A television spin-off can be a wonderful thing. After a series ends, the idea that we don’t necessarily have to say goodbye to our favourite characters is comforting. We get to follow these people, who have often become almost like friends to us, as they experience new adventures. We never know when actors from the original show will make a cameo appearance, adding to the excitement. In financial terms, spin-offs of popular TV shows are usually a pretty safe bet. At least at first, fans of the parent series are likely to tune in, curious to see how they compare. Many of the most successful shows on air at the moment are spin-offs, including The Simpsons and The Carrie Diaries. Spin-offs are also in the works for Glee (a programme revolving around the character of Rachel), How I Met Your Mother (the rather obviously named How I Met Your Father) and Breaking Bad (a series called Better Call Saul, following criminal lawyer Saul Goodman).
Sadly, some wildly successful TV shows have produced rather painful spin-offs which most people wish had never been made. Joey, which was based on the character of Joey Tribbiani from Friends, was such a spectacular flop it was cancelled midway through the second series due to low ratings. Similarly, Joanie Loves Chachi, the spin-off of Happy Days, only made it to its second season before being axed.
On the other hand, some spin-offs end up proving extremely popular, even outshining the original series. The following is a list of spin-off programmes that kept viewers interested right until the end, ordered in terms of the amount of people who tuned in to view the final episode in the US. (As a result, series that are still ongoing are not included.)
10. Family Matters – 6.4 million
Family Matters was a spin-off of Perfect Strangers that ran for nine seasons, from 1989 to 1998. The series centred on the middle-class, African American Winslow family, who lived in Chicago, Illinois. Halfway through the first season, their annoying neighbour Steve Urkel was introduced. Urkel, with his giant glasses, high pitched voice and catchphrases (including the infamous “Did I do that?”) quickly won over audiences and contributed to the show’s popularity.
9. Diagnosis: Murder – 6.6 million
Diagnosis: Murder started as a spin-off of the crime drama Jake and the Fatman. It aired between 1993 and 2001, and starred Dick Van Dyke as an inquisitive doctor who solved crimes with the aid of his son (played by his real-life son, Barry Van Dyke). Various characters from classic television shows such as M*A*S*H and The Avengers made cameos on Diagnosis: Murder. The series had relatively low ratings at first and was almost cancelled at the end of season two, but it eventually picked up and ended up running for eight seasons.
8. Star Trek: Voyager – 8.8 million
Star Trek: Voyager was one of several incarnations of the 1960s science fiction series, Star Trek. It ran for seven seasons between 1995 and 2001, and followed the Starfleet ship USS Voyager as it made its way back towards earth after being stranded on the other side of the galaxy. Star Trek: Voyager featured the first female commander in a leading role within the franchise. Like all of the other Star Trek series, it boasted a cult following of loyal “Trekkies” and its ratings were… astronomical.
7. A Different World – 9.3 million
The Cosby show was one of the biggest television success stories of the 1980s, paving the way for more sitcoms based on African-American characters and rejuvenating the comedy genre. The series centred on the Huxtable family, with Bill Cosby in the lead role. After it ended, A Different World was born. It initially followed Denise Huxtable, played by Lisa Bonet, during her time at Hillman College. After Bonet left the show, the focus shifted onto other students at the university. A Different World dealt with more serious issues than The Cosby Show, including race, class, and AIDS. It was produced for six seasons between 1987 and 1993 and was by turns the most or second most popular TV series among African American viewers for the majority of its run.
6. Boston Legal – 9.9 million
Boston Legal was a legal drama that aired for five seasons between 2004 and 2008. It followed a former character from The Practice, Alan Shore, and the civil cases he undertook at his law firm. The stars of the series, William Shatner and James Spader, won several prestigious awards for their roles, including Emmys for both actors and a Golden Globe for Shatner. Boston Legal proved very popular, particularly with high-income viewers. The finale was viewed by almost ten million Americans.
5. Melrose Place – 10.4 million
Beverley Hills, 90210, which centred on the lives of a group of teenagers attending high school in California, was one of the biggest television hits of the 1990s. The decision was made to expand the series into a franchise, and Melrose Place became the first of four spin-offs. Moving on from teen drama, it told the story a group of adults living in an apartment complex in L.A. Several of the actors from the original series featured in the show, with Grant Show returning as Jake, and Tori Spelling, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green all making appearances in the first series. Running for seven seasons, from 1992 to 1999, the racy soap opera was a critical and commercial success. An ill-advised sequel was made in 2009, but was cancelled after only one season.
4. Empty Nest – 11.6 million
Empty Nest was a spin-off of The Golden Girls, an award-winning sitcom that revolved around four older women living together in Miami, Florida. The spin-off focused on a paediatrician, Dr. Harry Weston, whose two adult daughters – an undercover policewoman and a lonely divorcée – move back home after their mother dies. The four stars of The Golden Girls all featured in the series as neighbours of the Westons who occasionally drop by to give advice, with Estelle Getty eventually becoming a regular cast member. Empty Nest was produced for seven seasons, from 1988 to 1995, and was one of the top ten most-watched programmes of the year for its first three seasons. Empty Nest spawned its own spin-off, Nurses, in 1991 – a comedy following a group of nurses working alongside Dr. Weston.
3. The Facts of Life – 18.2 million
The Facts of Life was the longest-running sitcom of the 1980s, spanning from 1970 to 1988. It was a spin-off of Diff’rent Strokes, the popular TV show which coined Gary Coleman’s famous catchphrase, “What’chu talkin’ bout, Willis?”. The Facts of Life told the story of Edna, a housemother at a fictional all-female boarding school in New York. It was the first prime-time television show to feature a recurring character with a disability. Several spin-offs of the show were conceived but never properly materialised.
2. Knots Landing – 19.6 Million
Knots Landing was a spin-off of the hit American soap-opera, Dallas. It revolved around the exploits of four married couples living in a fictional suburb in Los Angeles. The idea for the show predated the parent series, but was initially rejected by CBS. It eventually morphed into a spin-off, incorporating well-known characters from Dallas. Knots Landing aired for a whopping fourteen seasons between 1979 and 1993, making it the third longest-running primetime drama on American television.
1. Frasier – 33.7 million
Frasier was a spin-off of the classic American sitcom, Cheers. It followed Dr. Frasier Crane’s relocation from Boston to Seattle after the break-up of his marriage. The show featured appearances from all but one (Kirstie Alley) of the main cast members from Cheers over its eleven-year run. Frasier was highly critically acclaimed, earning praise for its strong ensemble cast and clever, fast-paced dialogue. It received thirty-one Emmy Awards (beating Cheers, which won twenty-eight). Though the later series are usually perceived as weaker than those preceding them, an impressive 33.7 million still tuned in to watch the final episode.
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