Daria (Beavis and Butt-Head)
Daria Morgendorffer appeared sporadically on Beavis and Butt-Head, providing a female foil to the main boys’ ideas and antics. MTV liked her so much that she was given her own series, Daria, which ran for five seasons. It was an immediate cult hit — a quick Google search will return countless cosplay photos — that kept the dry and sarcastic humor of Beavis and Butt-Head but took a smarter and more sophisticated approach to high-school humor. It’s a shame that the Mystik Spiral spin-off never happened.
Young Americans (Dawson’s Creek)
Young Americans had all the makings of a great WB drama: young and attractive actors (who were often in various states of undress), a direct link to WB’s most popular drama, Dawson’s Creek, and dramatic plots (forbidden love between maybe-siblings, abusive fathers, etc.). Will appeared in Season 3 of Dawson’s Creek as Pacey’s childhood friend, and later was the main focus of Young Americans. But the show was nothing more than a summer burnout and a cliched guilty pleasure.
Joey is probably the best example of why we shouldn’t give all popular sitcoms the spin-off treatment. It goes without saying that Friends was one of the biggest sitcom hits in history, so a spin-off was expected. The problem was focusing it on the most underdeveloped of the six friends. Joey plucked Joey away from New York City and his five best friends — two very important elements of Friends — and put him in Los Angeles with a new group of people. It was dull, unfunny, lacked the chemistry of Friends, and felt completely unnecessary. After two seasons, it was canceled because of low ratings.
The Glee Project (Glee)
The Glee Project is a notable spin-off not for its quality but for its sheer existence. Glee was a runaway hit that Fox readily — and greedily — capitalized on with multiple soundtracks, concert tours, and ridiculous merchandise. Then came The Glee Project, a reality show on Oxygen. It was a unique case (a reality spin-off of a scripted show), but it wasn’t that special. Basically, it was your average singing competition, except the winner scored a role on Glee. The spin-off only lasted two seasons.
Laverne and Shirley (Happy Days)
Happy Days launched a total of seven spin-offs, including Mork & Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, and the animated The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang, but the most successful was definitely Laverne & Shirley. The memorable titular characters were best friends, roommates, and one of the best duos on television. There are few actresses who can play off each other as well as Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, who race around the set like choreographed tornadoes, destroying everything in their path except for each other. The hit show ran for eight seasons.
Degrassi: The Next Generation (The Kids Of Degrassi Street)
It feels strange to refer to this current version of Degrassi: The Next Generation (which has been shortened to just Degrassi) as a spin-off, because it’s very much its own separate entity in the surprisingly large Degrassi franchise. It’s also the best. Well, OK, that preference probably depends on how old you are, but still, Degrassi has 13 seasons and over 300 episodes, hundreds more than all of the other spin-offs in this franchise. Also, it gave us Drake.
The Lone Gunmen (The X-Files)
In retrospect, it’s weird that The X-Files didn’t have more spin-offs. There was, in fact, only one: The Lone Gunmen. On The X-Files, the Lone Gunmen were a trio of conspiracy theorists that regularly appeared to help out Mulder and Scully. They were a fan favorite, and, in 2001, were given their own spin-off. It was tonally different from The X-Files, more humorous and more focused on conspiracy plots than supernatural elements. The pilot — which aired in March of 2001 and has become famous for its uncanny parallels to 9/11 — debuted to impressive ratings, but they quickly dropped, leading to its cancellation. It remains a cult hit and one of my favorite spin-offs.
Dr. Frasier Crane is tied for longest-running character on a live-action series. After a long stint on the amazing Cheers, he appeared on 11 seasons of his own sitcom, which is widely considered the most successful spin-off of all time. It was one of those rare spin-offs that matched the humor and popularity of its original version but also managed to exist as something entirely separate, a funny sitcom that appealed to even those who had never watched Cheers.
The Amanda Show (All That)
There are a number of shows that can be considered spin-offs of All That, or, more loosely, shows that exist in the same vague universe. The captivating, creative, and sometimes surreal KaBlam! was the first, but The Amanda Show is one of the most impressive. Amanda Bynes had a lead role in All That for three seasons before she was spun off into her own similarly sketch show The Amanda Show, which ran for three popular seasons (and also featured Taran Killam, who later went on to Saturday Night Live).
Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! (Tom Goes to the Mayor)
Just a few months after the Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim-created Tom Goes to the Mayor ended, the duo premiered Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! It’s a similarly styled show with many of the same characters from Tom, but it expands the world. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! is very hard to pin down — it’s often described as “post-comedy” or “anti-humor,” both silly terms — but ultimately? It’s incredibly funny, even (or perhaps especially) when it’s uncomfortable.
Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule (Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!)
Continuing with Heidecker and Wareheim, Check It Out! is a spin-off of Tim and Eric. It’s more focused than both Tim and Eric and Tom Goes to the Mayor, with a singular character at its center. John C. Reilly stars as Dr. Steve Brule, a clueless and socially awkward guy checking out different aspects of life, such as boats and friendships. The short length of the episodes, the purposely low production values, and a brilliantly funny performance from its lead makes Check It Out! one of the best spin-offs to currently exist.
All Grown Up! (Rugrats)
When it comes to Nicktoons, Nickelodeon has shown some admirable restraint in not creating a million spin-offs. But Rugrats got one in 2003 with All Grown Up! It began as a one-off special for the cartoon’s tenth anniversary, but its popularity led to a series order. The show skipped the Rugrats ahead to their teen/tween years, without compromising their original characteristics. The series ran for five seasons.
Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (Toddlers & Tiaras)
Scripted shows aren’t the only ones that result in spin-offs. Honey Boo Boo became such a breakout star — and a common punchline — during her stint on TLC’s Toddlers & Tiaras that TLC soon commissioned a show based on her and her family. It’s been met with very, very mixed results, and is definitely one of the most unnecessary spin-offs that television has ever given us, but has mostly succeeded in the ratings.
I Love New York (Flavor of Love)
The most popular reality TV spin-offs are headed by contestants from their show’s predecessor. Case in point: New York (Tiffany Pollard) was a finalist in Flavor of Love. After losing, she starred in I Love New York to continue her quest to find love — this time with people competing for her. There were other reality shows in this same weird franchise/world from VH1 during that time, but I Love New York was definitely the best, even if you felt a little gross about admitting to watching it. Also of note? I Love New York losers Real and Chance got their own spin-off called Real Chance of Love. Let’s just give VH1 a round of applause for these titles.
The Show With Vinny, Snooki & Jwoww, The Pauly D Project (Jersey Shore)
After MTV’s massive hit reality show Jersey Shore finally ceased terrorizing both New Jersey and MTV audiences, most of the cast refused to fade away. The Show with Vinny featured various celebrities joining Vinny and his family for dinner in Staten Island (full disclosure: I found this show charming once or twice). Snooki & Jwoww stuck close to its roots with a show that featured the two girls living together (but with less partying due to Snooki’s pregnancy). The Pauly D Project focused on Pauly D trying to become a DJ. None of these shows were as big as MTV wanted them to be, and all three were terrible.
The Steve Wilkos Show (The Jerry Springer Show)
The Steve Wilkos Show might take the cake for weirdest spin-off ever commissioned. During the heyday of Jerry Springer’s popularity, security guard Wilkos became a breakout star who was loved by Springer’s fans. It was a very strange show, with the same basic idea of Springer but with more serious topics. He didn’t allow many of his guests to sit, and was prone to confrontations. It somehow lasted 1,075 episodes.
Viva La Bam (Jackass)
The last of the notable reality show spin-offs is Viva La Bam, a spin-off of MTV’s Jackass. Admission: Jackass is one of my favorite shows in the world, yet Viva La Bam was truly awful. Jackass delighted in ridiculous but hilarious stunts, with cast members often hurting themselves or each other, whereas Viva La Bam focused on Bam Margera (who lacks the charm of Johnny Knoxville) and his carefully planned pranks on his family. It wasn’t fun or spontaneous.
Buddies (Home Improvement)
Despite being a spin-off of a crazy-popular family sitcom, hardly anyone remembers Buddies. Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer guest starred on an episode of Home Improvement and were so popular that ABC handed them a sitcom of their own. But Breuer was fired and recast, the show was a complete disaster, and only five episodes aired on TV. Not every spin-off is a good idea, ABC.
The Cleveland Show (Family Guy)
What a pointless spin-off! The Cleveland Show placed Family Guy‘s Cleveland in his own setting but didn’t change much else. Three children, cutaway gags, boringly offensive jokes, and nothing much of interest. It was a carbon copy of Family Guy, and much of the world was relieved when Fox finally gave it the axe.
Family Matters (Perfect Strangers)
Perhaps tied with Frasier for most successful sitcom spin-off, Family Matters ran for nine seasons (215 episodes!) from 1989 to 1997, making it second-longest-running sitcom with a predominantly African American cast in terms of seasons. Harriette and Carl Winslow were originally featured on Perfect Strangers, and their own sitcom became a huge hit after the introduction of Steve Urkel. It remains a popular, often-quoted show to this day.
Private Practice (Grey’s Anatomy)
Spin-offs are common when it comes to sitcoms but less so with dramas, especially non-procedural dramas. But after a successful backdoor pilot that doubled as a Grey’s Anatomy episode, Private Practice became an ABC series focused on Kate Walsh’s character, Addison. Private Practice followed her to Los Angeles to join a private practice. The series was moderately successful (though it never reached Grey’s Anatomy‘s heights) for six seasons. And it starred Piz from Veronica Mars!
Time Of Your Life (Party of Five)
Time Of Your Life is an example of a network trying to build a spin-off around one boring character solely because of the actress behind her. Jennifer Love Hewitt portrayed Sarah in Party of Five. As Hewitt’s career took off — I Know What You Did Last Summer, Can’t Hardly Wait, etc. — Fox took a chance with Time Of Your Life, a Party Of Five spin-off that followed her character to New York City. But Hewitt wasn’t enough to anchor such a bland, poorly written series, and the show was quickly canceled.
Muppet Babies (The Muppet Show)
The Muppets is a huge franchise that consists of numerous TV shows, movies, and various other forms of media. The original Muppets spawned so many versions of itself, but my favorite, television wise, is Muppet Babies. This animated CBS series features childhood versions of the Muppets living together in a nursery and letting their imaginations run wild. They dip in and out of strange worlds, sometimes finding themselves in danger, but always returning to comforting green-striped legs of Nanny. It also had the best theme song.