While mostly known as a TV term, a spin-off is actually any sort of work of media that derives from another, without being a direct sequel or prequel. According to some, the first ever instance of this dates all the way back to the days of radio with a series known as The Great Gildersleeve from 1941, which spun off from Fibber McGee And Molly. As far as TV is concerned, while it might be debatable, The Andy Griffith show is fairly widely accepted as the first ever, or one of the first ever spin-off shows, coming off the heels of The Danny Thomas Show. Ok, history lesson and possible trivia question review over.
The concept of a spin-off is simple. Take a supporting character from one show and move them into another. We would learn far more about them being the star of their own show than as a supporting character in the original show. Or you can introduce a character or a set of characters in one episode and shoehorn them into the world of the show. This kind of spin-off is called a “Backdoor Pilot,” these characters aren’t meant to be a part of the main show, they’re just being introduced before they move to their own series.
No matter how we get them, there have been some great spin-offs over the years, some even surpassing the original. Others…not so much. Here are 15 Notoriously Bad TV Spinoffs Every Forgets (And 15 That Were Actually Worth Watching).
30 Bad: Top Of The Heap (Married…With Children)
For a little over a decade, Married…With Children garnered a very committed fan base, one that is still devoted to the teachings of Al Bundy to this day. That’s the hallmark of a revolutionary and very funny sitcom. Over the years, we’d meet several of Al’s old friends, but only one got his own show – Charlie Verducci, played by Joseph Bologna.
The show was Top Of The Heap, and featured Charlie as the same kind of hapless sad sack Al was, he just had a weekly get-rich-quick scheme that always went belly up. Besides the show also starring a young Matt LeBlanc, there wasn’t much here. Even when it was retooled into Vinny And Bobby, there somehow wound up being less.
29 Worth Watching: Mayans MC (Sons Of Anarchy)
Sons Of Anarchy hit cable television like a force of nature. What was once thought of as The Sopranos on motorcycles quickly became so much more. The fans that the series garnered all enjoyed being a part of the fan base and grabbed up SAMCRO shirts with their own city names branded on them.
Several years later, FX has done it again. Mayans MC, which is based around the Sons’ former rival gang turned friends, recently finished up their first season, and have been renewed for a second. Time will tell if the misadventures of EZ will be as memorable as Jax’s, but for now so far so good.
28 Bad: Joey (Friends)
Like a warm, comfy blanket, fans of Friends can cozy up to their favorite TV buddies and binge out on over 200 episodes of the nineties and early aughts staple. While every character had their moments over the years, no character could have benefited more from fleshing out than Joey Tribbiani.
So, when the series ended, Joey decided to get serious about his acting career and headed to Hollywood for his own show. While it lasted two seasons, those were two seasons of good-will viewership and not very strong ratings.
27 Worth Watching: Family Matters (Perfect Strangers)
As an elevator operator for the Chicago Chronicle on Perfect Strangers, Jo Marie Payton endeared herself enough to fans and writers to garner more stories involving her character. From the world of Perfect Strangers began Family Matters, which was one of the most endearing family sitcoms of the nineties.
Payton’s character was the gateway towards meeting Carl Winslow, played by Reginald VelJohnson. But most importantly, the show’s breakout star, the mega geeky and often fumbling, Urkel. The show actually outlasted both its predecessor and series’ star by one season. Judyann Elder took over the role for the show’s ninth and final season.
26 Bad: The Lone Gunmen (The X–Files)
The X-Files was to the nineties what Stranger Things is right now. The mix of monster-of-the-week shows, government conspiracies, alien coverups, and the chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson made for a pop culture phenomenon. The series struggled towards the end of its original run, but they still tried to introduce a new spinoff series for The Lone Gunmen.
Centering around Mulder’s trio of conspiracy nuts, the show lasted only thirteen episodes. But it also helped to showcase a fundamental flaw around some supporting character spin-off shows, the characters aren’t strong enough without the main series’ leads to carry their own show.
25 Worth Watching: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Star Trek: The Original Series)
It was nearly twenty years since the original Star Trek series ended when creator Gene Roddenberry created a new series for Trekkies young and old. It took a few years to find its footing and fanbase. But then Captain Piccard became one of the Borg in one of the most thrilling cliffhangers of all TV history.
Star Trek: The Next Generation not only helped update the franchise, but it extended it as well. Thanks to the popularity of the show, the original cast movies gave way to The Next Generation crew having a few cinematic turns. Fans also got Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and to a lesser extent, Enterprise. For over fifty years, Star Trek has captivated fans, but if TNG flopped, the entire franchise might have gone with it.
24 Bad: Law And Order: Trial By Jury (Law And Order)
For almost thirty years, the familiar two-note chime has been the hallmark of one of the most enduring police procedural shows and franchises TV ever saw. If someone tried to watch consecutively, you’d be watching all of the shows for nearly fifty days straight (and probably be a lament expert on the law in the process).
Sadly, thirteen of those hours would be to devoted to the clunker of the bunch – Trial By Jury. The show brought original series star Jerry Orbach back to the fold. Instead of focusing on the Order part of the show, it focused more on the preparation of trial lawyers. The idea didn’t go over well with viewers and was canceled for poor ratings.
23 Worth Watching: Law And Order: Special Victims Unit (Law And Order)
Now tied with its predecessor for total number of seasons, Special Victims Unit has surpassed the original in terms of popularity. For over a decade, the pair of Benson and Stabler were probably the most intense on TV. It took several more years after Christopher Meloni’s departure, but between a strong supporting cast (stalwarts like Mariska Hargitay and Ice–T staying on as the rocks of the show), the series has had a resurgence this season.
Thanks to the addition of Chicago’s tough as nails ADA Peter Stone, and some more serialized storytelling, SVU has redefined the old term, “must see TV.” Hopefully, the trend continues into what should be a record-setting 21st season.
22 Bad: The Finder (Bones)
One of the key ingredients to creating a good spin-off is to do your best to keep the charms of the original product, enhance those charms while creating some new magic for fans to glom onto. The biggest problem with The Finder, the spin-off to Bones, is that a humongous part of the charm of Bones was its amazing ensemble cast.
That cast couldn’t come over to the new show every week. That’s a hard kind of magic to reproduce, even when utilizing the quirky detective trope and the talents of the late-great lovable bear that was Michael Clarke Duncan.
21 Worth Watching: NCIS (JAG)
It isn’t very often that a spin-off surpasses its predecessor to the level NCIS has done. Spinning out of the moderately popular JAG, NCIS has become a juggernaut of a show and franchise. It’s ratings nearly single-handedly help CBS maintain ratings dominance and it has launched two of its own successful spin-offs.
The show has been voted “America’s Favorite TV Show.” 16 seasons in and mostly in the top five ratings-wise with no signs of slowing down, it's hard to argue with the award.
20 Bad: Once Upon A Time In Wonderland (Once Upon A Time)
Disney had yet another veritable goldmine on its hands when ABC debuted Once Upon A Time to the world in 2011. Introducing classic and beloved Disney and other fairy tale characters in a new real-world setting was a big hit and was the only place we’d ever get to see all of these characters intermingling (nevermind Kingdom Hearts).
So why not try to catch lightning twice? The creative team behind Once tried to do it all again with Once Upon A Time In Wonderland. The spin-off has the unenviable task of trying to create its own mythology while interweaving in and out of its parent show’s own existing mythology. The idea to be a sequel, prequel, and side story all at the same time failed and was canceled after 13 episodes.
19 Worth Watching: Curb Your Enthusiasm (Seinfeld)
Curb Your Enthusiasm might not be a direct spin-off to Seinfeld, but it definitely is its spiritual successor. The format for both shows was devised by Larry David to have seemingly nothing going on in the not so mundane lives of these people. The original series is arguably the greatest sitcom of all time.
Being on HBO allowed Larry David and Curb to break eight hundred more rules than network TV would have ever allowed him to get away with. Sometimes the show seems like a mean-spirited Seinfeld, other times paying homage to madcap comedies of yesteryear. But the show has always been riotously funny.
18 Bad: That 80’s Show (That 70’s Show)
Here’s an idea that was never going to work at all. Take your tried and true format that highlighted growing up in one decade and put it into another one, complete with a whole new cast that has zero connections to the original series. Submitted for your approval – That 80’s Show.
It was the kind of blunder that only a TV executive could make, “it worked for the seventies, let’s do it again for the eighties.” The brain trust at Fox at this time decided this idea wasn’t as foolproof as originally thought and canned the series after 13 episodes.
17 Worth Watching: Better Call Saul (Breaking Bad)
Widely considered the greatest drama of all time, Breaking Bad had weaved a tight and gripping storyline detailing the underworld of meth in the great American Southwest. Of course, it was so much more. Helping Walter White along the way was his lawyer, Saul Goodman.
Instead of just diving back into the world of Breaking Bad, creator Vince Gilligan expanded outward with Better Call Saul. Using the same great storytelling that made the prior show unforgettable, Saul works as a prequel; getting to take advantage of all of the great characters we met on Bad while establishing new memorable storylines as well.
16 Bad: The Tortellis (Cheers)
One of the staple sitcoms of the eighties, Cheers lasted eleven seasons. One of the reasons was the bar’s sassy, no-nonsense waitress, Carla Tortelli; played by Rhea Pearlman. Carla’s ex, Nick and his new bubbly bride would occasionally head in for a drink. Someone on the writing team got the zany idea that fans would want to see more of Nick and Loretta.
Clearly, no one wanted to see the antics of shifty Nick trying to win back Loretta week to week and The Tortellis went the way of the dinosaur after barely half a season.
15 Worth Watching: Frasier (Cheers)
Conversely, focusing on a Cheers character that we saw a lot of over the years proved to be far better material for a spin-off series. Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammar as the radio show shrink was as popular with fans as its predecessor was, lasting almost twenty years as the character.
The show garnered a multitude of awards and critical acclaim over the years thanks to deftly walking the high brow / low brow tightrope. Not to mention the constant push and pull of Niles and Daphne, at least until they finally got married.
14 Bad: The Glee Project (Glee)
It had been a very long time since such a saccharine series like Glee came along. Similar to one of the songs the show performed, it came in like a wrecking ball and took the world by storm as a phenomenon amongst a new niche viewing crowd. Plenty of cross-sections glommed onto the show during the first few seasons.
When spin-off time came, the show’s creator Ryan Murphy went a different route. For a show about high school dreamers, Murphy started a reality show, The Glee Project. The winner of the singing competition would get at least a seven-episode arc on the show. But the problem with the competition was that we’ve all seen about ninety different singing shows in the last decade.
13 Worth Watching: Muppet Babies (The Muppet Show)
Spin-offs and kids television go together like peanut butter and bananas. When The Muppet Show came out in the late seventies, it was conceived as more of a late-night sketch show, as opposed to a kids series. Naturally, Henson needed to cash in with the kiddies as well.
Muppet Babies were born. The formula was simple, take the madcap insanity and imaginations of the Muppets and make them little toddlers who go on adventures every week. If you’ve ever seen the updated version that Disney put out last year, go back and watch the original. Otherwise, you’re depriving yourself and your little ones.
12 Bad: The Brady Spin-Offs (The Brady Bunch)
One of the tried, tired, and seldom successful sitcom spin-off tropes is to take the kids that we’ve seen grow up for five to ten years and bring them back in their own show as adults. Seeing as how this is seldom done well, luckily, we only have two Brady Bunch offenders. Even though the first spin-off (The Brady Brides) failed epically, someone decided to try it twice.
Nearly a decade after Brides, someone thought it’d be a good idea drudge the family back up, only this time the show was more of a drama. Because after the silly storylines of the seventies, of course, we’d want to see the family in dramatic situations, like Bobby being a paraplegic. It just never worked.
11 Worth Watching: Batman Beyond (Batman: The Animated Series)
You would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t love Batman: The Animated Series. The show expertly blended top-notch animation with some drama, and even some of the old “wham-bam-pow” slapstick from time to time to create a timeless version of the character.
Batman Beyond could have been one of those cheesy updates, ala Marvel’s 2099 comics. Instead, the show strived to and succeeded at creating a worthy successor to The Animated Series. It was so good that fans are still clamoring for a live-action version.
10 Bad: Saved By The Bell: The College Years (Saved By The Bell)
It’s ok to admit it – we all wanted to be Zack Morris growing up. Or at least have the little heathen’s ability to freeze time. The antics of Zack and all of his friends were perfect for Saturday mornings, after all of the cartoons. Then our favorite school kids graduated from Bayside High School and headed off to college.
Saved By The Bell: The College Years would get a prime time slot. But the series tried to pull off some of the same misadventures that worked on Saturday mornings, without realizing that prime time tv was a much different animal, and half of the original beloved cast wasn’t going to be able to get the viewership up.
9 Worth Watching: The Originals (The Vampire Diaries)
It seemed like only a few years ago that all of pop culture was being overrun with vampire-like fiends. Shows like True Blood, movies like the Twilight series, and CW’s Vampire Diaries all had the romantic twist on getting your neck bitten by a creature from beyond the grave.
The undead got another show when The Originals and Legacies spun off of Diaries. All three shows and others just prove that no matter the era or the style, everyone loves a good vampire story.
8 Bad: Fuller House (Full House)
There are a slew of people who grew up on a healthy saccharine diet of Full House. Naturally, in this era of nostalgic cash-grabs, even the Tanner family got a spin-off. Netflix’s Fuller House saw a recently widowed DJ raising her three boys with the help of Stephanie and Kimmy Gibbler, who has a daughter of her own.
Much like the original series, these episodes go right for the schmaltz and “aww” moments. Unless you were a dedicated fan of the original, you’re not missing much here.
7 Worth Watching: Chicago Universe
The Law And Order franchise has served NBC well over the last thirty years. So when series creator Dick Wolf turned his attention from New York to the Windy City Of Chicago for a new set of interwoven series, people were naturally curious.
Beginning with Chicago Fire, the franchise has launched two other successful shows as well – P.D. and Med- and the most unique aspect about the whole franchise is that, any given moment, a crossover can appear, no matter how big or small. Even the cast of P.D. have found themselves assisting SVU on a case.
6 Bad: Buddies (Home Improvement)
Most people who love Half-Baked should head out of their way to find this one, but be warned it isn’t nearly as good as that classic. Dave Chappelle and Jim Bruer had guest-starred on Home Improvement, of all places. They played Dave and Jim, two friends looking to the Tool Man for love advice.
Their appearance was so well-received that ABC gave them a shot at their own show. Sadly, Breuer didn’t even make it to the final cut, and Buddies tanked after half-a-season.
5 Worth Watching: Benson (Soap)
If you’ve never seen the late seventies sitcom/soap opera parody, Soap, go watch a few episodes right now…do you understand how hysterical this show was? And influential – The dads from Empty Nest and Blossom; Mona from Who’s The Boss; frickin’ Robert Mandan and Billy Crystal!
But the biggest breakout star of the show was ol’ Rafiki himself, Robert Guillaume, as the sharp-tongued butler, Benson. He would get his own self-titled series where he became the Director of the Governor’s house. The series marked the debut of Jerry Seinfeld and is one of the early instances of a spin-off outliving its predecessor.
4 Bad: The Golden Palace (The Golden Girls)
As one of the most popular and enduring shows of the late eighties and early nineties, The Golden Girls is enjoying almost as much success as it had during the show’s original run. The treasuring Of Betty White, the Pop vinyl dolls, the shirts, and all kinds of other merchandise. Not to mention the original series in constant reruns all over the world.
When Rose, Blanche, and Sophia decided to invest in a hotel, The Golden Palace was born. With Dorothy off and married, the spin-off starred the remaining three gals plus Cheech Marin and Don Cheadle. But after seven seasons of the original, the new series couldn’t garner up the audience the original did and was canceled after one season.
3 Worth Watching: The Colbert Report (The Daily Show)
Why does the news have to be boring? Why can’t the facts be presented in a funny way? It’s sad enough without having the news anchors be equally downtrodden giving the news. That’s where Jon Stewart and The Daily Show came in. Stewart was able to poke holes and poke fun at the day's events and still provide serious commentary as well.
But the void for a news pundit show was filled when The Colbert Report launched in 2005 and up until Colbert started hosting Late Show, the character of Stephen Colbert would get very real-world support, even getting his own SuperPAC, which raised a million dollars.
2 Bad: The Conners (Roseanne)
Relaunching the most successful sitcom of the nineties seemed like a no-brainer, but was the new PC world ready for the not politically correct Roseanne? At first, the answer was actually a resounding and nostalgic yes. Then the real-life Roseanne proved otherwise when she opened up her mouth.
She was fired and her character was eliminated. Now the rest of the cast are simply The Conners. Try as they might to continue the legacy of the original series, it does just seem like they’re going through the motions.
1 Worth Watching: The Simpsons (The Tracey Ullman Show)
It’s not every day that a show crosses generations and has endured as long as The Simpsons has. Unless you were raised where there is no such thing as television, you’ve seen at least one of the 650 or so episodes that have been produced.
If you’re even older, then you’ve seen the completely insane shorts that were part of The Tracey Ullman Show – Fox’s first sketch comedy series. Everyone likes to say “the Simpsons already did it.” After thirty years, there isn’t much they didn’t do first; including being the most successful spin-off of all time.