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What is a TV Spinoff?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 April 2014
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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 TV 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 TV spinoff sitcoms was the show Frasier, which took the character Frasier Crane from the immensely popular show Cheers.

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 TV 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.

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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 TV 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 TV 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 TV 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.

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