What is a TV Spinoff?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
TV spinoffs lure viewers with beloved characters from existing shows.
TV spinoffs lure viewers with beloved characters from existing shows.

A TV spinoff is a television show that takes either a character from another show, or similar plot structures and the same fictional universe, to create a new program. The true spinoff tends to work on the former premise, and numerous good TV spinoff examples have arisen, especially in sitcoms, from previous shows. For example, one of the most successful spinoff sitcoms was the show Frasier, which took the character Frasier Crane from the immensely popular show Cheers.

A spinoff is when a character from one popular TV program is made the center of a new program, the success of which is not guaranteed.
A spinoff is when a character from one popular TV program is made the center of a new program, the success of which is not guaranteed.

The new show has to be as good or better than its original show in order to be a success. Frasier was just that. Instead of simply relying on the character of Frasier, played by Kelsey Grammar, the new show boasted an incredible cast. In particular, the performance of David Hyde Pierce as Frasier’s brother Niles, became one of the main reasons to watch this spinoff. The interplay between Frasier and Niles was excellent, accounting for numerous comic moments.

Sometimes a hugely successful show can launch a true TV spinoff that is not a success. The wildly popular sitcom Friends inspired the sitcom Joey. Unfortunately, Joey was not as tightly written or directed as Friends and quickly lost most of the original show’s audience.

Other shows that have contributed to one successful TV spinoff or more, include the following:

  • All in The Family inspired The Jeffersons, and Maude
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show launched Lou Grant, Phyllis and Rhoda.
  • Beverly Hills 90210 spun off into Melrose Place.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer gave rise to the series Angel.

    The list of spin-offs is somewhat large, and some make the distinction between a true spinoff like Frasier and an engineered TV spinoff like Melrose Place. In an engineered spinoff, a character is briefly introduced to an existing show for one or more episodes. The character then becomes the main part of the TV spinoff.

    This was the case with Melrose Place, where the character of Jake appeared in a few episodes of 90210 first. This spinoff is thought to be engineered because the producers of the original show always planned for the new character to begin a new show. On the show CSI Horatio Caine, played by David Caruso appeared in one episode of the original show only, before anchoring CSI, Miami. The creators of CSI really didn’t need another engineered TV spinoff for their next series CSI New York.

    In fact, some shows become so wildly popular that they give rise to other shows with the same thematic elements. When there are more than two shows, like the CSI group, these may also be called a franchise, as well as a spinoff. One of the largest franchises currently is the Law & Order series, which has had six spinoffs. Two have been quite successful. Both Law & Order Special Victims Unit and Law & Order Criminal Intent have quite loyal followings and sometimes even surpass the popularity of the original program.

  • Tricia Christensen
    Tricia Christensen

    Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

    Tricia Christensen
    Tricia Christensen

    Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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    Discussion Comments

    Rotergirl

    Here's one you might not remember. "Diff'rent Strokes" spun off "Hello Larry" and "The Facts of Life." I think you're right, Pippinwhite: spin offs used to be more frequent than they are now, and they're usually comedies.

    Even if I didn't like the original show, I'll often check out a spinoff, just to see if it's any better. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I always liked "The Jeffersons" more than "All in the Family." "All in the Family" was a little too "relevant" for me. But most network TV is hardly worth watching these days, anyway. There are a few good shows on, but most of it is just garbage.

    Pippinwhite

    When I saw the title of this article, I immediately thought of "Frasier" and how much more I liked it than "Cheers." I loved "Frasier" and rarely missed an episode. Sometimes, the spinoffs are better, and this is one case when they were.

    "Happy Days" spun off "Laverne and Shirley," and more indirectly, "Mork and Mindy."

    It seems like spinoffs used to be more common than they are now. You see them occasionally, but it's more common for a show to run completely past any humor ("Two and a Half Men") rather than spinoff and maybe come up with something else that's good.

    Also, comedies seem more apt to spin off than dramas, although that can happen. "Knots Landing" was a spinoff of "Dallas."

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      • TV spinoffs lure viewers with beloved characters from existing shows.
        By: Subbotina Anna
        TV spinoffs lure viewers with beloved characters from existing shows.
      • A spinoff is when a character from one popular TV program is made the center of a new program, the success of which is not guaranteed.
        By: DeshaCAM
        A spinoff is when a character from one popular TV program is made the center of a new program, the success of which is not guaranteed.