From a marketer’s perspective, spinoffs are a dream come true. Spin off a new series from an already popular show and you should have a built-in fan base. Half the marketing work is already done.
In practice, TV success is more elusive. True, lots of spinoffs have been long-running hits, like Xena: Warrior Princess (arising from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), Frasier (Cheers), and Saved by the Bell (Good Morning, Miss Bliss). Lots of others have failed miserably. In the end, a spinoff series has to stand on its own two feet and many spinoff shows couldn’t manage that.
So many spinoffs think that just recreating similar elements to the successful original will lead to a hit show, but history has proven them incredibly wrong. That’s not to say that every spinoff is memorably bad.
Some are bad enough to attain long-lived infamy. Others, however, fall down the memory hole so fast, it’s hard to believe they ever existed. Sometimes it’s because they never amounted to anything more than a pilot episode. Other shows last longer, but still don’t leave much of an impression.
Here are 19 Terrible TV Spinoffs You Completely Forgot About.
19. K9 and Company (Doctor Who)
K9 and Company didn’t make it out of the pilot phase, despite uniting popular companions K9 and Sarah Jane, together for the first time.
The big difference was that the other spinoffs, like Doctor Who, pitted their casts against sci-fi threats. K9 and Company went for a more down-to-Earth feel. The pilot episode, “A Girl’s Best Friend” pits the duo against a black magic cult intimidating a village, but by killing people rather than actual paranormal power. It’s astonishingly mundane for a show that stars an intelligent robot dog.
18. The Colbys (Dynasty)
Spinning off a show is one thing, cloning it another. For some critics that was the problem with the 1985 Dynasty spinoff The Colbys.
On Dynasty, the Colbys were the major rivals of the powerful Carrington clan. The Colbys put the rivals in the spotlight, with a particular focus on Jeff Colby and his wife Fallon Carrington Colby, who crossed over from Dynasty. They gave viewers a portal into the Colby feuds and power struggles, which unfortunately looked just the Carrington feuds and power struggles, except set in even ritzier houses.
The show never became the hit Dynasty was, and faded away after two seasons.
17. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (Once Upon a Time)
Despite its flaws, ABC’s Once Upon a Time was certainly a success. The spinoff Once Upon a Time in Wonderland started with poor ratings, then just went further down the rabbit hole.
In the opening episode, Alice is incarcerated in a madhouse and learns that her lost love, the genie Cyrus, is in danger. Time to bust out and return to Wonderland to save him! Arrayed against her are the sinister Red Queen and Jafar — yes, the guy from Aladdin.
Perhaps part of the problem was that the creators didn’t seem to have much interest in Lewis Carroll. Where the parent series’ characters were clever riffs on the source fairy tales, Wonderland had little resemblance to the original. It may also have been the time slot, or the demands on the creators producing both shows simultaneously. Either way the show died faster than Once Upon a Time’s seventh season reboot.
16. U.S. of Archie (The Archie Show)
1974’s U.S. of Archie seems geared less for Archie fans than critics who wanted Saturday morning TV to be more educational. Along with giving us the moral message-heavy Shazam, CBS gave us a series where Archie’s gang popped up throughout U.S. history. You can’t say history’s not educational right?
Each episode took us to a key moment in American history with Archie & co. attached. In “The Wright Brothers”, for instance, it turns out one of Archie’s ancestors was an apprentice to the aviation pioneers. After an opening in the present we look back at the amazing story of the Wrights’ first flight. Other episodes tackled the underground railroad, the gold rush, and the invention of the telephone.
15. Galactica 1980 (Battlestar Galactica)
The original Battlestar Galactica had enthusiastic fans but didn’t have the ratings to last beyond one season. Figuring the potential was still there, ABC spun off Galactica 1980 a year after the original ended.
To explain the changed cast, writers set the series three decades after BSG – despite the final episode of BSG placing the show in 1969 or later. The space refugees finally reach the lost colony — Earth — only to realize they’re not equipped to fight the Cylons. The Galactica crew starts working covertly to protect Earth and prepare it for the inevitable Cylon invasion.
With adventures taking place on Earth (cheaper sets!) and a heavy kid-friendly emphasis, this show had no hope of improving on BSG’s ratings. A running gag on the show was a spoof of NBC’s CHiPS, airing the same night. Unfazed by the spoofing, CHiPS easily outlasted Galactica 1980.
14. Highlander: The Raven (Highlander)
Highlander: The Raven isn’t the worst take on the Highlander franchise (Highlander 2, anyone?) but it was a poor shadow of the Highlander TV series that preceded it.
Raven starred a semi-regular on Highlander – Elizabeth Gracen, who played the immortal thief Amanda. In the pilot a cop dies trying to (she thinks) save Amanda’s life. Amanda helps the cop’s partner, Nick Wolf (yes, someone actually thought we wouldn’t laugh at the name) get revenge, then sticks around helping him fight other bad guys.
Amanda made a good foil for Adrian Paul’s honorable Duncan MacLeod, but she didn’t play off Nick anywhere near as well. Many of the plotlines were just routine crime stories. The final episode revealed that Nick was another immortal but that feels more like a Hail Mary play than anything else.
13. Gloria (All in the Family)
The classic All in the Family had two successful spinoffs, Maude and The Jeffersons.
The third time, though was not the charm — third time was Gloria.
The premise of this 1982 sitcom was that Archie Bunker’s daughter (Sally Struthers) was now a single mother – her husband Mike had split since they left All in the Family – working as a veterinary assistant in upstate New York.
Where All in the Family broke fresh ground with its treatment of bigotry, Gloria was generic, indistinguishable from any other TV show about a single mother with a job. Gloria wasn’t as interesting as Archie, and Struthers was nowhere near the actor Carroll O’Connor was. It’s something of a miracle the show kept running for an entire season.
12. Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (Kung Fu)
king Twenty years after David Carradine appeared as Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu, he tried to recapture the magic in 1992’s Kung Fu — the Legend Continues.
Let’s just say: no, the legend didn’t continue.
Carradine plays Caine’s grandson and namesake, a Shaolin priest who backed up his kung fu with considerable mystical power. Years after a tragedy separated Caine from his son Peter, they reunited. As Peter was a cop and a Shaolin himself, the Caines had plenty of opportunities to go martial arts on the bad guys.
Although the show ran four years in syndication, it was never in danger of becoming the cult hit the original had been. Kung Fu, with a Western hero who didn’t carry a gun, made Caine larger than life. In this sequel, Carradine just seemed worn out and tired.
11. Tabitha (Bewitched)
Mix 1960s hit Bewitched with 1970s hit The Mary Tyler Moore Show and what do you get? The flop called Tabitha, focusing on the grown-up daughter of Bewitched‘s Sam and Darrin Stevens. Tabitha should actually have been a tween when this show launched in 1977, but that’s the least of the show’s problems.
Like her mother, Tabitha is a witch, in love with a mortal, coping with relatives who can’t understand her living in the mortal world. Like Mary Tyler Moore’s Mary Richards, Tabitha worked at a TV station, producing a news show, with her non-magical brother Adam working alongside her.
Unlike Sam and Mary, nobody was interested in Tabitha’s adventures.
It didn’t help that star Lisa Hartman lacked any of the talent and screen presence Moore and Elizabeth Montgomery possessed. Tabitha faded away after a few months, forgotten except when someone needs a bar trivia stumper.
10. The Dukes (The Dukes of Hazzard)
Turning prime-time series into Saturday morning cartoons (My Favorite Martians, The Oddball Couple, Jeannie) is one way to squeeze extra mileage out of a hit show. Which is how CBS gifted Dukes of Hazzard fans with the Saturday morning spinoff, The Dukes.
The premise: Boss Hogg is going to foreclose on Uncle Jesse’s farm unless Bo, Luke and Daisy raise money to pay off the loan. How? By driving the General Lee to victory in a round-the-world race. Hogg, of course, tries to beat them, using every dirty trick in his book to win.
9. Greatest American Heroine (Greatest American Hero)
Long before the announced gender-switched reboot of Greatest American Hero, NBC tried and failed with the same concept. But the problem wasn’t casting a female lead, it was that Greatest American Heroine was dreadful.
Reluctant superhero Ralph Hinkley fought crime on ABC from 1981 to 1983. Three years later, series creator Stephen Cannell made a reboot pilot for NBC. In the intervening years, Ralph’s secret had been revealed and public adulation had turned him into an arrogant jerk. The aliens who gave him his super-suit took it back and gave it to Holly, a sweet, sunny, environmentalist and teacher.
Did we mention the sweetness? Quite aside from making Ralph a jerk, the pilot suffers from making Holly so cute and sweet and sunny that she’s insufferable. The pilot didn’t air until it was attached to GAH’s syndicated run. Here’s to the new reboot doing it right.
8. Mr. T (The A Team)
Former bodyguard Mr. T became an actor with Rocky III, an icon as part of The A-Team and a cartoon character as the eponymous star of Mr. T. Although “T” wasn’t playing his A-Team character, B.A. Baracus, the 1983 cartoon definitely spun off from B.A.’s popularity.
While Mr. T provided his voice and personality to his cartoon avatar, the show had little in common with him or Baracus.
T is now a gymnastics coach, traveling around the country with his star pupils and a dog with a Mohawk. Invariably they’d run into some sort of sinister evildoers doing evil and put a stop to it. Fortunately no evil is a match for talented teen gymnasts, backed up by the might of Mr. T’s invincible T-ness.
7. Getting Together (The Partridge Family)
Some spinoffs are more contrived than natural. For instance, when ABC decided to launch actor/bubblegum rocker Bobby Sherman into his own series, they set it up in one episode of The Partridge Family.
Loosely based on the pop music-singing Cowsills, the Partridges sung for their supper from 1970 to 1974. In a 1971 episode they introduced Bobby Conway (Sherman) to tone-deaf but lyrical songwriter Lionel. The two characters returned the following season in Getting Together, struggling to make it in the big leagues while caring for Bobby’s kid sister.
The show struggled even harder than its protagonists, giving up the ghost after five months.
It didn’t help that Sherman’s singing career collapsed around the same time. While The Partridge Family still has a nostalgic appeal for some viewers, Getting Together isn’t remembered that fondly. Or at all.
6. Gilligan’s Planet (Gilligan’s Island)
The castaways of Gilligan’s Island were cartoonish to start with, so rebooting them for The New Adventures of Gilligan in 1974 must have seemed natural. Sending them into outer space? Not so much. Nevertheless, that’s where 1982’s Gilligan’s Planet sent them in the hopes of getting more use out of the Gilligan brand.
The theme song explains that the castaways escaped the island by somehow launching a rocket made out of wood. Thanks to Gilligan inevitably screwing things up, they wind up rocketing into space, then crashing on another world.
Instead of dealing with headhunters, they have to cope with aliens; instead of getting off the island, they have to get off an entire planet.
5. The Brady Bunch Hour (The Brady Bunch)
Compared to 1977’s The Brady Bunch Hour, the infamously bad The Bradys looks like This Is Us.
The show would like us to believe that ABC decided to put the Brady family (the characters, not the actors playing them) into a prime-time musical variety show for legitimate reasons. In between the singing and dancing, the family had to cope with new stresses (moving to a new house, Mike getting stage fright) and outlandish guest star problems (comic Rip Torn gets amnesia from a blow to the head).
Variety shows were losing popularity by the late 1970s, which makes ABC’s choice of spinoff dubious.
4. The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (Happy Days)
Turning Bo and Luke into round-the-world racers has a certain logic. Who the heck looked at Happy Days and thought “You know, this would work great as a cartoon if we just threw in time travel?”
Nevertheless, that’s what we got when nitwit time traveler Cupcake crashes her ship in 1957 Milwaukee. The Fonz, with his uncanny mechanical know-how, gets it running again, but makes the mistake of stepping on board with Richie and Ralph (and Fonzie’s dog, Mr. Cool).
Next thing you know they’re hurtling through time, unable to get home, and finding danger at every stop.
3. The Brady Kids – The Brady Bunch
The most successful Brady Bunch spinoff was a 1972 Saturday morning cartoon. It’s not good, but lasting more than a year puts it head and shoulders over every other Brady spinoff.
A balloon ride gets crazy when it drops the six Brady siblings on a mysterious island. There they meet Myron, the magical mynah, and the talking pandas Ping and Pong. When the kids go home, the animals come with them, setting the stage for two seasons of wackiness. If Myron’s misfiring magic didn’t plunge them into trouble, Greg’s scheming classmate Chuck would kick off the plot with some dirty work.
2. Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space – Josie and the Pussycats
If nothing else, we should admire the title of this 1972 cartoon. Just seven words and every one of us knows exactly what we’re going to see.
The 1970 Josie and the Pussycats cartoon had Archie Comics’ girl band encountering mad scientists, supervillains, and would-be world conquerors wherever they happened to have a gig.
In this spinoff series, egocentric Alexandra accidentally launches the entire cast into space during a photo shoot.
Instead of traveling around the world, they travel around the galaxy. They still fight supervillains but now they’re alien supervillains.
1. The Ultimate Merger (The Apprentice)
Donald Trump has often insisted The Apprentice deserved an Emmy. He doesn’t apparently think the same about The Ultimate Merger.
The first season of The Apprentice introduced viewers to Omarosa, one of the most memorable reality-TV schemers. The Ultimate Merger spun her off into her own dating show: which of the dozen bachelors will win her hand? All the suitors were black, which made one reviewer cringe when the hotel staff where they were staying lectured the men on how to behave in such a classy place.
As it turned out none of the men won. One bachelor lasted to the final round, but he was separated – not divorced, so he couldn’t marry her. The show faded away with equal lack of fanfare, falling far short of The Apprentice’s long and successful run.
Any forgotten spinoffs we forgot to mention? Let us know in comments.
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