Friday, October 19, 2012

One Thing Leads to Another


Tonight’s lineup on the CBS network included an episode of CSI: NY.  It’s a fine show, made better by the performance of Gary Sinise, though I don’t really follow any of the CSI franchise.  It got me to thinking, though, about the tried and true television practice of spinning off one show fromspin-off 10-19-12 another, hoping to duplicate the existing success.  You can’t blame them, of course.  After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and, whenever possible, make a new one just like it.  It’s a good business model. 

Some people really object to this type of programming, and I’ll admit that even I occasionally get annoyed when the networks seem intent on proving the adage that there’s nothing new under the sun.  But, some extremely popular programs—and some of my favorites—have originated from others, so you can’t judge too harshly.                        Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at

Spin-offs come in every shape and size, from dramas to situation comedies, cartoons to reality programming.  You’ve got spin-offs of guest characters to their own shows, continuations of primary characters once the original source has left the air, and “franchise” type spin-offs, where there’s no direct relationship between the primary and secondary sources other than the universe within which they are created.  My beloved Star Trek would be the classic example of this type of spin-off.

So, what begat what in the television production world?  Some instances are well known, and some may surprise you, but let’s take a look at a few.

One of the most popular/highest rated programs currently airing—NCIS—was a spin-off from another Donald Bellisario production, JAGNCIS then went on to have a spin-off of its own, NCIS: Los Angeles.

The aforementioned CSI: NY was another third generation program, spinning off from CSI: Miami, whose characters originally sprang from an appearance on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

I’ve written before about Mork and Mindy, but let’s not forget that Happy Days gave us some other programs, too, including Laverne and Shirley and Joanie Loves Chachi.   Of course, pedigree isn’t a guarantee for success; Happy Days also gave us Blansky’s Beauties, and who really remembers that?

But I like it when lightening can strike twice, when spin-offs can actually be enjoyable.  NCIS is a good example, though I’m far less fond of the LA version.  Cheers gave us the remarkably funny Frasier, The Practice led us to several enjoyable years with Alan Shore, Denny Crane and company on Boston Legal, and, of course, as I mentioned, the entire Star Trek franchise.

So that’s just a few; there are many, many other examples, some that can really make their parent program proud, some not so much.  But I think it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see spin-offs go away completely, especially when some of the franchises—think Law and Order and The Real Housewives of____________—have proven to be such financial successes.   As with most things in television, we’ll just have to keep taking the bad with the good.

Do you have any favorite spin-offs?  Or any that really want to make you poke your eyes out with a stick?

31 Days of TV