With the “shared universe” being a hot trend right now in Hollywood, you’re sure to see the announcement or production of multiple sequels, spin-offs, and crossovers any given year. The CW has three different shows that all exist within the same continuity, while Marvel, DC, Legendary, and even Universal are all trying to get in on the cash cow that is the cinematic universe. This idea is nothing new, though. There have been television shows that exist within the same continuity for as long as prime-time TV has been around!
However, sometimes a spin-off can go on to become more popular than the show that they originally spun off form. Sometimes so much so that audiences forget that they got their start on another show in the first place! Perhaps the characters were only featured in a handful or episodes, or maybe the original show was just plain terrible. Either way, it’s good to remember your roots every now and then.
Here are 15 TV Shows You Forgot Were Spinoffs.
15. Xena: Warrior Princess
Xena: Warrior Princess was one of the defining shows of the 1990s. In addition to dominating the syndication ratings throughout its run, it created a whole world of deep lore and a fandom that is still active today, sixteen years after the show’s cancellation. Xena took place in a fictional version of Ancient Greece that was filled with mythical creatures, ancient evils, and Greek Gods. Joined by her companion Gabrielle, Xena traveled across the land trying to atone for the sins of her past.
Although it is common knowledge that Xena and the show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys take place within the same universe, many forget that the latter came first, and that the character of Xena was introduced by this show long before getting her own series.
In the original 3-part story, Hercules and Iolaus meet are forced to team up with the former brutal war-lord to bring down the remnants of her old army. At the end of the arc, Xena declares that her heart has been “unchained‘ and goes off on her own quest (where Warrior Princess would pick up from later).
Frasier has become the poster boy for comedies that are more on the “intellectual” side; it didn’t need in-your-face pop culture references or crude jokes to make us laugh. Instead, the show was filled with dry wit, clever setups, and charming characters that could put a smile on even the most stuck-up of faces.
The series followed the exploits of Frasier Crane, a psychiatrist who recently returned to his home town of Seattle after his marriage fell apart, as he looks after his father while simultaneously running his own talk show.
The character of Frasier Crane is one of those rare cases where, all in all, he has appeared in a whopping twenty seasons of television in some capacity or another! Frasier first appeared in a season three episode of Cheers where he was introduced in a dual role as Sam’s psychiatrist as well as Diane’s boyfriend. Though his relationship with Diane didn’t last long, Frasier would continue to be a recurring character of Cheers until its ending in 1993. Almost immediately after Cheers’ finale, Frasier began its own eleven year run!
13. Pinky and the Brain
When Steven Spielberg teamed up with Warner Bros. to create a series of children’s cartoons in the ’90s, the results were some of the most unique and wacky shows our young minds had ever seen! Tiny Toons, Freakazoid!, and Animaniacs were all legendary shows that came from this collaboration.
The one everyone remembers the most, however, is Pinky and the Brain, the show about two genetically-enhanced lab mice. As his name might suggest, Brain was the super-intelligent one while Pinky was a buffoon. Brain would always try to take over the world with a complex scheme only to have it fail (usually due to Pinky).
Much like Freakazoid!, the characters of Pinky and Brain were originally part of the Animaniacs lineup. The show was an animated variety show (in line with In Living Color or The Mary Tyler Moore Show) that featured different unrelated skits in between the main plot. Pinky and the Brain was one of these many skits.
12. Family Matters
Ah, Family Matters, aka the show that gave us Steve Urkel. The show started off in season one following the everyday life of Chicago cop Carl Winslow, his wife Harriet, and their children Eddie, Laura, and Judy. However, the focus was quickly taken over by their nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel, who eventually became the show’s main character.
Urkel was known for his ridiculously dorky appearance, high-pitched whiny voice, zany scientific endeavors, and his catchphrase “Did I do that?” Though the Winslows remained as main characters Family Matters was more commonly referred to as “the show with Urkel.”
Believe it or not, the show was actually a spinoff from the less well-known sitcom Perfect Strangers. In this show about two long-lost cousins from different countries trying to live together in the Midwest United States, Harriet Winslow appeared as an elevator operator. She was a minor character for season three and four, and Carl Winslow would make a brief cameo before the two got their own spin-off in ABC’s TGIF lineup.
11. Mork and Mindy
Mork and Mindy was one of those television concepts where you just have to step back, suspend your disbelief, and try not to think too hard about it. The series followed Mork from the planet Ork, an extraterrestrial who comes down to our planet to observe the Earthling’s way of life. Played by the beloved comedian Robin Williams, Mork is taken in by a woman named Mindy. Over time the two develop a relationship, get married, and have a child.
Williams was an unknown at the time of this show’s popularity; this was the first chance audiences got to see his wacky brand of humor in action, and they ate it up!
As crazy as it sounds Mork and Mindy is actually a spinoff from Happy Days. In one episode long after the Fonz had literally “jumped the shark”, the residents of Milwaukee encountered Mork. The alien wanted to abduct Richie Cunningham as one of his specimens but was stopped by Fonzie. The episode ended with Richie realizing it was all a dream. However, the character’s popularity led to his own spinoff where it was revealed that the events had really occurred, and that Mork had simply wiped everyone’s minds.
10. Darkwing Duck
Bear with us here, as there is still some debate among fans and the shows’ creator as to whether or not they exist in the same universe.
During an event celebrating the show’s 25th anniversary and the relaunch of Ducktales on Disney XD, creator Tad Jones claimed that Darkwing Duck and Ducktales are two separate continuities. Citing Silver Age comic books as an example, Tad pointed out that he was never concerned about continuity within his TV shows and just wanted to tell the best stories he possibly could. It makes sense on first glance: Darkwing Duck is a superhero show and Ducktales is more in line with something like Indiana Jones. Likewise, the main characters have never been shown on screen together.
But wait: Launchpad McQuack acts as the sidekick in both shows. As in, he’s the exact same character with just a little better skills as a pilot. And then there’s the character of Fenton Crackshell, aka Gizmoduck, who appears as a recurring character on both shows. Launchpad even mentions that Gizmoduck is “an old friend from Duckberg!” Plus it’s recently been announced that Darkwing Duck will appear in the Ducktales reboot. What the heck, Tad Jones!?
9. Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Sabrina the Teenage Witch focused on the titular character (played by Melissa Joan Hart) as she came to terms with her magical background. On her sixteenth birthday, Sabrina’s aunts reveal to her that they are really 600-year-old witches and that she is one, as well. Throughout the course of the show, the young woman must adjust to her newfound powers on top of navigating typical teenage sitcom situations. Also, there is a hilarious talking cat named Salem.
Sabrina was not the brainchild of ABC, however. The character had been around for ages in the Archie comics of the same name; the page version of the character was much different in that she had known about being a witch her whole life. Audiences got a taste of the character as she appeared in The Teenage Witch for the first time with 1968’s The Archie Show, where she was introduced as a new student at Riverdale High School. This would spin off into its own animated series in the mid-70s, which in turn would spin off into the version we all know today.
If you want a great window into that time period in which the ’90s was transitioning into the early 2000s, then look no further than MTV’s Daria. The titular character of the show’s cynical nature was used as a social commentary of suburban life during the time period; Daria didn’t feel like she fit in with the overly-materialistic and shallow nature of her world. Daria went on to become one of MTV’s highest-rated shows as well as one that often ends up on “Top Cartoon Series” lists.
In the series premiere of Daria, she mentions that her and her family had to move away from Highland due to there being Uranium in the water. Of course, Highland is the town in which Beavis and Butt-Head takes place (explains a lot, doesn’t it?).
Daria herself was a recurring character on Mike Judge’s show who often acted as a foil to the insanity of the two main characters. Surprisingly, the three got along fairly well: Daria was unexpectedly patient with Beavis and Butt-Head, and they actually listened to her on occasion in return.
7. Melrose Place
Melrose Place was a TV show that premiered when America was caught up in the “teen soap opera” phase of the ’90s. Unlike traditional day-time soap operas, these shows aired during primetime and had much higher production values.
This particular story was the one of a group of young adults living in an apartment complex (named “Melrose Place”) in West Hollywood, California. Melrose Place helped launch the careers of Heather Locklear and Alyssa Milano. Though it was never a critical success, it was one of the top-rated shows of the mid-to-late ’90s.
Melrose Place owes just about all of their success to its predecessor Beverley Hills, 90210. This was the original “teen soap opera” that had garnered massive success during its seven year run and influenced all of the ones that came after it. During season two of 90210 we were introduced to Jake, who would go on to be one of the stars of Melrose Place. Several of the 90210 characters made guest appearances on the spinoff before it found its own audience.
6. Gomer Pile, U.S.M.C.
Nowadays, most moviegoers will remember the character of Gomer Pyle thanks to the Drill Sergent in Full Metal Jacket who keeps referring to Private Lawrence as “Pyle” due to his idiotic tendencies. However, before he became associated with a character in a dark comedy war flick, Gomer Pyle was the lovable idiot in his own series Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Even though it only ran for four seasons, the show never once dipped below the top ten slot in the Nielson Ratings. The show starred Jim Nabors as a dumb-as-a-rock gas station attendant who enlists in the Marine Corps.
Where did this gas station attendant hail from, exactly? The town of Mayberry, North Carolina, of course! Gomer Pyle started off as a secondary character on the legendary Andy Griffith Show, where he and his cousin Goober acted as the attendants at the local gas station. The show’s fourth season ended with an episode that dealt with Gomer leaving for the marines; this acted as a backdoor pilot for Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
If you were a kid at any point between 1999 and 2004, chances are you watched the show Zoboomafoo at least once. The show aired alongside PBS’s other educational shows such as Sesame Street, Between the Lions, and Dragon Tales and taught kids about animals and conservation in a way that was fun and accessible. Every episode Chris and Martin Kratt would be hanging out at Animal Junction and would be visited by Zoboo, a talking lemur that would help them identify and learn about the “mystery animal” of the day.
A few years before Zoboomafoo came out kids were introduced to the Kratts in the form of Kratt’s Creatures, a half-hour show that had a similar premise. Unlike its predecessor, this series didn’t really have any talking animals or cartoon segments; instead it was essentially a National Geographic special for children with a few comedic elements thrown in. Only a single season of fifty episodes were produced before its cancellation, but the popularity of Kratt’s Creatures in syndication led to the creation of Zoboomafoo shortly after.
4. The Jeffersons
Admit it, you started singing the theme song the second you saw the words “The Jeffersons!” This show was one of the most influential and game-changing sitcoms in television history. It starred Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford as George and Louise Jefferson, an African-American couple that was able to “move on up” from Queens to Manhattan thanks to George’s successful business ventures.
Although The Jeffersons was a sitcom through and through, it tackled some serious issues for the 1970s. Racism, alcoholism, suicide, and gun violence were all subjects taken on by the show at some point. To this day, The Jeffersons is still one of the longest-running sitcoms.
It should come as no surprise that such a game-changer of a series was a spinoff of another groundbreaking show, All in the Family. For years George, Louise, and their son Lionel were the next-door neighbors of Archie and Edith Bunker. Though the families lived beside each other in relative peace, George and Archie were consistently at odds with each other about political and social issues. In 1975, The Jeffersons spun off into their own series and left the Bunkers far behind.
3. Saved by the Bell
You can’t get any more ’90s than Saved By the Bell. It practically epitomizes the fashion sense and campy, family-friendly sitcoms of the generation! Everybody knows the story – Saved By the Bell follows a rag-tag group of friends as they navigate their way through their Junior High and High School years. One of the show’s quirks was that the character Zack Morris could call a “time out” and freeze everyone around him so that he could directly address the show’s audience. Several spinoffs of this show were attempted, but none quite worked.
However, Saved By The Bell was a spinoff itself! Originally a few of the characters appeared on Disney Channel’s Good Morning, Miss Bliss. Miss Bliss focused on a teacher from Indianapolis, Indiana who taught middle school at JFK Junior High. Zach, Screech, Lisa, and Mr. Belding were all present, but they were minor characters in a show that was about their instructor.
When Miss Bliss couldn’t find an audience, the aforementioned characters spun off into Saved By The Bell; Miss Bliss has been repackaged as part of the Saved By The Bell syndication package as “early episodes.”
2. Sesame Street was a spin-off of Sam and Friends
What on Earth could anyone possibly say about Sesame Street at this point that hasn’t already been said? Every generation of children from 1969 onward has grown up watching these characters; the show is currently on its forty-seventh season and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon! Many of Sesame Street‘s characters have grown to be household names. What child couldn’t identify Kermit the Frog or Big Bird or Cookie Monster? The series is now owned by HBO, episodes will continue to air on PBS (a few months after they premiere) as they have for the last half-century.
But before Sesame Street was even a twinkle in Jim Henson’s eye, there was Sam and Friends. Almost all of the episodes of this local Washington, D.C. show have been lost to the dustbin of history, but a few were preserved by the Jim Henson Company. Sam and Friends starred Kermit alongside a completely different cast of Muppets as they taught children things like how to memorize their ABCs, the importance of creativity, and life lessons like sharing with you friends. The work done on Sam and Friends helped Henson get the experience and exposure he needed to launch Sesame Street.
1. The Simpsons
The Simpsons has been around since 1989 and has seemingly done everything there is to do for an animated sitcom: The show has become a pop culture icon, they’ve had their own (successful) movie, they have their own comic book and video game series, and they even have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!
The exploits of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie Simpson have been enjoyed by fans for twenty-eight seasons now. A large part of what makes The Simpsons so successful is its enormous cast of colorful side characters who inhabit the city of Springfield.
But in the beginning, they didn’t even start on their own show. In the late ’80s comedian Tracey Ullman was given her own variety show on FOX featuring several skits, cartoons, and choreographed dance numbers. One of the more popular of the skits was Matt Groening’s Simpsons sketches featuring our favorite animated family. These minute-long sketches went on for three seasons before FOX decided to greenlight their own spin-off show. Later, Ullman would try to file a lawsuit against the show, claiming that she was the primary reason for their success.
Did you know these shows were all spin-offs? Did we miss any of the more obscure ones? Let us know in the comments!
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