Eight successful TV spin-offs
June 14th, 2012
There are a few ways that a spin-off TV show can come into being.
One is when a supporting character on a popular show proves a hit with audiences, and the show’s producers try to capitalise on this by giving them their own spotlight.
Another is when a potentially great but otherwise risky idea for a TV show gets pitched, and producers try to hedge their bets for success by hitching the idea to an already-successful franchise.
Not every spin-off makes it. Some never make it past the planning stages, while others last just a few episodes before being given the axe.
Sometimes though, the gamble pays off, and the spin-off show proves every bit as popular as its parent, or even surpasses it.
Here are a few examples:
Xena: Warrior Princess from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
There have been many examples of popular shows with male leads getting a female-led spin-off, usually to try and widen the demographic and attract more female viewers. Just look at The Bionic Woman, The Girl From UNCLE, She-Ra…
But when it comes to this trend, Xena takes this cake and hurls it back in the faces of critics while doing a backflip and shrieking a war cry. Hercules was certainly was no slouch, and his journeys were indeed legendary, but far more people wanted to tune in to see Lucy Lawless beat up extras in New Zealand. For some reason.
Frasier from Cheers
It must have been a strange concept to pitch to producers – an over-educated psychiatrist and his brother with a near-identical personality trade highbrow witticisms about wine and opera while the supporting cast look on, rolling their eyes.
It was probably only due to spinning off from Cheers that Frasier got the green light in the first place, but in the end they made the right call, with the show proving to be both intelligent and popular, without going over the heads of audiences. At least, not TOO often…
NCIS from JAG
Sometimes I wonder if Donald Bellisario gets his show ideas by browsing Wikipedia for relatively obscure departments of the United States military with interesting acronyms. Spinning off from JAG, the show about US Navy lawyers, came NCIS, the show about US Navy investigators.
Based on the simple police procedural formula, and with some extremely distinctive and memorable characters, the show has gone on for so long that you wonder how the US can manage to maintain its armed forces when a Marine or Navy officer seems to get murdered once a week.
Family Matters from Perfect Strangers
Anyone remember Perfect Strangers? The show with the awkward immigrant to the US from a fictional Mediterranean country (possibly a PG-rated precursor to Borat) staying with his American cousin?
How about Family Matters, the spin-off about the elevator operator at the cousins’ workplace, Harriette Winslow, and her family?
Yeah, this was THAT show. Let’s move on.
Mork & Mindy from Happy Days
Happy Days was a show that managed to produce a number of spin-off shows, including Laverne & Shirley, Blansky’s Beauties, Out of the Blue, and Joanie Loves Chachi. Interestingly enough, Happy Days itself was a spin-off from sketch show Love, American Style, which put Happy Days into production when Grease and American Graffiti kicked off a wave of 50s nostalgia.
Mork & Mindy was the breakout role for Robin Williams, whose alien Mork zoomed about the set being indescribably weird. It got to the point where the writers just left big blank pages in the script for Williams to improvise, reasoning that he would come up with something funnier than they could dream up.
Daria from Beavis and Butt-Head
In theory, Daria could be listed alongside Xena as just another female-led spin-off from a male-led show. But we’ve listed Daria separately because of just how far away from its source material it span, and the devotion of its fanbase.
While Beavis and Butthead showed the pointlessly destructive side of 90s culture, Daria showed its intelligent side, with sprinklings of teenage angst and enough deadpan witticisms to fill a cynicism convention.
Boston Legal from The Practice
The Practice was a relatively straight show, at least when compared to its spin-off – lawyers struggle with the moral quandaries of maintaining their ethics while dealing with the realities of trying to keep their business afloat by representing sleazy clients. Simple enough.
Boston Legal threw all that serious business out the window in favour of more wacky shenanigans, and it milked the craziness for all it’s worth. If the number of suit-wearing types you can now find finishing their day with a scotch and cigar on a balcony like the magnificently mad Denny Crane is anything to go by, the show was a bit of a success.
The Simpsons from The Tracey Ullman Show
Who would have thought that the simple sketch comedy and variety acts of The Tracey Ullman Show would birth a comic juggernaut that’s lasted for 23 seasons, several video games, one movie and innumerable merchandising tie-ins?
Not bad for some characters thrown together at the last minute – apparently, creator Matt Groening was originally going to pitch a cartoon based on his Life In Hell cartoons, but decided he didn’t want to sign away the rights to his personal favourite characters, so he threw together some caricatures of his family instead.