Many popular or long-running television shows aspire to the spin-off. In fact, spin-offs make a lot of sense in today’s landscape, especially considering how big character universes have become over the years. Most spin-offs tend to take place in three categories: a popular character goes off to a new place on their own, a new group of characters inhabit the world of the original show, or the same format with a new twist. Whether or not these work is debatable. A character that is fun with an ensemble, could become unbearable when left alone. A different corner of the world in a show could lack the interest audiences would like. Sometimes, formats only work one way.
The spin-off is a sort of double edged sword. Some end up surpassing the original, withstand the test of time, and take a special place in audience’s hearts. Others can be the worst thing audiences have ever seen and slide into obscurity or ironic re-watching. Ultimately, it comes down to whether the audience wants to see more or really nailing that concept. Most times you just don’t know with the television landscape.
With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the double-edged sword of the television spin-off. These shows have either won our hearts or made us hit the airwaves looking for something better. Here are 10 TV Spin-Offs More Loved Than The Original (And 10 That Aren’t).
We’re betting that The Rock isn’t looking to revisit this weird spin-off of the popular Baywatch. While the original series features gorgeous lifeguards slow-mo running across the beach, this spin-off is a hot mess when you look at it. In the first season, resident police officer of Baywatch Garner Ellberbee (Gregory Alan Williams) has a midlife crisis and quits his police job to form his own detective agency. Joining him in this venture is fan-favorite character Mitch Buchannon (David Hasselhoff) and a young Angie Harmon. During the first season, it followed a fairly standard format, but due to slipping ratings the network wanted to shake things up in the second season.
Oh boy, did they shake things up. The network decided that a science fiction twist would really make the show stand out. So they replaced Williams with Dorian Gregory as Diamont Teague, a paranormal expert, and tried to make the show into a campier X-Files spin-off. If you ever wanted to see the Hoff face off against a fish-woman about to give birth or cryogenically frozen Vikings, then this is what you have been waiting for. Clearly, audiences weren't ready for this, which led to the show’s cancellation. It lasted for forty-four episodes. The second season does seem to have achieved a “so bad it’s good” status. Make of that what you will.
Star Trek was always a show that deserved better than what it got. Although given the show’s progressive nature but low ratings, it’s amazing that it lasted three seasons when it was airing. With the success of the movies featuring the original cast, CBS, who owned the rights, decided to try bringing the series to television. This time, however, they set in the future and brought on a new cast to board the enterprise.
Led by Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, the show truly grew into a grand space opera adventure. There were fights with the Borg and holodeck misadventures. Fans were introduced to Data (Brett Spiner) who tried to reconcile his own desire for humanity with his robotic nature. Though, to be fair, the show did have a rocky start in its beginning.
Sometimes a rocky beginning leads to a great end.
The first season of the series, known as TNG to fans, wasn’t a huge success. Once season two hit, however, TNG hit its groove and gathered a massive fanbase. It lasted seven seasons, had three of its own movies, and allowed more spin-offs to occur in the Star Trek universe. In part, it definitely contributed to the popularity of the franchise to this very day.
Friends remains a staple for the American sitcom viewer (Though the Ross and Rachel relationship hasn’t aged well for some audiences). Following the decade long run of NBC’s hit sitcom Friends, it made sense for the network to focus on fan favorite character Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) in his own sequel series spin-off. It sees the character moving to Hollywood in order to pursue his acting career, where he moves in with his sister (Drea de Matteo) and nephew (Paulo Costanzo).
While the first season drew decent ratings and solid audience reception, it performed poorly with critics. It also lacked the ensemble appeal of Friends. For the series second season, however, NBC made the bizarre move to Tuesday nights opposite of a heavily popular American Idol. It spectacularly tanked with ratings and audiences. Between that, the terrible critical reception, and the lackluster stories, Joey was cancelled.
LeBlanc then took a four-year break from acting. He has made a comeback playing a fictionalized version of himself on Showtime’s Episodes and he also co-hosted Britain’s Top Gear for a couple years. He seems to have a good sense of humor for his failed solo project, even poking fun at Joey on Episodes.
After making audiences swoon for two seasons on Buffy, fan-favorite Angel (David Boreanaz), the vampire with a soul, was given a spin-off series on the WB Network. Lasting five seasons, the series was lauded for its dark, more adult storylines. While Buffy was aimed to grow up with its audience, Angel trusted that its audience was already grown up. Without the worries and distractions of high-school and college life, the series did have a chance to soar.
Sometimes an Angel needs to fall from grace.
Over the course of five seasons, Angel found a family with Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Alexis Denisof), Charles Gunn (J. August Richards), Winnifred “Fred” Burkle (Amy Acker), and Lorne (Andy Hallett). The group would prevent apocalypses, battle the evil law firm Wolfram and Hart, and try to keep themselves afloat when the world seemed crazy. The show was never afraid of pulling its punches with the audience. Outside a less than stellar fourth season due to behind-the-scenes conflict, many consider the show a rare example of when the spin-off surpasses the original. A lot of people consider the cancellation of the series in the show’s fifth season to be something of tragedy. Either way, we got five amazing seasons to binge watch anytime. So we’ll take it.
Given the enduring popularity of Fox’s The X-Files, it makes perfect sense that there would be an attempt to expand the universe. Given the rich mythology and memorable characters of the show, it made sense. So a series was put together focusing on X-Files consultants and friends of Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). The show starred, The Lone Gunmen, Melvin Frohike (Tom Bradiwood), John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), and Richard “Ringo” Langly (Dean Haglund). The trio run a conspiracy theory magazine from where the show draws its name.
The series premiered on March 4th, 2001 and lasted 13 episodes. While its parent series was dark and moody, The Lone Gunmen had a radical departure in tone, going for more lighthearted slapstick. Despite having positive reviews, the show’s ratings took a swift nosedive. It wasn’t renewed for a second season. Then the characters were killed off on The X-Files proper a year later. It’s also known for its premiere episode focusing on the government using a plane to attack the World Trade Center, which was six months prior to the 9/11 attacks. The show hasn’t really aged well. It has since faded into obscurity since it went off air.
The Lone Gunmen is difficult to find through legitimate means. Though Amazon is always a likely option if you want to see it for yourself.
Few shows have lasted as long or have done as much for the crime procedural as the evergreen Law & Order. Created by Dick Wolf, the series lasted from 1990 to 2010 with an astonishing 20 season run. During this tenure, Wolf created several spin-offs to the popular parent series. Nothing has endured quite as much and as well as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (or Law & Order: SVU). Recently renewed for its twentieth season, tying it with its parent series, SVU follows the titular squad as the investigate “attack based offenses”.
For a show thats been on for 20 seasons, you would think they would run out of stories to tell.
More than its parent series, SVU delved into the officers’ lives, backstories, and how they deal with the mentally taxing job that they have. Most of the episodes do deal with difficult subject matter. Mariska Hargitay, who plays Olivia Benson, has been in all the seasons of the show with Ice-T taking second place as Fin Tutuola, who debuted in the second season. Honestly, the fact that the show lasted this long is just impressive on its face. Should the series be renewed for season twenty-one, it would make it the rare series that outlast the original. Even if it somehow does end with its upcoming twentieth season, we’ll always have those marathons on USA.
On the opposite end of the spectrum for the Law & Order franchise, there are two big failures on its record. One is Law & Order: Trial By Jury, which focused exclusively on both the defense and prosecution as they prepare for trial. It lasted thirteen episodes in the 2005-2006 TV season and was notable as Jerry Orbach’s final appearances as Lenny Briscoe in the first two episodes. It came and went quickly and quietly.
The same, however, couldn’t be said for Law & Order: LA. This show was supposed to take over for the cancelled Law & Order in the 2010-2011 television season. The show had a bit of a troubled production with a major cast shake-up when filming for the series was well in progress. Episodes ended up being aired out of order. Even though it was given the prime timeslot following SVU, the ratings for the show quickly declined. It was cancelled unceremoniously at the end of the season. The speed-bump, however, didn’t stop Dick Wolf or NBC. Wolf has since created and produced the successful Chicago franchise for the network. As we said here, Law & Order: SVU is still going strong. In the fall, Wolf has also created FBI for the network.
It’s a known fact that while Marvel rules the big screen, DC rules the television airwaves. Nothing is clearer than what the CW has created with the Arrowverse. Fans do have to wonder if this was super-producer Greg Berlanti’s plan the whole time. Rather than a backdoor pilot in Arrow’s second season, the show's creators intorduce Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) pre-powers in order to test the water. With his successful trip to the then Starling City, the CW quickly ordered The Flash to air. It continues to the perfect light-hearted foil to the darker Arrow. (When the show remembers that it is that.)
The Arrowverse may be as big as the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the introduction of Black Lightning.
With many heroes (and super talented actors) populating the two shows, the creators made a team-based spin-off which featured varying heroes traveling through time, Legends of Tomorrow. Then Barry Allen ended up on Earth-38, where Supergirl officially joins the Arrowverse. The amazing result leaves the Arrowverse as a live-action version of a comic book universe. While Black Lightning is a Berlanti-produced show, it doesn’t count as part of the Arrowverse until it crosses over within one of the Arrowverse. characters. The entirety of the superhero line-up of the CW just shows how successful spin-offs can be.
The modern version of Battlestar Galactica remains a strong case for why reboots can be an amazing thing. Lasting four seasons on Syfy (back when it was Sci-Fi), the 2004 series was a timely examination of the war on terror, religious fundamentalists, and civil liberties crackdowns that was a common part of US life following the 9/11 attacks. It remains one of the most lauded science fiction series of all time (Though that finale is still a bit rough for fans). Given its popularity, however, a spin-off made sense.
Caprica is a prequel series that shows how the Cylons were first created and the beginning of how they would turn on the humans who created them. It was also going to flesh out life on the Twelve Colonies of Kobol before the apocalypse and constant desperation that fans associated with BSG. While Ronald D. Moore did amazing work with the parent series, Caprica did just not hold fans. Where BSG was a genuinely tense and insightful series, Caprica committed the cardinal sin of being boring.
There was a sharp decline in ratings over the series, which was cancelled with five episodes left to air in the first season. They were ultimately aired in a burn-off marathon on the network.
Xena: Warrior Princess made every 90s (or Netflix) viewer want to let loose a war cry of their own and smash the patriarchy. It’s one of those shows that was so wonderful in all the right ways that fans forgot it was a spin-off. Its predecessor was the Kevin Sorbo-starring, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Xena (Lucy Lawless) made her debut on the series in its first season where she underwent a character arc from a cruel warlord to someone who strives to do good.
Xena and Gabrielle are the original OTP.
The character proved to be so popular that the spin-off was a natural extension. It’s one of the defining pieces of media of the 90s, filled with a deep lore and dedicated fandom. Needless to say, it also dominated in the ratings like big time. Plus the relationship between Xena and her companion, Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor), is one of the defining ships to have ever been witnessed on-screen. The series ended up lasting six seasons and 134 episodes, ending in 2001. A revival was being eyed, but fan outrage over certain changes shut that down. Hopefully, we’ll get the Xena revival that we deserve one day. Until then, let loose that warrior cry and click that “next episode” button on Netflix.
Happy Days was one of those shows that definitely launched a veritable franchise of television and made some serious stars such as Ron Howard and Henry Winkler. Over the course of its decade long run on television, several spin-offs emerged such as Mork & Mindy (giving a then unknown Robin Williams his start) and Laverne & Shirley. While there were several less than successful spin-offs, Out of the Blue and Blansky’s Beauties, the most notorious of these is Joanie Loves Chachi.
Considered to one of the worst, if not the worst spin-off of all time, the series lasted for 17 episodes and two seasons (Happy Days's writers penned the four-episode long and highly rated first season). The series focused on Joanie Cunningham (Erin Moran) and Chachi Arcola (Scott Baio) as they tried to break into the music business in the mid-1960s. During the show’s 13-episode long second season, the quality took a nose dive. It ended up dragging on and on, much to the bewilderment of audiences alike. Why? People wanted the Fonz, not Joanie and Chachi. The show quietly went off the air on May 24th, 1983. It’s been entered in the annals of horrible, horrible TV spin-offs where it still stays to this day.
Speaking of spin-offs of beloved long-running sitcoms, Cheers, the bar where everybody knows your name, struck gold with eloquent, witty, almost too-smart for all of us sitcom, Frasier. Kelsey Grammer’s character, intellectual Doctor Frasier Crane was a popular oddball member of the blue-collar ensemble that populated its parent series. The spin-off, however, showed the good doctor moving to Seattle to become a radio show psychiatrist. During the eleven season run, he reconnected with his blue-collar father, Martin (John Mahoney), and his equally fussy brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce).
The show focused on the social ineptitude of the characters, as Frasier doled out advice to his listeners.
Both Cheers and Frasier lasted 11 seasons and both are considered classic sitcoms. Frasier would go onto win 37 Emmy awards during its run (along with winning the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy for five years in the row). Even though some critics would pan the later seasons of the series, many still consider the whole run gold. People think that even surpassed its predecessor. Now it all comes down to a matter of taste, but we can all agree that Frasier exceeded the first attempt of a spin-off that the Cheers crew tried to make, the 1987 series The Tortellis.
If you’re a fan of procedural television shows, then you may recognize the title as that show that continually pops up as a recommendation on Netflix. The series takes place in the same universe as Bones, which lasted twelve seasons on FOX and focused on the crime solving adventures of forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and her partner, FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz).
In the show’s sixth season, the backdoor pilot for The Finder, also created by Hart Hanson, premiered. The series focuses on the adventures of Walt Sherman (Geoff Stults) who, after a sustaining a traumatic brain injury in the Iraq War, can see patterns others cannot. He uses this ability to, well, find things. He’s join by his legal advisor, bar owner, and occasional bodyguard, Leo Knox (Michael Clarke Duncan), U.S. Marshal Isabel Zambada (Mercedes Masohn), and Romani juvenile delinquent Willa Monday (Maddie Hasson). Much like Bones, the series was also based off books, in this case The Locator by Richard Greener. The series lasted a 13-episode season.
The show suffered low ratings and the special magic that made Bones a hit. It is also noted as Michael Clarke Duncan’s final television appearance as he died in September 2012 about four months after the show was cancelled.
Sometimes, especially in this crazy world, we as a species need wholesome content in order to soothe our troubled souls. That’s where shows like MasterChef Junior come in. While Chef Gordon Ramsey is known for his explosive personality and choice language in his other series, something about children just really softens the guy. In MasterChef Junior, a group of young chefs ages 8-13 compete for $100,000 and the trophy. Watching these eager youngsters try their best is amazing and reminds you of your passion. (Or, perhaps, that it’s time to learn how to cook properly.)
Seeing kids showcase their culinary skills is a sight to see.
Nothing, however, wins fans hearts as see Chef Ramsey interact with the young contestants. Whether he’s helping them correct a mistake, comforting them during a loss, or cheering them on, it is definitely the most heartwarming part of the series. Plus the kids’ passion and love for cooking is really amazing to see. It definitely reminds even the most cynical adult that it’s always worth to chase a dream. On the scape of reality television where there is cattiness, egos, and backstabbing amongst the adults, it really is nice to see contestants support and cheer each other on. MasterChef Junior is definitely something we all need in our lives.
Under Russell T. Davies, the revived Doctor Who unleashed a slew of spin-offs to varying degrees of success. Torchwood, lead by the ever charismatic John Barrowman, delighted the older fanbase (until season four took things in a…weird direction). The Sarah Jane Adventures was a hit with the younger audiences until Elisabeth Sladen’s health took a turn for the worst. Either way, they were both hits with their demographics and hugely successful Doctor Who spin-offs. Considering that the only one before is the less-than-stellar series based around K-9? It means a lot that they succeeded.
It made sense that the franchise would try to expand again with Class. The series focuses on a group of teenagers attending the Coal Hill School, where the Doctor originally acquired his first companions. During its only season, the group battles the alien race known as the Shadow Kin. Naturally, it doesn't end entirely well for the kids over the course of the season. The show was meant to be a spin-off for the teenagers watching Doctor Who with nods to shows like Buffy or Teen Wolf. While it did get a sterling reviews from the outset, audiences moods shifted as the series went on. Between that and poor viewership, the show was cancelled to mixed reactions from fans. Luckily, it will live on in a series of audio dramas from Big Finish. Those folks definitely know the way to a Whovians heart.
Speaking of things that haven’t aged very well, Beavis & Butt-Head was a 90s MTV darling. While it drew mixed reviews from critics and audiences, it was certainly memorable and enduring. Still it is considered an important and vital piece of animation to understanding Gen X, even though reception was mixed, it has been ranked amongst some of the great cartoons.
What some consider greater than the duo is the series that sprang from it: Daria. The show follows Daria Morgendorffer (voiced by Tracy Grandstaff) as she and her family move from Highland to Lawndale. During five seasons and two movies, Daria wryly and sarcastically observes the world and the colorful people of Lawndale with her best friend, Jane Lane (voiced by Wendy Hoopes). Unfortunately, the duo were constantly dragged into insane shenanigans, despite their best efforts to avoid it. Ultimately, they manage survive Lawndale High with their sanity intact.
Audiences praised the show for their authentic portrayal of the high school experience.
The series was a critical and rating darling for MTV with a long-lasting impact and legacy for fans of the series. For the show’s 20th anniversary creators Gleen Eichler and Susie Lewis told Entertainment Weekly what happened post-show. Lewis admitted that they would love to do a revival. So would we.
With solid ratings, positive praise, and a fascinating “fractured fairytale” look on classic stories (and Disney properties), ABC’s Once Upon A Time was definitely a show ripe for a spin-off. It was full of so many realms to explore. Hopefully, it didn’t need constant cursing of people in order for it to work. The show, named Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, began airing in 2013. Using its parent series blending format, it mixed together Alice in Wonderland with Aladdin.
It had a grown Alice (Sophie Lowe) returning to Wonderland in order to find the genie and her true love Cyrus (Peter Gadiot). Joined by the Knave of Hearts/Will Scarlet (Michael Socha) and the White Rabbit (John Lithgow), Alice must save her love from the likes of Jafar (Naveen Andrews) and the Red Queen (Emma Rigby). As with most things, however, nothing is as its seems in Wonderland.
The show was praised for its cast, its visuals, and narration. However, Critics and audiences alike found its meandering and confusing plot a bit of a turn off. With plummeting ratings, the show was cancelled. Out of the main cast, Socha would reprise his role on season four of Once Upon a Time as a main cast member there. Though, to be honest, he really didn’t do much.
That’s right. One of TV’s most enduring modern procedurals, the show of innumerable reruns and marathons, was originally a spin-off. JAG ran for 10 seasons and over two hundred episodes (season one on NBC and season two-ten on CBS). It followed the lawyers in the Judge Advocate General office where it used the Law & Order approaching of ripping stories for headlines.
NCIS debuted as a backdoor pilot in JAG in a two-parter “Ice Queen” and “Meltdown”. The creatives boiled down the two-parter to an hour-long proof of concept called NCIS - The Beginning, to show to CBS. Since its debut, NCIS remains a consistently strong performer for CBS in ratings. The show will enter its sixteenth season in the fall. NCIS spawned two spin-offs NCIS: Los Angeles (entering its 10th season) and NCIS: New Orleans (entering its fifth season). Both of which have also been solidly rated.
The NCIS spin-off shows have had crossovers with one another.
It honestly doesn’t look like NCIS will stop anytime soon. Though, of the original cast, only Mark Harmon (playing Senior Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs) and David McCallum (Dr. Donald “Duck” Mallard) remain from the original roster. For the most part, outside of a sparing mention, the show tends to remain largely separate from its parent series.
Technically, neither of these spin-offs were ordered to series. They certainly, however, present a strange case in what happens when such a thing doesn’t work. Supernatural has been a long-held flagship series for the CW (formerly the WB) since the network’s inception. The fact that it’s entering its fourteenth season is kind of mindblowing given that genre shows such as it rarely last that long. It does make sense to attempt to expand the show. It has a dedicated fanbase. The setting takes place across the US. Anyone, with sufficient training and introduction to the supernatural, can become a hunter.
It does make sense for a spin-off of the series to occur. Fans would love to see the world explored. The CW has tried to the approach. The first was Supernatural: Bloodlines, created during Supernatural's ninth season. The twenieth episode functions as a backdoor pilot entitled "Bloodlines". If ordered, then it would have explored inter-city hunting along with the “clashing hunter and monster cultures in Chicago”. The show did not go to series, but the CW remained opened to a Supernatural spin-off.
This past television season, the showrunners attempted again with Wayward Sisters. This series focuses on fan favorite character Sheriff Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes) joined by Claire Novak (Kathryn Newton), daughter of Castiel's (Misha Collins) original host Jimmy. The backdoor pilot takes place during episode ten of Supernatural's thirteenth season. During Upfronts, execs confirmed that the show also wouldn’t go to series, much to the outrage of fans.
Breaking Bad remains a prime example for how the television medium is a true art form. Needless to say, a spin-off needs to live up to a lot. Better Call Saul doesn’t completely surpass Breaking Bad, but the fact that fans still watch and love it is impressive. It’s on its fourth season and shows no signs of slowing down. Better Call Saul focuses on fan favorite character Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) back when he was con-man turned lawyer James Morgan “Jimmy” McGill in the early 2000s.
Maybe Walter and Jesse will make an appearance on the show.
As it takes place before Breaking Bad, audiences get to see characters from the main series, like Krazy-8 (Maximino Arciniega) and Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), showing up from time to time. Many do not consider the series the second coming of Breaking Bad. Over the course of its run, the show collected a number of impressive nominations. Fans and critics alike also praise the series to no end. In the end, that’s all a good spin-off really wants, right?
We should just be glad that we’re not following Saul/Jimmy’s post-Breaking Bad career as a Cinnabon manager in Nebraska. We can all agree that while the writers of the series could make it interesting, we much prefer what we’re getting right now. Sometimes, prequels are the way to go. Better Call Saul’s fourth season will begin airing August 6th, 2018.
Which of these do you love/hate most? Let us know in the comments!