When it comes to spin-offs, we dread them as much as we look forward to them. We all have examples of spin-offs that have done really well and those that have failed miserably. Well, we wanted to look at the extremes of those categories. The best spin-offs often become something entirely separate from the original show. These shows become so big on their own that we tend to forget where they came from in the first place. Sure, many spin-offs stick close to their originator for the first while, but over time, they become separate entities altogether. These days, we have so many shows that are connected to others, particularly superhero shows. Many of these, such as the Netflix’s The Defenders, won’t be considered for this list because they were part of the plan all along.
It should be expected that many of the best shows in history led to spin-offs. It makes sense that the networks would try to catch lightning in a bottle twice or leverage the fame and popularity of one show to create another. If all goes well, the fans of one show will move onto the spin-off. But, it doesn’t always work that way. It’s really interesting, however, when a spin-off surpasses the original show. It’s amazing to us that some of the biggest shows in history have been spin-offs. In some cases, the spin-off comes from a show that wasn’t even all that popular. So, let’s get into it. Here are 8 TV Show Spin-Offs Better Than The Original (7 That Shouldn’t Have Been Made).
15. Family Matters – Perfect Strangers
It’s often forgotten that Family Matters was a spin-off of Perfect Strangers. This is because the shows have virtually nothing to do with each other. The connection between them lies with Harriette Winslow, the wife of Carl Winslow in Family Matters. She was the elevator operator at the Chicago Chronicle newspaper office in Perfect Strangers during seasons three and four. Really, they wanted to create a new show about a family, so they used the popularity of Perfect Strangers to entice an entire audience to tune in. They just took Harriette from one show and made her one of the stars of Family Matters. They left the character name the same and even used an episode of Perfect Strangers to help promote the new vehicle. Now, though, we’re not saying that Family Matters is better than Perfect Strangers, as the latter was quite successful. It had eight strong seasons. But Family Matters is considered one of the best sitcoms of its time. It was hugely popular in its nine seasons and is still one of the longest-running US sitcoms with an African-American cast.
14. NCIS – JAG
No one would argue that JAG was not insanely popular. The show ran for 10 seasons and was very successful, but it could never compare to NCIS; almost no show can. NCIS was spawned from JAG during the eighth season. In a bold move, the creators used JAG to create a backdoor pilot for a new but similar show, NCIS. The two-episode introduction brought the NCIS team onto JAG and convinced the show’s massive audience to try out this new show. After that, the shows split and went their separate ways. NCIS would go on running until the end of time. This year marks the 15th season that the show has been on the air and fans can’t get enough. It still boasts more than 14 million fans each week. That’s about the same number of fans as JAG had during the shows absolute peak. At its best, NCIS was bringing in more than 21 million fans.
13. Flash – Arrow
During the second season of Arrow, when the show was still awesome, fans were introduced to the character of Barry Allen. This, comic fans knew, was to be the Flash. Although the creators knew they wanted to create an Arrowverse filled with several shows ahead of time, we included Flash on this list because plans did change slightly. Initially, they intended to have Allen’s appearance on Arrow serve as a backdoor pilot into his new show. However, the audience reaction was so positive that they figured a true pilot would be more beneficial. It worked. The show was bigger than Arrow almost from the start. Now in its fourth season, The Flash has outperformed Arrow in every way. It doesn’t hurt that Arrow’s third season was basically a disaster and had fans looking for something new to fill the void. After that season, ratings have plummeted for Arrow. In fact, Flash might be the only thing saving the Arrowverse. It’s debatable that the only reason that the other shows still exist at all is because Flash fans tune in to ensure that they know everything what’s going on in the Arrowverse.
12. Xena – Hercules
Over the course of its six seasons, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was excellent. It was silly and ridiculously cheesy, but it was a hell of a lot of fun. Early on in the show, the character of Xena was introduced. Although this character was intended to die, the audience took a liking to her. This inspired the creators to draft a new show with Xena as the lead. From the beginning, Xena: Warrior Princess was a ratings mammoth, smashing its predecessor in really every way. Although fans of one are often fans of the other, there is no question that Xena has had the bigger impact. Even today, Lucy Lawless and Xena are stitched into the pop culture tapestry of this nation. Sure, we kid a little, but it is kind of true. Xena is credited as having an enormous impact on how gay women are portrayed on screen.
11. The Simpsons – Tracey Ullman Show
Although it’s not what you would consider a true spin-off, it would be silly to make a list of successful spin-offs and not include the most successful of all, The Simpsons. For three seasons, The Simpsons was a short created by Matt Groening for The Tracey Ullman Show. The popularity of the shorts grew and Groening was asked to make it into a full-time thing. In October of 2017, The Simpsons began their 29th season, making it now the longest-running sitcom, the longest-running scripted primetime show, and the longest-running animated program in US history. The Simpsons is a cultural phenomenon that is known and loved by the world. It’s crazy to think that for all the good that The Tracey Ullman Show had, it will forever be known as the show that helped launch The Simpsons.
10. Saved By The Bell – Good Morning Miss Bliss
Again, we’re dealing with some technicalities here. Even though Saved by the Bell is more of a reboot than a spin-off, we decided to include it because Saved by the Bell is one of the greatest shows ever made. When Good Morning Miss Bliss hit the airwaves, fans liked certain aspects of it, but the primary focus of the show, Miss Bliss, was boring. People wanted more of the kids, so the network cancelled the show after just one season but immediately greenlit another show based on it, Saved by the Bell. This new show would put the attention on the students. Saved by the Bell was an instant hit. After four hugely-successful seasons, the creators decided to create another spin-off, calling it The College Years. People like to mock The College Years as a failed disaster of a show, but that’s totally unfair. The College Years was still popular, but it wasn’t right for primetime. Although it only ran for one season, it averaged about 12 million viewers. The Voice, which holds the same Tuesday time slot as The College Years brings in about the same number of viewers now.
9. The Andy Griffith Show – The Danny Thomas Show
You know, we’re splitting hairs a little between these two because they were both massive in their respective years. The Danny Thomas Show ran for 11 seasons and found itself in the top 10 of TV rankings for at least six of those years. But the spin-off that The Danny Thomas Show created, The Andy Griffith Show, is one of the most legendary shows of them all. In the seventh season, Danny Thomas found himself arrested by a new character in episode “Danny Meets Andy Griffith.” The sheriff, Andy Taylor (Griffith), detained him in the town of Mayberry and one thing led to another. Later that year, The Andy Griffith Show started its eight-season run. Though it had a shorter run than its originator, The Andy Griffith Show was a ratings monster, never falling lower than seventh in viewership. In its final season, it was the most watched show on television. The only other shows in history to achieve that same feat were I Love Lucy and Seinfeld.
8. Frasier – Cheers
To say that any show is “better” than Cheers is a bit of a stretch. Cheers ran for 11 seasons and was one of the most-watched shows on television. Still, the spin-off of Cheers, Frasier, is often the example used when thinking of most successful spin-offs in history. Frasier ran for 11 seasons as well. It surpassed Cheers in Emmy wins, taking home a record of 37 Primetime Emmys, only just recently beaten by Game of Thrones. Though Frasier’s 10th and 11th seasons lagged, the show consistently brought in about 15 million viewers prior to that. That being said, Cheers had a run between seasons 4 and 10 where it was never lower than top five in TV audience rankings. Let’s just call this one a draw.
7. Baywatch Nights – Baywatch
Incredibly, of all the bad spin-offs on this list, Baywatch Nights is by far the best. This show was interesting. Stupid, ill-conceived, and a huge mistake, yes, but also interesting. The change in this show between seasons is also one of the most hilarious ever seen on television. So, the premise is that the cop from Baywatch and Mitch (David Hasselhoff) start a private detective agency. In the first season, they investigate real crimes; things similar to what they saw on Baywatch. But that didn’t bring in ratings, so they threw a hail Mary pass. In the second season, they decided to make the show science fiction, trying to ride in The X-Files’ wake. The investigations then started looking into monsters, magic, and other unexplained phenomena. It’s a wonder that this simply incredible show only got two seasons.
6. Joey – Friends
When Friends went off the air, there was talk about how the show could branch off. They could have taken it in a number of directions, but they went with Joey. Trying to follow Friends, one of the greatest sitcoms ever put together, was never going to be easy, but Joey was a disaster. It wasn’t through lack of trying, though. NBC promoted the heck out it. The show was even given Friends’ time slot. Because of this, Joey started off well, in ratings at least. Yet, in every episode after the pilot, the ratings plummeted more and more. Joey without the friends was no longer funny. He was a sad character. During the second season, Joey was put on hiatus. It returned in a different time slot, but it never picked up. Eventually, the show was canned without ever completing the second season.
5. AfterMASH – MASH
That’s right. After the enormous smash hit, MASH, went off the air, they brought out AfterMASH. This show would pick up where MASH left off, except that the war was over and the main characters were gone. It had enough momentum to do alright in the early days, but the second season was when the crap hit the fan. It was cancelled midway through its second season after ratings bottomed out to some of the worst on TV. After that, TIME magazine named the show one of the 100 worst ideas of the century. A few years later, TV Guide named AfterMASH the seventh worst TV series ever.
4. The Brady Brides – The Brady Bunch
We all remember The Brady Brides. Oh, you don’t? Well, it happened. After The Brady Bunch fizzled out, the network was desperately trying to find a way to milk that cash cow in new and creative ways. So, they dreamed up a TV movie. Rather than play it as a film, they broke it up and played it as a four-part trash pile called The Brady Girls Get Married. That garbage wasn’t enough to satisfy the network, so they vomited out a 10-episode season of The Brady Brides focusing on the Jan and Marcia. Amazingly, this show was filmed in front of live audience, a fact that makes the totally silent and laughterless background super awkward.
3. Joanie Loves Chachi – Happy Days
Happy Days had some amazing spin-offs, including Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy. You know which spin-off was not amazing? Frickin Joanie Loves Chachi. What a stupid idea for a show. It’s as if the Happy Days had no idea what their audience wanted. Everyone loved the Fonz. It wasn’t Chachi who brought fans in and it certainly wasn’t Joanie. Even though the ratings were decent in the first season of this blunder, the second season of Joanie Loves Chachi was a ratings nightmare. Both seasons were cut short, and the cast migrated back to Happy Days with their tails between their legs.
2. That ’80s Show – That ’70s Show
You may be surprised to learn that there was a show called That ’80s Show. Though none of the original characters from That ’70s Show showed up on this spin-off, the main character was meant to be Eric Forman’s cousin. Most of the crew from That ’70s Show, including the writers and producers all thought that this was a good idea. Oddly enough, the show failed miserably. You would think that just reusing all the old tricks would work, but as it turns out, it didn’t. Maybe they should have clued in that eight seasons of the old show was enough. Viewership had been cut in half by the last season of That ’70s Show. It was time to move onto something new guys, not just get a new cast and change one number in the title.
1. The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. – The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a brilliant spy show that combined action and intrigue each week. The spin-off, The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., did the same thing, except with a backhanded femininity that singlehandedly set the women’s rights movement back 100 years or so. In this mind-numbing spin-off, the hero was not one to use guns. That might seem strange for a secret agent on dangerous missions, but her femininity was stronger than any bullet. Besides, she carried exploding bracelets and earrings, perfume that sprayed gas, and a healthy dose of charm to subdue her enemies. She also danced in every other episode too, which was a nice touch, even if was totally unnecessary.
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