TV Show Spin-Offs: The Good, the Bad and the Cancelled

Over the years there have been many television shows which experienced such a magnetic level of success the networks tried to recapture the magic with a secondary show featuring established characters from the original. Sometimes these characters were primary characters, other times they were obscure characters that the producers tried to give life. These shows became known as the spin-off.

A Look at the 'Spin-Off'

While it’s true many TV shows enjoy fabulous success, but even the best of shows eventually run out of steam. At that time networks and creators often come to the conclusion they can create a new hit by utilizing characters from the now defunct show to bring on continued success.

Occasionally, a spin-off happens while a show is still on the air, but many times the TV show spin-off is developed after a show has run its course. New shows developed while a show is still hot seems to experience a degree of success because the creative juices are still running, but those that are created solely to try and keep the train running, seldom last long. There is, after all, a reason why even the most successful show ultimately comes to an end.

Here are a few shows that represent the popular and not so popular TV show spin-offs in the United States:

Married with Children

This show hit the air in the late 1980s and became an immediate hit. Week after week many viewers tuned in to see what antics the Bundy family would pull on each other. At one point Kelly Bundy had a boyfriend named Vinnie (his father Charlie was Al Bundy's friend), and, in 1991, the Fox Network decided to create a show based on Vinnie and his father named"Top of the Heap".

This show barely made a blip on the screen and before we knew it, that series was gone. It was not destined to follow in its parent show's footsteps as it lasted just seven episodes. The following year the show's creators tried bringing the Vinnie character back in a spin-off of the spin-off entitled, "Vinnie & Bobby". That show also did not last long.

Matt LeBlanc
Credit: Matt LeBlanc (1995). Photo by: Alan Light - CC by 2.0 with Attribution

Matt LeBlanc arrived on the popular "Married With Children" and was spun off into a separate show called "Top of the Heap". Far from the top, this show ended up at the bottom, having been cancelled pretty quickly. Its spin-off "Vinnie & Bobby" also quickly fell off the radar.

Side note: The actor who played Vinnie, Matt LeBlanc, would go on to have another doomed spin-off. Widely popular in the TV show "Friends", the spin-off "Joey" lasted less than two seasons.

Mary Tyler Moore

This was another groundbreaking show for its day and ran several successful seasons in the 1970s. Spin-offs that emerged from this show were "Rhoda" which featured Mary's pal and confidant, "Phyllis" who was Mary's zany landlord, and "Lou Grant" which centered around Mary's former boss who continued on in the news industry. Each of these spin-offs experienced moderate success, although "Phyllis" was rather short-lived.

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All in the Family

All in the Family had several spin-offs during the course of its series run on CBS. This show broke new ground because it touched on many other social issues and was a huge success. CBS decided to try and strike gold again by the spin-off "Maude" which lasted many seasons and also hit on several controversial issues.

Knowing they had a good thing, the spin-offs kept coming, next came "The Jeffersons" which lasted a decade, even outlasting the original. That series would run from 1975 after the Bunkers' neighbors moved from Queens to Manhattan. They resided there until 1985 when the show was ended.

Publicity photo from All in the Family. Pictured are Sherman Helmsley (George Jefferson) and Isabel Sanford (Louise Jefferson)
Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Publicity photo from All in the Family.  Sherman Helmsley (George Jefferson) and Isabel Sanford (Louise Jefferson) moved on up to solid ratings in a spin-off show.

There was also "Archie Bunker's Place" which was launched in 1979 and billed as a continuation of "All in the Family", with Archie and Edith being the primary characters, along with niece Stephanie. The Edith character passed away in the show's second season when lead actress Jean Stapleton decided to leave; after Stapleton's departure the show continued until 1983.

Sandwiched in those years was the spin-off "Gloria" which was gone before we really knew what happened to the Bunkers' only child.

Happy Days

Back in the 1970s, the Fonz and crowd were a big hit for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), but his cousin, Chachi wasn't very beloved in his spin-off "Joanie and Chachi" as his character had been when he appeared on "Happy Days". "Joanie and Chachi" pretty much bombed and only lasted a handful of months.

On the other hand, "Laverne and Shirley" which was another spin-off from "Happy Days" based on minor characters from the original series, ended up as the hit, running from 1976 to 1983.

Publicity photo from Happy Days. Pictured are Potsie (Anson Williams), Richie (Ron Howard), Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most)
Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Publicity photo from Happy Days, 1975. Potsie (Anson Williams), Richie (Ron Howard), Fonzie (Henry Winkler) and Ralph Malph (Donny Most). Chachi, not pictured here, did not last long on his own show. 

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The Cosby Show

During the heydey of the 1980s, "The Cosby Show" was pretty popular, it ran from 1984-1992. Within its first year, the Huxtables pretty much became a household name. Three years later, oldest child Denise would eventually go off to college and the actress, Lisa Bonet, landed her own spin-off titled "A Different World." Bonet would leave the show after season one. Despite her departure, the spin-off had a good run, going from 1987-1993. Many of the students in the early years would move on to adult roles in later seasons as new students arrived on campus.

Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place

In 1990 Aaron Spelling's "Beverly Hills, 90210" debuted and was an instant hit. Based in sunny California surrounding a group of high school students hit the TV airwaves full force establishing a huge fan base. It wasn’t long (1992) before its spin-off, Melrose Place, was created and that show took off. The two shows both ran simultaneously for several years experiencing a good amount of success. BH, 90210 ended in 2000 and Melrose Place, 1999.

Years later another spin-off was launched when a show simply titled "90210" came out. Basically, this was the "next" generation, with a few of the original cast members joining the new series as support characters. This spin-off ran from 2008 to 2013, not so bad. Melrose Place also had a reboot, but that show flopped, only running about six months.  The other Melrose Place spin-off, "Models, Inc." was another show that barely a blip on the TV airwaves radar in 1994-95 (in fact I almost forgot about this one). Apparently, MP's two spin-offs could not match their "parent."

Jennie Garth
Credit: Photo by Alan Light via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Jennie Garth brought "Kelly Taylor" over to "Melrose Place" to help establish a spin-off series of Beverly Hills, 90210.

Most Successful Spin-Off

What is the most successful spin-off of all time? That honor would to go "The Simpsons". Starting off as a skit in 1987 on "The Tracey Ullman Show" on the then newly-established Fox network (1986), by 1989 "The Simpsons" was given its own show. That show was renewed for two more seasons in 2015. [1] Not only is it the longest-running scripted series, the fact that it started as a short and has lasted so long after being spun into a half-hour show is pretty impressive.

The Simpsons at Wax Museum Plus
Credit: Miguel Mendez via Wikimedia Commons

Wax Museum image of "The Simpsons"

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The Simpsons were popular enough that the original short not only made TV history, but was the basis of a movie too

This article focuses mainly on sitcoms (exception Beverly Hills, 90210), but there have been many drama-based successes over the years. CSI (and its multiple spin-offs), "NCIS" was spun off from "JAG" and who can forget CBS' "Dallas"? Its highly successful "Knots Landing" spin-off is another success. But despite the original's popularity, the TNT "reboot" of the original Dallas series was short-lived and, while die-hard fans will probably remember the reboot, anyone else would likely say, "Ewing who?"

For years, spin-offs were a common staple in television production and the industry's hope is the new show will reel us in with the characters we’ve come to know and love or send us looking at ones we might be interested in. Television history shows spin-offs are a bit of a risky venture, as sometimes a network manages to recapture the magic and other times the new show just tanks. As fans, we'll often give the new show a try, but sometimes it's simply time to call it quits.  Especially in the age of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services where there are so many different options.

Although, for die hard fans, it is nice when a spin-off does occasionally strike gold and provide a level of continuation of a well-liked show.

I'm sure I missed many spin-offs that have been made over the decades. What were your favorite spin-off shows? What about the worst?