The way of the crossover: ‘Avengers’ is ambitious, but TV does it best

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A crossover in “Avengers: Infinity War” unites Thor (Chris Hemsworth) with Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) of the Guardians of the Galaxy. | . ©Marvel Studios 2018

“I’m Peter, by the way.”

“Doctor Strange.”

“Oh, we’re using our made-up names! Then I am Spider-Man.” – Tom Holland’s Spidey introducing himself to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange in “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Clever Twitter jokes and memes and parody posters aside, “Avengers: Infinity War” probably IS, as advertised, the most ambitious crossover event in movie history.

What can we counter with? “Alien vs. Predator”? “Freddy vs. Jason”? “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein?”

OK, the pairing of a legendary comedy duo with Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man and Glenn Strange’s Frankenstein’s monster WAS pure genius — but with the exception of a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” here and a “Lego Movie” there (and of course some recent superhero films), most crossover movies have the tired, desperate air of a heavyweight bout featuring a former champion who is a dozen years past his prime. (Come on, Godzilla. You’re gonna take on Mothra? Retire with dignity!)

In “Avengers: Infinity War,” the likes of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (to name just a few) team up with Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to take on the evil Thanos (Josh Brolin), a serious collector of Infinity Stones who wants to, you know, gain control of the universe and impose his will on every living thing.

That’s some serious crossover star power right there.

RELATED: Richard Roeper reviews ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

It stands to reason television is a medium far more conducive to crossover experiments than the movies. For one thing, compared to combining one or more movie franchises for an expensive, lengthy shoot, it’s not nearly as risky (financially or creatively) to have Batman and Robin square off against the Green Hornet and Kato on a TV lot in the 1960s, or even to attempt something as ambitious as NBC’s “Blackout Thursday” stunt in 1994, when the characters on “Mad About You,” “Friends” and “Madman of the People” were all affected by a power outage in New York City.

(By ’94, “Seinfeld” was such a juggernaut they could refuse to participate in the gimmick, and they exercised that option by showing a self-contained episode.)

Viola Davis as Annalise Keating on “How to Get Away With Murder.”

A March episode of “Scandal” paired Olivia (Kerry Washington, right) with Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) of “How to Get Away With Murder.” | ABC

The logistics of having the doctors from “St. Elsewhere” stop in at the bar from “Cheers,” or even Olivia Pope from “Scandal” crossing worlds with Annalise Keating from “How to Get Away With Murder” are relatively easy to navigate. And even if the combo platter episode is a dud, everyone can go back to their respective soundstages without sustaining any lasting damage to the franchise.

Fran (Fran Drescher) runs into her former classmate Ray Barone (Ray Romano) on a 1998 episode of “The Nanny.” | CBS

Fran (Fran Drescher) runs into her former classmate Ray Barone (Ray Romano) on a 1998 episode of “The Nanny.” | CBS

So, it’s harmless fun when Fran Drescher’s Fran on “The Nanny” goes to her high school reunion, and it turns out she was classmates with Ray Romano’s Ray Barone from “Everybody Loves Raymond.” (Drescher and Romano actually were high school classmates.) Or when Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher from “Murder, She Wrote,” goes on vacation in Hawaii and winds up having to prove Tom Selleck’s “Magnum P.I.” hasn’t committed murder.

On the bizarre end of the scale, there’s the “Cops”/”X-Files” crossover, and the “Blossom”/“Fresh Prince” episode—and strangest of all, that time on “Batman” in 1966 when the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder are doing their climb-a-building-and-encounter-a-celebrity bit, and they run into Werner Klemperer’s Colonel Klink character from “Hogan’s Heroes.”

Says Adam West’s Batman: “Colonel, what are you doing here in Gotham City?”

“I am looking for an underground agent,” replies Klink.

“Be careful not to get picked up,” says Batman. “Chief O’Hara can be very tough with aliens.”

“Say hello to Colonel Hogan for us,” chimes in Robin.

I know: we’re talking about idiotic sitcoms. But given Col. Klink ran a POW camp in World War II, wouldn’t Batman and Robin be inclined to apprehend him as a war criminal? Just saying.

The story of a crossover that wasn’t meant to be …

When “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” screened in Chicago in 1997 and Mike Myers’ Austin proclaimed, “It’s my happening baby, and it freaks me out!” Roger Ebert proclaimed, “I wrote that!” — and indeed he did, as it was a line from the Ebert-scripted “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”

Mike Myers as Dr. Evil in “Austin Powers in Goldmember.” | NEW LINE CINEMA

Mike Myers as Dr. Evil in “Austin Powers in Goldmember.” | NEW LINE CINEMA

Cut to a few years later, when Myers and Michael McCuller were writing the script for “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” the third chapter in the hugely successful franchise.

The screenplay included a chase scene that would go through the “Ebert & Roeper” set, at which point Roger and I would offer an instant criticism of the film. We were told the production would come to Chicago, and film the scene on our actual set.

It was funny stuff — but Roger voted for us politely declining, as it would be a conflict of interest. (Siskel & Ebert were offered cameo roles as themselves in more than one movie over the years, and always turned them down.)

The scene was rewritten, with the Osbourne family commenting on the movie, and Ozzy saying they’re “recycling the same f—ing jokes.”

Roger was right, of course. There was no way we could be IN a movie and then objectively review a movie.

But at least as written on the page, our crossover scene was funnier.

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