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TV Characters That Helped Launch Franchises

Updated on October 8, 2012

Definitive Characters

I had a random thought the other day about similarities between sports teams and television. Many teams have what they call a franchise player. Now there are several definitions but for the purposes of my hub, I'll use the definition that most relates to what I will discuss.

Essentially a franchise player is an irreplaceable or iconic member of a team that the CEO, President, and other executives build the team around. For instance, Kobe Bryant has been the franchise player for the Lakers for some time now and will probably stay that way until he finally retires. The same can be said for Tom Brady who is now set to appear in his umpteenth Super Bowl. Without these players, the dynamic and the allure of the team would not be the same.

To me a franchise character is a character who exemplifies the best and most endearing aspects of a series that becomes a franchise. Obviously the difference between franchise characters and franchise players is that franchise characters influence the direction of a television franchise. A franchise character helps set up eventual movies, spinoffs, merchandising and whatever else grows out of the success of the initial series.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk
Captain James Tiberius Kirk | Source

Captain Kirk

Say what you want about Star Trek, but they have managed to do something that many series have failed to do, remain iconic and relevant. Of course there have been periods of decreasing or stagnant popularity but in one way or another it has always been around.

Gene Rodenberry was a visionary ahead of his time. He used the future as a setting to address current issues happening in the 1960s including racism and the sexual revolution. There was only one character who could best exemplify the qualities of a futuristic leader with the swagger and dedication of a modern day revolutionary.

James Tiberius Kirk was the man who helped define Star Trek as the cultural institution as it is known today. Kirk was the youngest captain of Starfleet but his maturity and instinct for knowing what to do when helped keep all hands on deck. He was not alone as he had the help of others such as Captain Sulu, Commander Uhura, and Captain Spock. While everyone around him helped, it was his relationship with Spock that made the original series standout.

He and Spock had their differences but at the end of the day they managed to come together even in the stickiest of situations. As Kirk was emotional and reactive to situations, Spock managed to counter him with his logic and intellect.

However, it wasn't all business for Kirk as he was the most successful ladies' man of the entire franchise. But he was smart enough not to let it affect his work for the most part.

Without the contributions of Kirk, the tone would not have been set for Captain Picard and Captain Sisko. While they do not have the exact traits of Kirk, it is quite apparent that his influence was lasting and without such an influence, there would not be Trekkie conventions.

Det. Lenny Briscoe
Det. Lenny Briscoe | Source

Det. Lenny Briscoe

In the current television landscape there are a million and one cop shows or so it seems. There are very few that are instantly recognizable and iconic simply based on their characters in addition to their storylines. Law and Order instantly stands out to me. While every spinoff has not achieved the same merits of success, the simple fact that this franchise has been around for twenty two years is very impressive.

However, there is one character whose swagger, insight, and vulnerability stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of defining what Law and Order has come to mean as a police drama.

Lenny Briscoe is arguably one of the best television characters of the 90s and beyond. To me he deserves the utmost credit from taking Law and Order from a simple police show to an icon of appointment television.

What Lenny brought to the table is indelible. Who else could get away with wisecracking at the crime scene without being insensitive? Or how about his trademark interrogation style that suspects always fell for? But he was not perfect and actually took delight in that.

Lenny was a former Army man but unfortunately fell into alcoholism and bad relationships. He had a strained relationship with both of his daughters, one of whom fell into meth addiction and eventually died.

He was also not that nice with his partners. He almost got into a knockdown drag-out fight with his final partner Detective Green but somehow they managed to turn their friction into chemistry. I would even argue that Green was his best partner because they were alike in good ways and different in dynamic enough ways to keep the case from going completely to the dogs.

Lenny's influence in the Law and Order universe as some call it is very noticeable. Munch is essentially his long lost cousin in SVU and Stabler had the same dogged determination to put his job and personal life on the line for the sake of a case. I also think that Lenny's consistency as a flawed type help move the archetype of the detective from flawed hero to near anti-hero.

Dr. Gil Grissom
Dr. Gil Grissom | Source

Dr. Gil Grissom

CSI premiered at the right moment in our culture. It was post-millennial craziness and pre-9/11 vigilance. And Gil Grissom was right at the forefront of it all. Quirky and aloof but with a keen eye for detail he invaded living rooms trying to find the clues of how the dead became that way.

Grissom is very smart in many ways but also too smart for his own good. He really did not have the same kind of way with suspects and witnesses that the other team members did but he was at least keen enough to realize it. Therefore his dependence on other investigators such as Sara Sidle and Catherine Willows, is paramount to the case being closed.

His behavior could be explained by the fact that he is drawn to tragedy but refuses to carry a gun in the field. He has hobbies such as entomology and a vast interest in the arts but is aloof of common convention and pop culture. But he is far from uncaring. He puts everything on the line for his team and constantly goes at it with perceived nemesis Eckley, the day supervisor of CSI.

But he eventually falls for fellow team member Sara and leaves the series finally content in the life he has allowed himself to live. He has returned a few times to help but retired to be a lecturer and consultant.

Grissom's influence across the CSI world is obvious. His character is the prototype for the leaders Lt. Mac Taylor and Lt. Horatio Caine in the two spinoffs. He has compassion but does not always show it. Grissom knows his team better than they sometimes know themselves. And he is always trying to find self-fulfillment but at times feels guilty that it might hurt his work.

The layered dynamics of Grissom has made him one of the most fascinating characters in recent memory.

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs
Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs | Source

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs

If there is anyone who best exemplifies why life in the post 9/11 era is as layered and tragic as life before, it would be Special Agent Gibbs. He's not only a survivor but a fighter. And while his heart is not as visible as those of the other characters, it is obvious that without him, NCIS would not be what it is today.

Gibbs has lived a life that is hard and has the scars to prove it. Married a total of four times, with all but one marriage ending in divorce he has a disconnect in his relationships. Yet in many ways he is a surrogate father to his team as he always makes sure they are protected both physically and emotionally. He may not always say it, but it is obvious the depth to which he cares for them.

Gibbs has essentially spent most of his adult life in the Navy serving. He was a gunnery sergeant before coming to NCIS. He leads alot better than he follows as his clashes with the directors of NCIS have shown. But he is very close to Dr. Donald Mallard, who has known him the longest and seen him through many tragedies and failures. But even through that relationship tension exists in how Ducky approaches things and how Gibbs demands the facts.

The same can be said for him and lab technician Abby Scuito but in many ways Gibbs treats her as the daughter he so tragically lost. What Gibbs may lack in emotional intelligence he makes up for in dedication and servitude.

But there's one thing about Gibbs with which no one can argue, his dedication to the integrity of the Navy. If there was something that made him especially mad, it is disloyalty and betrayal. And as long as he is in charge, it will always fuel his passion for NCIS as well as a good cup of coffee.

Gibbs is the selfless leader whose life ultimately is the biggest casualty for career success. He realizes this and warns his team members, most notably DiNozzo not to do the same. In the spinoff NCIS:LA, the characters have seemingly taken up the same mantle of selflessness at all costs.

If not for Gibbs, NCIS would not be the titan it is today. And this could only be the beginning.

Make Your Choice

Who is Your Favorite Franchise Character?

See results


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    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I agree- I watched a CSI marathon this weekend and they were all Grissom episodes. Haven't really watched since then. Thanks Sunshine :).

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Uninvited Writer for coming by and commenting!

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I miss Gil. CSI hasnt been the same since he left. He was awesome!!

    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 5 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      You picked some of my favorite actors. I still miss Grissom and Lenny Briscoe

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Cogerson! I like all of your choices but I've only seen Lost and NYPD Blue but from what I've heard and read everyone fits the description. Interestingly enough, none of the shows you picked had spin offs. I guess they wanted to preserve the memories of the original series.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

      Great idea for a hub. I like all four of the franchise players you picked with Kirk and Grissom being my favorite. This of course got me to think of some other series and I came up with a couple of others.

      First up is Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue....he had lots of partners but we always had Andy.

      Second up is Jack Shepard in Lost....the leader of the survivors who did not always like being a leader

      Third up is Tommy Gavin in Rescue Me.....he was center of that universe.

      And finally Ari Gold in Entourage....the go to guy in that series...the definition of a franchise player.

      Voted up and awesome.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Au fait! I agree Gibbs is totally awesome!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      Very good hub! Interesting. And I know all of these guys. My favorite is Gibbs of NCIS.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Haha thanks Kristine!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Tarajeyaram for coming by!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Justin! I miss Briscoe as a character!

    • Kristine Manley profile image

      Donna Kristine 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      James T. Kirk could have beamed me up anytime, and so could Gil Grissom. Great Hub!

    • tarajeyaram profile image

      tarajeyaram 6 years ago from Wonderland

      I don't watch TV that much. But I used to be a fan of Captain Kirk. Great hub.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      Alecia... love Briscoe and love your TV hubs! I don't actually watch the other shows...

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Poetvix,

      I don't think I've seen too much of the original Star Trek but I do like William Shatner and all his craziness. I can only imagine what life is like at one of those conventions :)! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • poetvix profile image

      poetvix 6 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

      You make a good point about iconic characters and players being the heart of successful teams and shows. Captain Kirk was my favorite. I met him once when my husband drug me to a Star Trek convention, thank God not in full costume, much to his dismay. Thanks for a trip back in time with the videos and delightful commentary.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Jeannie,

      I understand that people talk about characters like friends. For some reason, really great actors know how to pull it off especially well. I've gotten in some active conversations about some crazy characters. Thank you for stopping by and voting!

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      My mother used to talk about Grissom from CSI like this was someone she knew. I've never even watched the show, but I know who he is because of it. I know what you mean about a person creating a franchise from a character. Great hub and voted up!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Alocsin, you can't go wrong with the first Starfleet captain. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      With Captain Kirk at the top, I just had to read this hub. I'm familiar with all the characters and voting for Kirk. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Flora, thanks for stopping by. And I actually forgot today was Marg Helgenburger's last day on the series until a few minutes ago. I agree about CSI. I really haven't seen any recently except NY and it is awkward to watch on Fridays. And Miami is too weird for me as well.

      Star Trek, however, is always a good choice. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I had to choose James T. Kirk as I've watched Star Trek I do not know how many times. :) I also am a fan of CSI and Law and Order. Interesting that you chose to publish this on the day that Marg Helgenburger's final episode on CSI airs. I used to watch all three series of CSI but Miami has become too bizarre (i.e. never ending case and superhuman Horatio) and New York being on Fridays doesn't work for me. but I continue with the original.