Not every spin-off TV series can be Frasier, though not from lack of trying by TV executives. For every spinoff that has found success (Saved by the Bell is a spinoff of Good Morning, Miss Bliss), dozens of others lie on the bottom of the bargain bin at Best Buy stores around the country, if the studios have bothered to release them at all. For some, it seems hard to fathom how the project was green-lit, while others had promising premises with beloved characters but were ultimately ruined by too many cooks in the kitchen.
However, Hollywood executives are a tenacious lot who refuse to learn the hard-fought lessons of their predecessors. It takes a blinding bravery to decide to go down the same path of recycled, failing content rather than creating new and original projects. As they choose to leave behind collateral damage and butchered careers in a flurry of scathing criticism and poor ratings, this list is dedicated to their battles.
Here are The 15 Spin-Offs that No One Asked For:
15. The Steve Wilkos Show (Jerry Springer)
For those of you who don’t remember, The Jerry Springer Show was all the rage in the ’90s. The controversial talk show starring the eponymous former politician dealt with everything from paternity tests to adultery, and even featured episodes starring crazy rock and roll figures such as G.G. Allin and Gwar. Fights frequently exploded between guests and the man who was responsible for keeping the warring parties separated was none other than Director of Security, Steve Wilkos.
Over the course of the program, Steve became not only a staple of the program, but a substitute host for the show when Springer would go on vacation. This led to producers of the show pitching Steve’s own talk show, which was then bought by NBCUniversal. The program frequently features loathsome guests who have committed heinous acts. When this was the case, Steve often does not allow them to sit in chairs, as he doesn’t want them comfortable on his stage (though he seems comfortable profiting from the ad revenue they generate). Also on occasions when the level-headed host becomes upset, he hulks-out on chairs, turning them into splinters and flailing them wildly about while calmly explaining to the guests that he wishes he could do the same to them.
14. Three’s a Crowd (Three’s Company)
Follow me here: the original Three’s Company was based on British TV’s Man About the House, which featured its own spinoff Robin’s Nest. Three’s a Crowd, the spinoff of Three’s Company, is based on Robin’s Nest (though it became known as Three’s Company, Too in syndication). Confusing, huh? During the fifth season of the show, signs of wear began to become noticeable. Contract renegotiations took place and when co-star Suzanne Somers demands weren’t met, she opted to strike, and took a small, insignificant role in the series, largely appearing in one minute telephone conversations not recorded on set with her co-stars.
As the eighth season of Three’s Company began, ABC was forced to deal with the fact that the show was aging poorly and changes needed to be made. Their solution was to spin Jack Tripper’s character (John Ritter) into his own series at the end of the eighth season. However, this plan was kept secret from the cast. When co-star Joyce DeWitt showed up unexpectedly at the studio one day, she walked into a casting session for the new show and drama ensued. The show’s premise saw Jack Tripper fall in love and decide to move in with his new girlfriend, much to the chagrin of her rich father (who doubles as their landlord). The show focused greatly on the father trying to forcibly remove Tripper from the relationship.
Turns out spinning off from a failing sitcom isn’t a great idea and ratings were stagnant. The show no longer featured the chemistry of the awkward roommates and, despite offers to be recurring guests on the show, Three’s Company regulars Don Knotts and Richard Kline declined (though Kline did turn up in one episode), leaving little for fans of the original series to care about. The show was canceled after one season.
13. The Lone Gunmen (The X-Files)
You always knew it was going to be an interesting episode of The X-Files if fan favorites The Lone Gunmen were involved. The group first debuted in later episodes of season 1, went on to be in 39 episodes of the series, and were even involved in the video game and the first movie. All of this love led to the trio getting their own series in 2001, appropriately named The Lone Gunmen. The series incorporated elements of comedy and drama while its heroes fought against the system to expose conspiracies and cover-ups. Ultimately, the public felt that the group was stronger in small doses and the show was canceled after thirteen episodes. Though the show was ended on a cliffhanger, ultimately the story was concluded in season nine of The X-Files.
Though the characters ultimately died in the last season of The X-Files, they were still involved in the recent revival of the series. In a season 11 episode, Fox Mulder trips on psilocybin and they appear to him in a vision. Originally, in the season 10 comic book previously considered canon, they were shown to have faked their deaths. However, when the latest series was announced, creator Chris Carter quickly distanced himself from the book and it is no longer considered part of continuity.
In one of the stranger moments of television history, the pre-9/11 pilot for the show dealt with a plane being hijacked by an American arms manufacturer in an effort to crash it into the World Trade Center and begin a war with a framed dictator. A very similar proposed-storyline to conspiracy theorists of which the uber-paranoid Lone Gunmen would probably embrace.
12. Buddies (Home Improvement)
A few years before the debut of the hilarious Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer movie Half Baked, the duo had a co-starring role in an episode of Home Improvement. Executives were so impressed by the real-life friends’ chemistry that they immediately ordered a one season spin-off TV show with the duo. However, things almost immediately went sour and Breuer was fired after the filming of the pilot episode, being replaced by Christopher Gartin. This justifiably enraged Chappelle, who later went on to accuse show executives of racism, as they continually attempted to replace the show’s black cast with a white one.
Perhaps it was the sour relationships that led to the lack of chemistry of the two stars, or perhaps the show was, in all reality, just plain bad. Either way, only four of the thirteen episodes were ever aired on television. Years later, in light of the success of The Chappelle Show, Best Buy released a rushed version of the series to DVD. Oddly, it only collected ten of the thirteen finished episodes (one of them being the unaired pilot starring Breuer) and was quickly discontinued.
The show is probably best summarized by Chappelle himself who was quoted as saying, “It was a bad show. It was bad. I mean when we were doing it, I could tell this was not gonna work.”
11. AfterMASH (M*A*S*H)
Despite only having three major carry-over characters from the original series (four, if you count the strange reappearance of the disembodied voice over the PA), AfterMASH was initially relatively successful and lasted two seasons with a combined 31 episodes. The show’s premise was relatively straightforward: following the events of the Korean War, Sherman T. Potter found retirement boring and joined a hospital as the chief of staff. After discovering that his former company clerk, Maxwell Klinger, was having issues with the law, Potter recruited him to be his new administrative assistant. Potter then contacted Father Mulcahy, whose hearing was damaged in the M*A*S*H finale, and arranged for him to have corrective surgery. After recovery, he joined the hospital as the chaplain.
The show took over the old M*A*S*H timeslot and found some success, but that was not enough for CBS. In an attempt to shake up the show, the network demanded more zaniness and drama, trying to harken the show back to the glory days of M*A*S*H. This culminated with the shoehorned decision to put Klinger’s character back in women’s clothing in an attempt to claim insanity for a real estate deal gone wrong. CBS was so confident in the show’s new direction that it was moved to a new timeslot, taking on NBC’s The A-Team. In a fit of arrogance, the network even released publicity material stating “Klinger Takes on The A-Team” with accompanying art showcasing Klinger cutting off Mr. T’s mohawk.
Ratings inevitably plummeted and the show was soon canceled. CBS agreed to air the two-part finale on Friday, May 31st, 1985. However, the network was so embarrassed that it only aired the first half and pulled the second at the last second.
10. That ’80s Show
That ’80s Show has the distinction of being one of the few spin-off sitcoms ever created that had no carry-over characters from the original. Despite this, the show does share the same creators, same structure, and much of the same writing staff. Though some argue that the show is not technically a spin-off because there are no crossover characters or storylines, this is technically incorrect, because the star is mentioned to be the cousin of Eric Forman (Topher Grace) from That ’70s Show. Had the show become a success, it was designed to allow cross-pollination between the two series.
The story is set in San Diego and follows the life of Corey Howard, a struggling musician who is attempting a romance with punk rocker June Tuesday. The show’s concept is lifted directly from its predecessor, the only difference being that the stars are in their early twenties rather than their late teens. Injected into occasional episodes are cameo appearances of 1980s icons such as Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Ed McMahon, Pat Benatar, and more. The series theme song was the iconic “Eighties” by The Killing Joke.
The one thing show creators couldn’t copy was hat ’70s Show‘s feeling of authenticity. It didn’t need to constantly beat you over the head with references to remind you what decade the show was set in. Ultimately, audiences didn’t like the beat-by-beat copycat formula taken from the original show and it failed to find an audience before being canceled after only thirteen episodes.
9. The New Adventures of He-Man
After the wildly successful, two-year run of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, the show ended due to the downfall of its animation company Filmation. This, however, didn’t stop the property’s owner, Mattel, from wanting to keep milking the proverbial cash cow. Hence, they partnered with Jetlag Productions in order to produce a follow-up show, The New Adventures of He-Man. However, this new, modern-styled animation bore little resemblance to the original and, rather than being set on the sorcery-laden planet of Eternia, the show took a new science fiction tone and blasted the title character into space (where he landed on the planet Primus), with his nemesis Skeletor following suit.
Aside from the incredibly strange shift in tone and style, the strangest aspect of this new show was its complete lack of addressing the changes between the two series. Skeletor was now partially cybernetic, He-Man never transformed into Prince Adam, and his classic catchphrase of “By the power of Greyskull” was now transformed into “By the power of Eternia”. The only way kids were able to reconcile these new changes was by purchasing all four new He-Man toys, which included mini-comics that detailed the transformation between the series.
8. Enos (The Dukes of Hazzard)
Enos Strate was an amazing character on The Dukes of Hazard. He served the law as a deputy, but was friends with Bo and Luke and would look the other way from a murder if Daisy batted those eyelashes of hers. But not every standout character on a TV show needs their own spin-off, as is the case here. The series revolved around Enos leaving Hazard County for Los Angeles to join the LAPD. Each week was bookended with the love-stricken officer writing a letter to Daisy, detailing his exploits in the big city, where he dealt with bank robberies and heroin dealers. DoH cameos were a regular thing, with Uncle Jesse visiting in episode two and Roscoe P. Coltrain in episode nine. Daisy herself even got into the action in episode eight, after getting caught up in a ring of Los Angeles based diamond smugglers.
When the show was canceled, Enos moved back to Hazard County and was brought back into the fold of the show for its final few seasons. Strangely enough, Enos’s heart must have been left in Los Angeles because in the made-for-tv movie, The Dukes of Hazard: Reunion, he not only moved back to the city, but had spent 15 years there and was now a detective. Though he and Daisy finally become engaged in the movie, they call it off last second, essentially leaving Enos’ character eternally pining for Daisy.
7. The Brady Brides (The Brady Bunch)
In a borderline shifty move that produced the last project starring the entire original cast of The Brady Bunch, NBC shot the made-for-TV film The Brady Girls Get Married and chopped it up into three parts, using it as the start of a new series. After these three shows aired, the series picked up with episode four, which is technically the first true episode of the show. It showcased the beloved family, seven years after the cancellation of The Brady Bunch (the events of The Brady Hour are not considered canon), with Marcia and Jan getting married. The two then moved into a shared house with their new, opposite-personality husbands in a premise reminiscent of The Odd Couple.
The show only lasted ten episodes and never found its audience. This is most likely due to the strange stylistic shift that occurred between the first three episodes (shot as a movie) and the final seven (shot in front of a live studio audience). Though it never found its footing, many of the characters that were introduced in the show were incorporated into the subsequent TV movies and the (also failed) 1990’s TV revival The Bradys.
6. The Tortellis (Cheers)
Kelsey Grammer’s successful show Frasier found an audience and lasted 11 seasons, but the first spin-off from the classic show Cheers fared far worse. Lasting only 13 episodes, The Tortellis was based around cocktail waitress Carla’s ex-husband Nick and his ditzy blond trophy wife Loretta moving to Las Vegas. In the show, Loretta has had enough of her husband’s sleazebag ways and takes off to Sin City to start anew. Nick follows her and, after having a nightmare about God’s judgement, promises to change his ways. Having convinced Loretta to give him another shot, Nick sets up a television repair shop and his son moves in with them. Each episode followed Nick attempting, and usually failing, to not fall back into his conniving ways.
Due to spinning off a much-loved show with a revolting, unlikable character, The Tortellis didn’t fare well with viewers and had abysmal ratings. However, for diehard fans of Cheers, there aer reasons to watch at least a few of these episodes. The pilot features a brief, awkward appearance by Rhea Pearlman (Carla) in the previously mentioned nightmare-sequence. However, the standout of the series is episode 3, which features cameos by George Wendt (Norm) and John Ratzenberger (Cliff). In it, the duo visit Vegas and Nick promises that Frank Sinatra will be joining them for dinner.
5. Young Americans (Dawsons Creek)
Desperate to keep their Generation Y demographic, the WB planned on using Young Americans to replace Dawson’s Creek during its mid-season hiatus. However, production was halted on the project and it began to look as if the show wasn’t going to happen unless a miracle occurred. That miracle came by way of a six million dollar investment by the Coca-Cola Company, securing themselves to be the sole sponsor of the show, going as far as referring to it in advertising as “Coca-Cola Presents Young Americans“.
The notion of product placement existed far before this show, but this is one of the better examples of how to fail at pulling it off. Characters were constantly either referencing Coke or drinking one while on camera. It was so incredibly blatant that Steve Carell (while he was still on The Daily Show) did a piece centered around the show in his “Ad Nauseum” segment, where he consistently referred to the show as “an hour long commercial”.
The show’s protagonist was Will Krudski, who had been introduced at the end of season 3 of Dawson’s Creek as a childhood friend that Pacey had kept in contact with. The barely connected thread from this show to Dawson’s Creek wasn’t enough to keep it afloat as it got torn apart critically and received incredibly poor ratings.
4. Joanie Loves Chachi (Happy Days)
In 1982, Happy Days was beginning to show signs of its age. The show had already run for nine seasons, star Ritchie Cunningham (Ron Howard) had been gone for several years, formerly cool Fonzie was a teacher, and strange plots dealing with aliens (Mork) and the Devil began to be more casually introduced. The focal point of the show during this time was predominantly the young couple Joanie and Chachi. In a move that still defies logic, producers decided to pull the main draws of the series, and move them into their own sitcom. The new show, Joanie Loves Chachi saw the young lovers moving to Chicago in an attempt to make it as a rock ‘n’ roll band. Each show mixed the traditional notion of the sitcom with live performances, with the stars themselves (Scott Baio and Erin Moran) even performing the theme song.
The show was greenlit for a small, four episode run that did incredibly well. However, these four episodes were written by the writing staff for Happy Days, and when the show went into a full season two, a new group was brought in to pen each episode. According to Baio, the writing staff unfamiliar with the characters was the reason the show failed to take off, and resulted in its being canceled after seventeen episodes. The two characters were promptly brought back into the Happy Days fold for the final season of the show, with a storyline following the fallout from their break up after not making it in the music world.
3. Top of the Heap/Vinny & Bobby (Married with Children)
Season 5, episode 20 of Married with Children was used as a back-door pilot (in which rarely seen or brand characters take center stage in an effort to spin them off) for the show Top of the Heap, starring LeBlanc and Charlie Verducci. The duo played father and son as they attempted to scam their way to riches by having LeBlanc marry into money through working at a country club. Throughout the series several Married with Children stars cameoed in the project, including one episode with Bud (David Faustino) and two with Kelly (Christina Applegate). The show failed after only seven episodes, but that didn’t curtail stubborn execs at Fox.
Vinny & Bobby picked up with LeBlanc’s character and his new roommate (Robert Torti) as they shared the apartment formerly occupied by the now vanished Verducci. Vinny and Bobby worked at a construction site and each week they would get into shenanigans involving the women they were attempting to score with. Strangely, the show reincorporated Joey Lauren Adam’s character, Mona Mullins, who had not been seen since the backdoor pilot of Married with Children. This show also only lasted seven episodes.
2. Joey (Friends)
Nothing personal, Matt LeBlanc. Seeing as how the character of Joey Tribbiani had become famous in the Friends universe for playing neurosurgeon Drake Ramoray on Days of our Lives, it was a natural move for Hollywood execs to do the same thing they do with many characters in attempted spin-offs: Move him to Hollywood. The show debuted in September, 2004 and picked up immediately after its predecessor. Viewers watched the character after his move westward, as he struggled to further his acting career. What he found instead was much the same as other aspiring actors: a lack of roles and high rent.
First among the many, many bad decisions made on Joey, the writers strangely turned the title character from an upbeat optimist into a beaten -own pessimist who consistently failed at garnering roles. Matt LeBlanc himself blames the failure of the sitcom on this very thing. The show featured many cameos from Hollywood notables occasionally playing themselves such as Jay Leno, Bob Saget, and James Lipton. Fellow Friends alum David Schwimmer even returned to multiple episodes of the first season, albeit as a director and not a star. Though ratings on the show started very high, they fell over the course of the two season series, eventually ending with its cancellation in May 2006.
1. Baywatch Nights
This one takes the cake. Not only was Baywatch Nights initially dramatic different in tone from the original, but halfway through its run, it inexplicably changed its entire format to mimic The X-Files. The show features David Hasselhoff and several other carry-over characters from the original. Season 1 opens with Garner Ellerbe, the resident police officer of the beach, quitting his job and opening up a detective agency, bringing The Hoff’s character Mitch Buchannon along for the ride. The two then run along the beach at night (where women still rarely wear clothes) and get into all sorts of sticky situations neither of them are equipped to deal with. As ridiculous as some of the episode setups were (the best of which saw Hasselhoff crossdressing to infiltrate a drag queen show) ,the best was yet to come…
Season 2 is when the show gets (*cough*) interesting. In response to failing ratings, the show doubled down on its concept rather than acknowledging it was a flop from the beginning. Detective Ellerbe was removed and replaced with Diamont Teague, a paranormal investigator. Suddenly, the beach comes alive with supernatural activity and only they can put a stop to it. Highlights here include time-travel, sea-monsters, vampires, parallel universes, and the best: a half-fish woman desperately trying to become pregnant.
Fans of trash-cinema such as Birdemic and The Room should consider season 2 of this small-screen train-wreck required viewing.
Despite the occasional cameo from stars of the show, Baywatch Nights ultimately costed more than it was worth and was canceled after forty-four episodes. However, the newly introduced character of Donna joined the main show, so… there’s that.
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