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Spinoffs are a strange category in television, often only tweaking a small part of a winning formula to continue appealing to a core audience. From an exec standpoint, there is nothing wrong with an assembly line of CSI series hitting every U.S. metro area. But now that AMC’s Better Call Saul is out and has so far stood tall alongside Breaking Bad, we can probably expect a new flurry of spinoffs that take things in a more distinctly different direction than the flagship series. But what I’m really waiting for in that bunch is the rare spinoff that goes extremely left field and becomes its own thing entirely.
It’s the kind of approach that used to happen more often, sometimes aimed at the same people and sometimes shooting for new demographics. Here we have 12 shows that looked nothing like the series they were spawned from. Don’t expect to find location-changing procedural clones like Chicago PD and Chicago Planetarium or whatever, or sketch show segments that become their own series, because that’s just expansion of an established concept. What I’m saying is, there are more than 12 out there, but these are the ones I wrote about. So please don’t stand on my neck. Speaking of…
DariaSpun Off Of: Beavis and Butthead
Lalalalala. Once just a smart girl who aggravated two of the most humorously aggravating teenagers on TV, Daria and her best friend Jane birthed a sub-generation of teenagers with this rare female-geared animated series not meant for tweens and younger. Daria’s hyperbolic cynicism was post-meh before meh was cool, and its depiction of suburban family and high school life still feels timely, 13 years after its five-season run was completed. I admittedly had a little Beavis in me as a kid – a -huh-huh huh – but now I just want to be a Morgendorffer for life.
A Different WorldSpun Off Of: The Cosby Show
Regardless of Bill Cosby’s present situation, The Cosby Show remains an icon of warmhearted family comedy for all ages and ideologies, while its Lisa Bonet-starring spinoff A Different World honed in on college-aged viewers with the comedic (and sometimes dramatic) lives of Hillman’s finest. How do you know it’s different? It says it right in the name! A Different World not only made flip-glasses a thing, but it also tackled uncomfortable race issues and social situations that spoke on where the world was at the time. Remember the AIDS episode of The Cosby Show? Me either.
The JeffersonsSpun Off Of: All in the Family
A 1970s hit comedy about a loveable middle class bigot making himself look bad gets spun off into a hit comedy about a hardworking upper class black family. There’s no mystery behind The Jeffersons’ roots, but it’s still kind of mind-boggling all these years later. For eleven seasons, the ever-wonderful Sherman Helmsley and Isabel Sanford showed viewers the highs and lows of movin’ on up to deluxe apartments, and while there were sporadic episodes dealing with more important issues, the Jeffersons’ mold was more of a situational jokey comedy than All in the Family. (Can you imagine how weird Archie Bunker would feel without a laugh track?)
Baywatch NightsSpun Off Of: Baywatch
Everybody’s favorite part about Baywatch was Mitch’s growing potential as a detective who could take down the ghost of a serial killer, right? Was that just me? Baywatch Nights took David Hasselhoff away from the beach, blondes and boobs for what was at first a fairly generic mystery drama, but by the time the sci-fi-revamped Season 2 rolled around, these motherfuckers were fighting mummies, Vikings, vampires, voodoo priests and , of course, aliens. If you ever wanted to know where M. Night Shyamalan probably got the inspiration for The Happening, refer to the episode “Hot Winds,” which involves a wind that makes people crazy.
Harvey Birdman: Attorney at LawSpun Off Of: Birdman and the Galaxy Trio
Cartoon Network’s updated projects for older Hanna-Barbera characters are among my favorite things the network has ever done. At the top of that list – yes, even above Space Ghost: Coast to Coast – is the surreal procedural law comedy Harvey Birdman, which is of course nothing like the action-adventure cartoons of the 1960s. Beyond presenting smart, rapid-fire jokes and oddball situations for the titular lawyer to muck his way through, the show’s case-of-the-week premise subverted the lives and qualities of beloved cartoon characters like the Jetsons and Scooby-Doo, always with pitch-perfect results. Birdman is far less capable in front of a jury than he was at saving things.
The Facts of LifeSpun Off Of: Diff’rent Strokes
It didn’t take long for NBC to give Charlotte Rae’s housekeeper Edna Garrett her own sitcom. She left Diff’rent Strokes in Season 2 to become a housemother at a female boarding school, where characters like the snooty Blair, the bubbly Tootie, and ya homegirl Natalie had silly adventures that had nothing to do with the kinds of things adopted Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges were doing. Of course, Facts of Life went through its own large-scale season-to-season changes, so that the ninth and final season looked almost like a spinoff of Season 1.
Mork and MindySpun Off Of: Happy Days
Nanu nanu. While Happy Days and Mork and Mindy have in common a reliance on character catchphrases, one was a throwback series about family life and being a young adult, while the other was about a woman befriending and falling in love with an alien and teaching him how to be a human being. (And later “birthing” Jonathan Winters with him, because yay.) Though Mork and Mindy’s sci-fi elements relied heavily on the comedy, it was still a weird show at times, and it turned Robin Williams into a household name. No other TV show can say that.
Lou GrantSpun Off Of: The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Ed Asner’s stoic and hard-nosed Lou Grant went from comedically running a TV station in Minneapolis with Mary Tyler Moore to dramatically working as an editor for the Los Angeles Tribune in the super rare “sitcom to hourlong drama” spinoff Lou Grant. It’s a wonder why more networks haven’t tried it, given the series’ consistent Emmy success and critical acclaim. Lou Grant tackled issues that would have completely befuddled anchorman Ted Baxter, and it remains an enjoyably relevant look at societal woes. That James L. Brooks magic just couldn’t be denied.
Muppet BabiesSpun Off Of: The Muppet Show
Okay, so Muppet Babies is technically a cartoon adaptation of a live-action dream sequence in The Muppets Take Manhattan, but that was a movie spinoff of The Muppet Show. Argument solved. Whereas the Muppets’ first big break on TV was a celebrity-filled musical sketch show, the similarly pop culture savvy Muppet Babies’ animated style allowed the concept of imagination to be the thrust behind every episode, whether it meant Kermit and the gang were in the Star Wars universe, using books in the nursery as starting points for surreal adventures. Okay, so it got pretty musical, too.
Family MattersSpun Off Of: Perfect Strangers
Though ABC’s Perfect Strangers and Family Matters were geared towards the same TGIF-hungry audiences, it’s still strange to me that one came from the other. Family Matters was at first a blue-collar comedy about the Winslow family, which was nothing like its predecessor’s foreign-fish-out-of-water premise, but things took a wild left turn once producers realized that neighbor Steve Urkel was the hook to drawing even bigger ratings. I am certain conversations were had about making another spinoff that just excised the Winslows except for Laura, and let Urkel run an Orphan Black style life with Stephan and Robo-Urkel and any other personalities that seemed comedically feasible.
Viva La BamSpun Off Of: Jackass
Reality show spinoffs usually just move an unchanging premise from one city to another, with MTV’s own Real World as a forefather of that approach. Jackass was an extreme bro-look at the painful horrors that Johnny Knoxville & Co. would do to themselves in the name of comedy. Jackass star and skateboarder Bam Margera then got his own more mean-spirited show, which shifted the world of immature comedy to focus on him pranking the shit out of his family, sometimes with off-kilter large-scale journeys involved. It’s all about the pain, sure, but the level of consent involved is very different.
FrasierSpun Off Of: Cheers
If you change the name of Kelsey Grammer’s character, and thus the name of the show, to Jake or Schecky, there wouldn’t be any way to tell that Frasier came from Cheers. Wait…damn you, Lilith! Anyway, Cheers was a working class ensemble comedy that utilized its central location for much of its humor, while Frasier ramped up the wit and subject matter, along with the pomp and circumstance. Sure, NBC wanted audiences to love both, but there are many Cheers fans that want nothing to do with the Crane family’s astute ways. Personally, I just want there to be an actual Dr. Frasier Crane Show to listen to.