These days it's all about reboots. From Heathers to Charmed to Rugrats, no franchise is safe from the reboot treatment right now, with networks seemingly aiming to milk fan favorites for every last drop. Still, not that long ago it was all about another popular TV cash cow - the spinoff.
Spinoffs have been around forever, with networks using the format to capitalize on a ratings hit. Utilizing existing characters or elements from a popular show, spinoffs offer a new premise to entice viewers, with varying degrees of success. Many bomb, but a small number go on to achieve acclaim in their own right, occasionally becoming more popular than the show that inspired them.
Take for example, NCIS, the beloved spinoff of JAG. Or Xena: Warrior Princess, which quickly outshone its predecessor Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Few even remember Good Morning, Miss Bliss, the Disney show that spawned Saved by the Bell.
Nevertheless, the impressive number of spinoff flops has given the genre a bad rep. Just take a look at AfterMash, the M*A*S*H spinoff that didn't make it past the first season. Or Ravenswood, the Pretty Little Liars spinoff that had only a ten episode run before it was canceled. Some spinoffs are so bad that they don't get picked up to begin with. On the other hand, due to issues behind the camera, some that could have been TV gold never make it on to our screens.
Here are 20 Iconic TV Characters Who Almost Got Their Own Spinoffs.
20 Rupert Giles – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
After the success of Angel, the spinoff centring around Buffy’s vampire ex-lover, other characters in the Buffyverse were also considered for their own show. There was talk of TV movies for both Willow and Spike, as well as the possibility of Faith getting her own series, but Giles was the most popular choice.
Anthony Stewart Head would have reprised his role for the lead, with the actor pitching the show to Joss Whedon as “like Cracker but with ghosts.”
Called Ripper, the ghost-hunting spinoff almost went ahead twice - once in 2001 and again in 2007 – with Whedon writing a two-hour pilot script. The BBC agreed to take the spinoff, but Ripper never came to fruition due to rights issues with 20th Century Fox. Sadly, Head now believes that he’s too old to take on the role again.
19 Dwight Schrute – The Office
Dwight may be beloved among The Office fans for his lack of social skills and general ineptitude, but that wasn’t enough to win actor Rainn Wilson a spinoff.
Back in 2013, as The Office was drawing to a close after nine seasons, NBC began to look into potential spinoffs.
Dwight was an obvious choice due to his popularity amongst fans, with the network planning to trial a backdoor pilot during the show’s final season.
Called "The Farm", it introduced us to the Schrute family, who viewers had heard plenty about but had yet to see on screen. However, NBC dropped the spinoff before the pilot aired, whichwas a good call, considering the episode turned out to be a disaster and was universally panned by TV critics.
18 Phoebe – Friends
Joey may have been the one to get the (terrible) spinoff, but we’d much rather have seen Phoebe’s antics continued on-screen.
In the proposed spinoff, Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe would star alongside Ross’s ex-girlfriend Charlie (played by Aisha Tyler).
The title Girlfriends was thrown around and Ross, AKA David Schwimmer, would also make occasional appearances.
Unfortunately, the show never got past the discussion stage, but last year rumors began circulating that Friends showrunner Marta Kauffman and Kudrow were working on a second attempt at a spinoff. This time, Phoebe would be divorced and still living in NYC, and it would feature cameos from other members of the Friends cast.
17 Jess Mariano – Gilmore Girls
Jess was by far Rory’s most popular boyfriend on Gilmore Girls. The season three episode "Here Comes the Son" was meant to be a pilot for a Jess spinoff called Windward Circle, which would focus on the teen bad boy’s relationship with his estranged father, Jimmy Mariano.
However, the WB. decided there was no room in the budget for it, leaving Milo Ventimiglia so heartbroken he almost gave up acting to become a mechanic. Fortunately, he didn’t, and we got to see a reformed Jess in last year’s Gilmore Girls Revival: A Year in the Life.
16 Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
Marvel’s Most Wanted was the proposed spinoff starring Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and Lance Hunter (Nick Blood).
It was dropped not once, but twice by ABC.
The first time was supposedly because the characters were too important to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’s storyline to be cut loose. However, the second time seemed more promising, with the characters written out in season three ready for their own show to launch, but once again ABC didn’t pick it up.
ABC President Channing Dungey told SyFy Wire: “Most Wanted, ultimately at the end of the day, did not feel as strong as some of the other pilots that we shot. We talked about it with Marvel and we all came to an agreement that we want to figure out what the next show is that we do together, is something that we all feel is as creatively strong as it can be.”
15 Spock – Star Trek
Despite cancelling Star Trek: The Original Series due to low ratings, Paramount was interested in a potential spinoff centring on one of the show’s most popular characters, Spock.
The series would take place on the planet Vulcan, although it’s not clear whether it would have focused on Spock’s backstory or if he would leave the Enterprise to return home. However, creator Gene Roddenberry turned the proposal down.
In the book The Making of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Roddenberry said that what made Spock interesting was how his alien characteristics stood out amongst the humans on the ship, and that a series dedicated to his people wouldn’t work as it would be lacking that contrast. He was probably right, but we’ll never know!
14 Lily Van der Woodsen – Gossip Girl
One of the few examples of a backdoor pilot going down well, the episode "Valley Girls" was intended to introduce Gossip Girl fans to a prequel the CW had planned.
Starring Brittany Snow as a teenage Lily Van der Woodson (who went by her maiden name Rhodes in the episode), the prequel would have included Krysten Ritter as her sister Carol, and Cynthia Watros and Andrew McCarthy as her parents.
Due to the network's packed 2009 fall line-up, the pilot wasn’t picked up.
Apparently, the choice to do a backdoor pilot actually put Valley Girls at a disadvantage, with CW President of Entertainment Dawn Ostroff saying: “it was hard for everybody to understand what the world would be like on its own.”
13 Krusty the Clown – The Simpsons
Back 1994, Krusty the Clown almost got his own live-action spinoff, as Matt Groening thought “it would be so cool” to do a live-action adaption of a cartoon. It would have starred Dan Castellaneta, who voices both Krusty and Homer. Groening even wrote a pilot, but it wasn’t long before he realised how complicated a live-action production would be.
He told Entertainment Weekly: “We had this running joke in the script that Krusty was living in a house on stilts and there were beavers gnawing their way through the stilts. But somebody at the network pointed out how expensive it was to hire trained beavers- and an equally prohibitive cost would be to get mechanical beavers- so I said, ‘If we animated this, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.’”
When negotiations stalled, Groening decided to drop the project and focus on Futurama instead.
12 Karen Walker – Will & Grace
Will & Grace just wouldn’t have been the same without spoiled socialite Karen (Megan Mullaly). Due to her popularity with fans, NBC considered giving the nasal-toned gold-digger her own show.
The network’s Friends spinoff, Joey, was such a flop they decided against it.
Megan Mullally told Digital Spy: “They decided they wanted me to host a talk show instead, which also didn't go particularly well. Although it wasn't the show, it just wasn't the right timing."
However, Karen’s BFF Jack (Sean Hayes), wouldn’t have been involved in the spinoff, with Mullalyl adding: "I was approached to do a spinoff with just Karen. I don't think Sean wanted to do [it] anyway."
11 Peggy Olson – Mad Men
While Matthew Weiner was battling with network executives over the budget for Mad Men’s fifth season, AMC were busy plotting a spinoff of the popular '60s drama.
One idea was to give Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss, her own show. Sandra Stern, COO at show-backers Lionsgate, said: “There was a time we wanted a Peggy spinoff, too, and, a la Better Call Saul, a minor character going off to L.A. Matt wasn't comfortable committing to a spinoff."
Sally Draper, daughter of leading man Don, was also a possible candidate. "We talked about doing a contemporary one," explained Sandra. “Given the fact that [Mad Men] ends nearly 50 years ago, most of the characters would be dead. Sally was the one character young enough that you could see her 30 or 40 years later.”
10 Faith – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Along with Giles, Faith was another possible contender for a spinoff series. In fact, Faith the Vampire Slayer was the first planned spinoff after Buffy drew to a close.
Buffy still had a huge fanbase when its run ended, and reformed slayer Faith was the obvious choice to keep the momentum going.
An antihero with an interesting back story, Faith was highly popular with Buffy viewers. Tim Minear, who worked with Whedon on Angel, said he imagined the spinoff as “Faith, probably on a motorcycle, crossing the earth, trying to find her place in the world.”
So, why did it never happen? Actress Eliza Dushku, along with the rest of the cast, were exhausted after filming Buffy’s last season. Dushku just couldn’t see herself taking on the complex character again so soon, so she chose to star Fox’s supernatural drama Tru Calling instead.
9 Trent Lane – Daria
We all know Jane’s older brother Trent and his “band” Mystik Spiral never would have made it. Still, the grunge rockers almost got their own spinoff.
Daria co-creator Glenn Eichler put together a pilot script, in which the band relocated to a town called Mirage and tried to hit the big time. After moving into a rundown house together like The Monkees, the band would get an aggressive new manager to help propel them to stardom.
The show was designed to be a surreal satire of the music industry, but sadly, it was not meant to be. Work on the project ended when MTV Animation shut down in 2001, but you can see the pilot script as a special on the Daria DVD boxset.
8 Jodi Mills – Supernatural
Earlier this year, Supernatural showrunners teased a female-focused spinoff to the popular series.
Wayward Sisters would focus on Sherriff Jody Mills and Donna Hanscum, as well as Jody’s adopted daughters Alex and Claire.
A backdoor pilot aired on January 18th, and although it played into Supernatural’s 13th season arc, the full series would based in Sioux Falls, rather than on the road like the original series.
Executive Producer Robert Berens said of the gender-swapped spinoff: “Supernatural has had a lot of really fantastic female characters, but at its core, it is kind of a mono-gendered entity. Making this an all-female ensemble [felt like] the exact right move to make..”
Sadly, the show was passed over in favor of The Originals spinoff Legacies.
7 Audrey Horne – Twin Peaks
Once it became clear that Audrey Horne, played by Sherilynn Fenn, was a fan favorite, David Lynch and Mark Frost pitched a Twin Peaks feature film to the actress.
Fenn told AVClub that the proposed spinoff would focus on her character moving to California. “They talked about an opening scene of her driving along Mulholland Drive, and how she's a little bit older,” she explained. “Whatever it was going to be, it never ended up happening for me.”
However, it did inspire another iconic David Lynch film, Mulholland Drive. The 2001 neo-noir mystery follows an aspiring actress (Naomi Watts) who ends up embroiled in a criminal plot in LA, and is considered one of the director’s best works.
6 The Daleks – Doctor Who
Although Doctor Who didn’t get its first official spinoff until K-9 And Company: A Girl's Best Friend in 1981, a spinoff was actually proposed much earlier.
In the 1960s, the Daleks were at the height of their popularity, so in 1965 Dalek creator Terry Nation pitched a spinoff to the BBC. A year later, Nation created a pilot, with the BBC’s financial backing.
The BBC gave The Destroyers pilot a budget of £42,000, which was a high figure at the time.
However, Nation kept pushing for a full series with a budget of £10,000 an episode, and as the costs went up the BBC backed out. Nation attempted to lure in American networks, and for a while ABC was tempted, but ultimately also ended up turning it down because the Doctor was a virtual unknown in the US at the time.
5 Zapp Brannigan and Kif Croker – Futurama
During a Reddit AMA in 2013, someone asked head writer David X. Cohen which Futurama characters were mostly like to get a spinoff.
He replied: “The one we almost attempted on several occasions was the Zapp & Kif show. My glorious dream was to do a Star Trek-style episode where we stayed with Zapp and Kif’s mission the entire time, and just have them run into the Planet Express crew at some point… We never quite figured out the story for this one. Also we were nervous that people would get confused and angry, and throw things at the TV. I guess we panicked and chickened out. Now I feel bad.”
We’d have loved to have seen that!
4 MacLaren's - How I Met Your Mother
Since How I Met Your Mother was such a huge hit, networks executives at CBS began to toy with the idea of a spinoff. Not starring any of the original cast, the series would have followed Greta Gerwig’s Sally, as she tries to find love in New York City after her divorce. Like in the original series, Sally's gang of friends hung out at their local bar, MacLaren's.
Meg Ryan was bought in to narrate, but despite pilot being filmed, the show was never picked up.
The script reportedly had issues, such as awkward dialogue that was not of the same quality as its predecessor, as well as “female Peter Pan” Sally not being likeable enough.
CBS also supposedly asked for reshoots, which showrunners refused to do without a series commitment, and vice versa.
3 All of Springfield – The Simpsons
As well as bringing us many beloved quotes, such as “Steamed Hams” and “No mother, it’s just the Northern Lights,” the Simpsons episode "22 Short Films About Springfield" also inspired a potential spinoff. Aptly named Springfield, the show would focus on the town, rather than just the Simpson family.
Each weekly episode would either be three short stories, a tale of young Homer, or the back story of a side-character. However, Groening realised his team didn’t have the manpower to take on another show.
Ex-showrunner Josh Weinstein told Digital Spy: “We felt at that time – around season seven – that we all knew the family so well, so let's start exploring all these great side-characters. It would be a chance to tell full stories about these other characters, but that never happened. I think it could've been great, but everyone was so busy at the time."
2 Tommy Carcetti – The Wire
Nowadays, The Wire is considered one of the best crime dramas of all time. During its original run, the show struggled to get ratings, which is why HBO chose to pass on a proposed spinoff, despite the praise from critics.
Titled The Hall, the spinoff would have focused on Tommy Carcetti’s (Aidan Gillen) career.
Showrunners Ed Burns and David Simon wanted the spinoff to air after The Wire’s third season, with a more political storyline than its parent show.
Speaking to Salon in 2012, Simon described the The Hall’s premise as a chance to “watch Carcetti even more intimately than we were able to portray him within the show,” and “an incredible journey through what politics actually is.”
1 Norm Peterson – Cheers
Although Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammar) is the one who got the spinoff, NBC approached Cheers creators James Burrows, Glen Charles, Les Charles, and writer Ken Levine about producing a Norm and Cliff spinoff several times. However, the group weren’t keen for a surprising reason.
In an article celebrating Cheers 25th anniversary, Levine told Variety: “We just didn’t want to do that. It’s a problem, especially with Norm, because you had a character who was blissfully happy just sitting in a bar doing nothing for 16 hours a day. Unless you have characters who have tremendous desires and goals and things they need to achieve, and you can throw hurdles to make it that much harder for them, it’s very difficult to come up with stories.”
Grammar got nominated for an Emmy for his performance on Frasier, so it looks like they made the right decision.
Which of the spinoffs would you most like to see? Let us know in the comments!