Spin-off TV debate

We take a look at TV spin-off series. Worth a punt, or one to avoid, here's a round-up of the best, and the rest

The Knowledge
Tracey Ullman Show: The Simpsons

Yes, the most successful and funny animated series of all time was, itself, a spin-off. Bart, Lisa, Homer, Marge and Maggie all started off in a short animated segment on The Tracey Ullman Show. While Ullman’s show lasted three years, The Simpsons kept going and going. And going.

Cheers: Frasier

The Boston-based bar-room comedy ran for 11 years, before winding up in 1993. It wasn’t the end of the road for one of its best loved characters, however, as Kelsey Grammar’s Frasier became a successful phone-in shrink in Seattle. His ice-maiden ex-wife Lilith also popped up in the series from time to time.

Dr Who: Torchwood

Anyone who misses the link between these two probably needs help tying their shoelaces. But just in case you can’t work it out Torchwood is an anagram of Dr Who. Clever stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Russell T Davies, who was brought in by the BBC to script Dr Who, came up with the idea of Torchwood, which is presumably why the gang of alien-fighting geeks are holed up in Cardiff, where Dr Who is produced. It’s hard to see why else the world’s aliens would want to make mischief in the Welsh capital, but there you go.

Dallas: Knots Landing

One assumes that one of the primary motivations of the ‘spin-off’ is a cynical attempt to bring audiences along by taking key themes or characters from successful show. But Knots Landing is an oddity, in that it was created before the idea of it being a spin-off was ever thought of. Creator David Jacobs and producer Michael Filerman tried to sell Knots to CBS, but the network instead opted to support a rival project, Dallas. After the Texas-based oil baron soap made it big, CBS approached Jacobs to adapt Knots Landing as a spin-off of Dallas. It worked: the show ran for an amazing 14 seasons, although it never quite rivalled Dallas in terms of viewers.

Happy Days: Mork And Mindy: The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang

The rose-tinted-spectacles slice of ’50s memorabilia was such a big success it spawned several spin-offs. Plenty of people will remember Mork And Mindy – in which Mork, a hapless alien played by Robin Williams, befriends Mindy, an attractive young earthling female – but fewer will be aware of The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang – a gloriously bizarre animated series. Like Mork And Mindy it was science fiction – with Fonze and his gang travelling in a time machine, attempting to get back to Milwaukee in the ’50s.

Ally McBeal: Ally

You know that thing we said earlier about cynical TV execs trying eek more revenue out of shows? Well, this has to be one of the more blatant attempts. Spindly Boston lawyer Ally McBeal’s eponymous show was a huge hit for Fox, so it must have seemed like a great idea to edit it down to 30 minutes, add canned laughter and a few unused scenes to ‘concentrate’ on Ally’s personal life. It lasted just one season.

Baywatch: Baywatch Downunder

An Australian version of the swimsuit oggle-fest was dreamed up in 1999, with cast and crew flown out to film an episode. While a pilot was made, the project went no further. In what must be one of the only times a group of local residents has stepped in to save us from rubbish TV, the small Aussie town of Avalon campaigned against filming on their lovely beach. Good on ya Avalon, we say.

Beverly Hills 90210: Melrose Place: Models Inc.

Yuk, yuk, and yuk. First superpower producer Aaron Spelling – he who made Dallas – comes up with a soap about the school lives of over-privileged, impossibly pretty teens. This spawns Melrose Place, where still more impossibly pretty teens try to make lives for themselves in LA. Eventually, one of the mums of an impossibly pretty teen gets her own show, in which she runs a modelling agency. Cue more impossibly pretty teens. While both 90210 and Melrose Place were successful, Models Inc. was canned after one series. Third time lucky, if you’re asking us.

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