Oh, the television spinoff. Is there any greater treat to an avid TV watcher than getting to see their favorite shows expanded on? From “Star Trek: Voyager” to “Law & Order: SVU” to “NCIS,” all these shows have one crucial thing in common. They are all a continuation of another story. But in a world filled with expanded universes, crossovers, and multi-verses, it’s hard to separate the bad from the good, which is why we are here to bring you the best TV spinoffs of all time.
Before diving in, let’s look at the history of spinoffs. The first spinoff series can actually be dated back to the ’40s with the radio show “The Great Gildersleeve,” which was a spinoff of the series “Fibber McGee and Molly.” However, the first television spinoff would not come until two decades later, in 1960, when Harry Morgan starred in the spinoff of “December Bride,” “Pete and Gladys.” This would, of course, open up a door for many other spinoffs to come including “Happy Days,” which spun off of “Love, American Style,” and “Laverne & Shirley,” which was actually one of the many spinoffs from “Happy Days.” Jeez, all these spinoffs are making me dizzy; I hope you’re keeping up!
But why did spinoffs become so popular? A recent study showed that when it comes to decompressing, Americans are more likely to turn to TV than any other relaxation method. But what was more insightful was what they were watching. Over half the people surveyed said they would pick a “comfort show” or one they are familiar with. Why is this important? Well, spinoffs generally occur in the same universe as their original counterpart; sometimes having the same characters, locations, and aesthetics, and all these variables make the shows feel familiar and more readily available to become invested in, making spinoffs the perfect go-to when you want something fresh but familiar.
So with all that in mind, which titles span that of the greats? As always, we at StudyFinds have researched across multiple platforms to bring you the best TV spinoffs of all time. As always, if you disagree with our list, the comments below are open to further debate your favorite picks.
The List: Best TV Spinoffs, According to Experts
“There are two ways a successful spinoff show can be made, you either lean so heavily into the existing IP that people just think they’re watching more of their favorite show, or you make people almost forget those characters ever existed. ‘Frasier’ did the latter by miles after Kelsey Grammar’s hoity psychiatrist Frasier Crane upped sticks from Boston and the bar stools of ‘Cheers’ to settle in as a talk radio host in Seattle. Centering on the upper-class lives of Crane’s brother, father, and the women in their orbit, the series is a mainstay of the 90s sitcom boom,” says GQ.
“‘Cheers’ is an all-time beloved sitcom. Any spinoff had a lot to live up to. ‘Frasier’ equaled and arguably bested its predecessor. The show was an Emmy Award magnet, and Kelsey Grammar solidified his spot as sitcom royalty,” adds Yardbarker.
“Creators were initially hesitant to create a spinoff from the predecessor due to concerns it would fail, but ultimately decided to relocate ‘Frasier’ from Boston to Seattle in an effort to avoid any resemblance to ‘Cheers’; they decided to depict his private life and work at the radio station while making the character ‘haughty, disdainful and exceedingly uptight.’ ‘Frasier’ was a knockout program, going on to win a whopping thirty-seven Primetime Emmys during its eleven seasons,” notes MovieWeb.
Coming in on the tails of probably one of the most popular modern TV shows, “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” had some big shoes to fill. “Luckily, they had a lot to build on with Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and the story of how he went from an earnest public defender to the slippery defense attorney we came to know in ‘Breaking Bad.’ The prequel expertly weaves new characters in with familiar faces while managing to create a standalone product that is wholly original. With a bevy of awards under its belt, this spinoff is widely regarded to be as good as — if not even better — than its predecessor,” comments Collider.
— Better Call Saul (@BetterCallSaul) August 16, 2022
“One of the major caveats of a spinoff series is that it can retroactively taint the legacy of the original show. The prospect of a potentially more humorous prequel series to ‘Breaking Bad’ that focuses on the exaggerated lawyer, Saul Goodman, made many fans nervous. However, ‘Better Call Saul’ turned into an enlightening character study that’s an excellent exercise in tension. Bob Odenkirk has never been better, and ‘Better Call Saul’ is an example of how the right kind of prequel and spinoff can effectively strengthen its source material,” writes CBR.
“This prequel to Vince Gilligan’s meth drama has accomplished the nearly impossible, expanding upon the source material of ‘Breaking Bad’ with dynamic and sometimes heartbreaking results. And give full credit to Odenkirk (and his co-stars Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo Esposito, and Michael Mando) for further bringing to life how shaky a person’s morality can be, especially when there are great gobs of money involved,” observes PasteMagazine.
Ah, the spinoff that no one probably remembers is a spinoff, and if you do, do you remember from what show? “With more than 30 seasons under its belt, it’s no surprise people don’t associate it with its parent series, ‘The Tracey Ullman Show,’ which was a variety show that only lasted four seasons. Tracey Ullman introduced the Simpsons in a series of shorts for three seasons before producers decided to give the middle-class family its own show,” says Paste Magazine.
GQ similarly stated its origins story, also noting the characters’ physical changes from “The Tracy Ullman Show” to “The Simpsons.” “They looked a bit different then, less bubbly and more borderline gross, more akin to the knock-off Homer Simpsons you get in Times Square in New York than what we see today. Ultimately, the premise was picked up for a season of half-hour episodes, and the rest, as they say, is history. ‘The Simpsons’ is still on today, over 30 years later, though perhaps past its glory days. However, it’s a true testament to the power of the spinoff.”
“As hard as it might be the believe, ‘The Simpsons’ isn’t an original series, but it now holds the record for the longest-running scripted American show ever, going on three decades and counting. Its impact is such that few even know about ‘The Tracy Ullman Show’ anymore as the family’s shenanigans in Springfield have taken up a life of its own,” adds ScreenRant.
“When ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s’ brooding vampire ex-boyfriend left Sunnydale to help the helpless in Los Angeles, he set in motion a series that featured heartbreak and humor in equal doses, delivered by one of the best genre ensembles ever,” raves TVLine. “Angel” details the ongoing trials of Angel, a vampire whose human soul was restored to him by a Romani curse as a punishment for the murder of one of their own.
“‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ is an iconic piece of genre programming that helped put the WB Network and the UPN on the map. ‘Buffy’ establishes many great characters and, after the show’s exceptional third season, David Boreanaz’s Angel was deemed strong enough to headline his own series,” adds CBR.
“It’s remarkable to think the man who was plugging away on ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Angel’ would eventually be handed the keys to the largest movie franchise in the world, but Joss Whedon’s ambition is clear even from his early television work. While his precedent-setting ‘Buffy’ propped up much of its premise with the metaphor that high school literally was hell, ‘Angel’ traded ‘Buffy’s’ sunny locales for a grittier, brooding noir setup,” notes Den Of Geek.
“Only a space drama this well-written (Trek creator Gene Roddenberry himself, Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore, and Outlander’s Ira Steven Behr were among the scribes) and this well-acted (whoever cast Patrick Stewart as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard deserves a week of R&R on the holodeck) could’ve lived up to the warp drive-sized legacy of the original,” raves TVLine.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (TV Series 1987–1994) pic.twitter.com/PZ1zhhlM9K
— Skip_Bolden 💙 🎬 🎞️ (@BoldenSkip) July 19, 2023
“Nearly two decades after ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’ ended, creator Gene Roddenberry continued his vision with the franchise’s first TV spinoff, ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ The premise: A new group of space pioneers boards the new USS Enterprise-D to explore uncharted territory in the same galaxy where Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and the rest of the original crew voyaged 100 years earlier,” describes Stacker.
“‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ took place a century after the original series, but it held true to the spirit of the original while expanding the universe. The Enterprise-D crew shared their predecessors’ utopian ideals and alien adventures while introducing iconic new characters like Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard (who got his own spinoff more than two decades later),” writes Collider. The universe of “Star Trek” is expansive, and narrowing it down to one spinoff is no easy task, but “Next Generation” has and will always hold a special place in the hearts of Trekkies. Oh, and if you haven’t watched it yet, you should “make it so.”
You might be interested in:
- Best TV Comedies
- Best TV Dramas
- Best Sitcoms
- Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes
- Best Movie Sequels
- Worst Movie Sequels
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