating among adults 18-49 — up 29 percent from the previous new episode, while “SVU” and “Chicago PD,” which wrapped up the storyline, saw even more impressive numbers, jumping 50 and 57 percent, respectively.

NBC is already planning a four-show crossover event for “Law & Order: SVU,” “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago PD” and new drama “Chicago Med.”

The first crossover between “The Flash” and “Arrow” on The CW, in 2014, resulted in the highest-rated episode yet for the latter, drawing a 1.4.

Andrew Kreisberg, showrunner on both CW superhero shows, was not shy in admitting that a crossover early in the run of “The Flash” — bringing over Emily Bett Rickards from “Arrow” — was designed to draw the interest of established fans of the parent show, and it certainly paid off.

“In the beginning there was concern that crossovers would diminish the shows, and for whatever reason, for us and it seems like for the audience too, we’ve found that crossovers make both shows feel bigger,” he said.

The crossovers have also proven to be a hit with fans, and Kreisberg acknowledged that “mini-crossovers,” involving one or two characters from one show appearing on another, have become more prevalent on his shows as a result.

It also makes sense, marketing wise, especially on shows that already share similar tone and universes.

“It’s kind of a standard go-to play when you want to maximize your promotional dollars for any given show or two. It’s a good, smart play,” said “Sleepy Hollow” showrunner Clifton Campbell. “It’s not just the migration hopefully of one audience into another audience, but it gives both shows a chance to shake it up in a very creative way.”

In certain instances, crossovers have become a matter of shows’ logical storytelling canon, and not doing them would take effort to explain.

On a recent episode of “The Flash,” for example, the characters are seen watching a news program featuring Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) announcing his new identity as the Green Arrow. No actors crossed over from “Arrow,” but the brief moment served as another reminder that the two shows exist within the same, close-knit universe.

“It’s one of the special things about the shows. All of these people are friends and they care about each other,” said Kreisberg, acknowledging he wishes “The Flash” made more references to “Arrow” events in earlier episodes, as when Oliver Queen was first exposed as the vigilante.

“Both shows are somewhat similar as far as popularity is concerned so it never feels like a phony attempt to generate ratings,” Kreisberg said. “It’s what we want to do. We make the show we want to see so if we think, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if Oliver showed up or wouldn’t it be great if Cisco showed up over there?’ We just do it.”

This season’s “Arrow-“The Flash” crossover will also draw in new characters from midseason spinoff series “Legends of Tomorrow.”

There’s no word yet if “Bones” and “Sleepy Hollow” will cross over again in the future.

Last season, Fox last season aired a much-hyped crossover of “The Simpsons” and “The Family Guy,” though no sequel is in the pipeline.

The “Bones”-“Sleepy Hollow” crossover airs Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

Tony Maglio contributed to this report.