Most Americans don’t realize that this cult favorite BBC series — a fixture on Comedy Central in the ’90s — was born on French and Saunders, lead actress Jennifer Saunders’ sketch comedy show with Dawn French. The original Ab Fab was a recurring segment called “Modern Mother and Daughter.” While Saunders always played the debauched ex-hippie mum (at the time, Edina was named Ariadne), it was French who originally took the role of the long-suffering, uptight daughter. Julia Sawalha took over the role of Saffron in the spin-off, and certainly looked the part of Edina’s offspring — even though, in reality, she’s only a decade younger than Saunders. Of course, Ab Fab‘s greatest improvement on the sketch that inspired it was the addition of hilarious ex-model Joanna Lumley as Edina’s hard-partying, brain-fried best friend.
Saved by the Bell
In 1988, Hayley Mills landed a role as a dynamic teacher at John F. Kennedy Junior High in Indianapolis. The show, Good Morning, Miss Bliss, featured a motley gang of kids — including the characters Zack Morris, Screech Powers, and Lisa Turtle — and their bumbling principal, Mr. Belding. Originally intended for NBC, the show landed for a season on the Disney Channel. When it was rebooted in 1989 and the focus moved from teacher to students, Mills and some of the other actors got kicked to the curb. Zack, Screech, Lisa, and Mr. B were joined by the good-looking trio of Slater, Jessie, and Kelly. And the rest is teen TV history.
Sure, we look back on it now as a piece of ’90s kitsch. But its balls-out Los Angeles ambition and melodrama made it a fitting spin-off for its well-loved (and equally cheesy) predecessor, Beverly Hills, 90210. Melrose Place got its start on Season 2 of 90210, when Kelly fell for Dylan’s older biker buddy, Jake. She briefly appeared on the new show, but the couple’s relationship ended in time for her get back to her rightful place at West Bev. We were left with seven seasons of backstabbing and breakdowns in a West Hollywood apartment complex — and a whole lot of Heather Locklear.
The first few seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer were sublime. A lot of that had to do with the endlessly frustrating eternal soul connection between Buffy, who killed vampires, and Angel, who was one. But by the end of Season 3, there was little ground left to cover in their relationship. Since Whedon fans, being Whedon fans, weren’t ready to say good-bye to the character yet, David Boreanaz got a series of his own — in which, for the most part, he tries to redeem all the bad he’s done in the world as a private detective in Los Angeles. It was a weird concept, and the first season was bumpy, but somehow it worked out.
The Facts of Life
The Drummonds’ uncannily wise housekeeper, Charlotte Rae’s Edna Garrett, made it through only one season on Diff’rent Strokes before proving so popular she needed her own show. The Facts of Life pilot aired as the final episode of Strokes‘ first season, and Edna packed her bags for Eastland Academy in Peekskill, New York, where she became housemother to a delightful gaggle of teens. (Natalie! Jo! Blair! Tootie!) The show was a runaway success: it lasted nine seasons and survives in syndication to this day.
The Project Runway juggernaut has made such an impact on pop culture — making Tim Gunn a household name and spawning the full line of Bravo reality competitions, from Top Chef to Work of Art — it’s easy to forget that it was a spin-off. The series was born of Project Greenlight, a collaboration between Bravo, the Weinstein brothers, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon that gave first-time filmmakers a chance to make a movie. That show, while fantastic, only lasted three seasons. Runway, now in the questionably competent hands of Lifetime, finished its eighth cycle in October.
There are two types of people in the world: those who remain forever loyal to Cheers and those who prefer the spinoff, Frasier. We hope we’re not breaking your heart when we admit that we are the latter. A comparatively flat character on Cheers — which, don’t get us wrong, was a fantastic show — Frasier came alive as a lovable, pseudo-intellectual psychiatrist and radio host in Seattle. But what really made the show great was the supporting cast: Frasier’s cranky cop father, Martin; his producer, Roz; Martin’s charming, Irish physical therapist, Daphne; and, best of all, his fussy, neurotic, and effeminate brother, Niles.
Technically, Daria is a spin-off of a spin-off. Smart, sardonic Daria was a character on Beavis and Butt-head, which got its start as a Mike Judge short, Frog Baseball, that aired on MTV’s animation show, Liquid Television, back in 1992. So, now that America’s favorite brain-damaged teenage metalheads are making their way back to TV, isn’t it time to reprise the role of its favorite misery chick, too?
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show has been a proving ground for many great comedians over the years: Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Lewis Black, Rob Corddry, Kristen Schaal, Demetri Martin… and the list goes on. But one correspondent proved such a big personality that he needed his own show. In October 2005, Stephen Colbert launched The Colbert Report, a spoof of conservative news shows like The O’Reilly Factor. At the time, we remember everyone opining that a Bill O’Reilly parody would get old fast. Over five years later, it still makes us laugh every weeknight.
Forget successful spin-offs; The Simpsons is among the most successful TV series of all time, period. The show began as a series of shorts that aired for three seasons on The Tracey Ullman Show before Fox picked it up as a standalone prime-time sitcom. It’s now in its 22nd season — yes, if The Simpsons were a person, it could legally drink. There’s been a Simpsons movie, a busload of awards, and enough merchandise to fill the fictional city of Springfield. Basically, it has ceased to be a show and become a full-fledged parallel universe.