News that a planned spin-off of Fox's 'Glee' is dead might have some of its more ardent fans disappointed that they won't be able to fill more minutes of their life with 'Glee' related programming, but they shouldn't be fretting. In fact, they should be celebrating. They should be thanking the gods of television programming that a possible spin-off hasn't tarnished the legacy of the show they would give their very lives to protect.
If history is any indication of success, the odds of a spinoff being anywhere near as good as the original are slim at best. Sure, hit shows like 'Cheers' and 'Beavis and Butt-Head' gave us memorable classics like 'Frasier' and 'Daria' that, in some cases, even surpassed their predecessors. But there have been far more failures than success. These are the spin-offs that barely made it through their thankfully few miserable seasons.
When 'Friends' went off the air in 2004, NBC had the equivalent of a panic attack since one of their last remaining hit shows was about to leave them with a huge hole in their primetime schedule. So instead of trying to develop something equally brilliant or giving another promising show on the air a shot at the plum 'Friends' time slot, they desperately clung to their former greatness by giving Joey Tribbiani his own show. Matt LeBlanc, the only one of the 'Friends' group who wasn't doing much after the show went off the air, returned to the character for the spinoff which found Joey heading to LA to pursue his acting career. Despite heavy promotion, the show was canceled when it tried to compete in the same Tuesday timeslot with 'American Idol.' Whatever happened to that show?
The plucky, geeky assistants to Agents Mulder and Scully on 'The X Files' seemed like a perfect fit for their own show about chasing their wacky conspiracies. The conspiracy theorists got their wish in 2001 when Fox gave 'X Files' creator Chris Carter the green light to produce a series for the memorable characters. The show had huge fan support, but not enough to produce high enough ratings and Fox canceled it after one season...or was it an elaborate conspiracy?!?
'Fox's' early days weren't filled with many major hits, but it struck gold with blue collar god Al Bundy on 'Married...With Children'. By the time it made it to its fifth season, Fox commissioned a weak spin-off featuring two of their lesser-known characters, Al's schlubby pal Charlie and his son Vinnie, who try to make it into high society. (Like many spin-offs, the show's pilot was an episode of 'Married with Children' where the Bundy gang inexplicably vanishes for the episode to give two random characters some screentime.) 'Top of the Heap' only made it to seven episodes, leaving its stars Joseph Bologna and Matt LeBlanc out in the cold. Fortunately, Fox commissioned a spin-off based on the spin-off for LeBlanc called 'Vinnie and Bobby.' That barely made it to seven episodes as well. Yes, LeBlanc has failed at spin-offs and spin-offs of spin-offs. (Watch a scene below from the 'Top of the Heap' backdoor pilot episode of 'Married With Children' in Spanish, which somehow makes it better.)
'Cheers' is another series that seemed perfect for a spin-off. It was full of great, vivid and funny characters with interesting enough lives outside of the bar to merit a full series. Hell, even Cliff's pathetic life could've made for a more interesting run than Carla's first sleazeball husband Nick Tortelli, played by Dan Hedaya. After his ditzy wife Loretta (played by '80s staple Jean Kasem) leaves him and moves to Las Vegas to live with her sister, Nick chases after her to prove that he's worthy enough to win back his family. Despite several cameo appearance from 'Cheers' regulars like Carla, Norm and Cliff, the show stunk in the ratings and failed to break out of the gate after just one season. Thankfully, 'Frasier' came along after 'Cheers' and erased all memory of this first failed spin-off.
CBS found themselves in a similar situation in 1983 as NBC did with 'Friends' when their critically-lauded and highly-rated sitcom 'M*A*S*H' left the airwaves after its iconic 11 season run. However, they weren't just losing any television comedy. They were losing perhaps one of the greatest and most beloved shows of all time, one that not only spoke to audiences on a comedic level but connected with real fears and deep emotions about war and the bruise it could leave on the people connected to it. So the network desperately tried to capture lightning in a bottle again that same year by giving Col. Potter, played by the late Harry Morgan, his own spinoff about trying to adjust to life in a non-war torn region. Father Mulcahey (William Christopher) and beloved crossdresser Col. Max Klinger (Jamie Farr) also came along for the ride. Unfortunately, 'AfterMASH' was killed in the ratings by NBC's 'The A-Team' and went down in history as one of the biggest spin-off failures of all time.
It's hard to know exactly what was the dumber idea: the fact that someone thought of turning 'Baywatch' into a supernatural, sci-fi investigation or the fact that someone thought 'Baywatch' deserved a spin-off. Somehow, both of those ideas came to fruition, because The Hoff got his own nighttime version of 'Baywatch' in 1995 in which Mitch Buchannon leaves the world of slow-motion lifeguarding to work as a private detective. The first season tried to play it straight as a drama but when the ratings tanked, they gave it a science-fiction twist (think of it as 'The X-Files' but with way more cleavage). Neither formula worked and the show as canned after just two seasons.
The creators of this spin-off of NBC's highly acclaimed mystery series 'Columbo' starring Peter Falk ignored just about every objection to it before and during production. The original series' creators didn't want it to be made and spoil the mystery of the famously unseen wife of Falk's rumpled detective. Falk himself didn't want it to be made. And judging by the dismal ratings, the public at large didn't care for it much either. Perhaps its biggest crime was the way it completely ignored its predecessor in just about every aspect, most notably that its star, played by future 'Star Trek' star Kate Mulgrew, was only 24 at the time, which was way too young for the likes of the lieutenant. Just wondering how he was able to score such a young wife is probably one of his greatest mysteries.
The inexplicable success of 'The Dukes of Hazzard' (the producers had to thank Daisy Dukes' outfit for most of that) brought forth this very short-lived TV spinoff. The fact that the show got on the air is even more amazing when you realize that it was a vehicle for one of 'Hazzard's' least memorable characters. The Hazzard County deputy sheriff got his own series in 1980 with a fish-out-of-water story that put the bumbling fool into the LAPD as a detective. Despite attempts to bring a number of characters to the spinoff show, CBS canceled it after just 19 episodes. Its cancellation seems even more amazing when you realize that it featured a cameo by Daisy in an ultra short pair of "Dukes".
This loose spin-off of 'Diff'rent Strokes' wasn't just one of the most infamous spin-offs of all time-- it was also one of the least successful and critical-panned shows in TV history. Part of its failure was due to its star, McLean Stevenson, who was brought on with high hopes that his star power and comedic prowess from 'M*A*S*H' as Col. Henry Blake would carry over to the new show. It became a joke, and not the kind the producers were hoping for. Today 'Hello Larry' is notable both for its thin connection to 'Diff'rent Strokes' (the show was retooled as a spin-off halfway through its run when Stevenson's character was revealed to be an old army buddy of Mr. Drummond's) and for providing an early role for 'Real Housewife' Kim Richards. Oh, and also for starring one of the Harlem Globetrotters.
'The Golden Palace' 1992-1993
Everyone loves Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia, aka 'The Golden Girls.' But take one out of the equation (Dorothy was off being married to Leslie Nielsen) and add an upscale Miami hotel, a sassy Cheech Marin and a young Don Cheadle, and you have this forgotten post-'Golden Girls' spin-off. Jumping networks from NBC to CBS, 'Golden Palace' was slotted as an alternative to ABC's ratings bonanza 'TGIF' and paired with fellow older-skewing comedies like 'Major Dad' and the short-lived Bob Newhart series 'Bob.' After it was canceled after one season, Betty White joined the cast of 'Bob' before that show itself shuffled off this mortal coil into forgotten spin-off heaven.