Tonight’s episode of Hot in Cleveland (10pm on TV Land) will be of interest not only to fans of that show, but of TV trivia, as well. It’ll mark the first appearance of Reverend Boyce, a character played by Cedric the Entertainer who will soon appear in his own spinoff. How that spinoff fares remains to be seen, but we’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts that could help pave the way for success.
Do … Find The Right Situation (Frasier)
While Frasier Crane was a wonderful addition to the Cheers gang, it wasn’t all that believable for a supposedly renown psychiatrist to be spending so much time denting a stool at a local watering hole. Face it, he would have fit in much better upstairs at Melville’s. When he made the move to Seattle, he was on much more familiar ground hosting a radio show and hanging out with a crowd that preferred wine over beer and could speak competently about the works of Chopin.
Don’t … Focus On The Dumb Guy (Joey)
Joey Tribbiani was good for quite a few laughs on Friends, but they largely came because of the contrast between him and his relatively normal comrades. He was the go-to guy for a quick dum-dum joke. But when Joey struck out on his own, it quickly became apparent that “how-you-doin'” wasn’t going to cut it. Yes, he was surrounded by some smarter characters, but Joey just didn’t have that same spark when he was put front and center. He couldn’t quite be the dumb guy he was on Friends, but that was why audiences loved him. So the compromised version was just that, a compromise that not enough viewers were willing to make.
Do … Make Sense Thematically (The Jeffersons)
All in the Family is celebrated for laying bare and exploring the prejudices of working-class white America, but it was also important to provide the black viewpoint as well. The Jeffersons did that, using its characters’ upward mobility to confront themes of racism. George Jefferson was built up as a black version of Archie Bunker, freely trafficking in racially charged terms like “honkey,” and making no apologies for his viewpoints. The show also featured Tom and Helen Willis, an interracial couple that broke more than a few barriers. With its brazen attitude and genuine comedic chops, The Jeffersons was the perfect spinoff for All in the Family, unlike Archie Bunker’s Place or our next example.
Don’t … Wait Too Long To Bring The Character Back (Gloria)
While Sally Struthers left All in the Family in 1979, her character didn’t come back on the air until 1982. Turns out it wasn’t a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, as viewers pretty much ignored Gloria, who had broken up with Michael (via Rob Reiner having declined to appear), and moved to New York to become a vet. Also, and I hate to speak for everyone, but I can’t think too many people tuned in to All in the Family because they liked watching Gloria. It’s too bad, because had Reiner participated, I think they could have made a go of something called Gloria and the Meathead.
Do … Come Up With A Catchy Theme Song (The Facts of Life)
Not many people think of The Facts of Life as a spinoff, but indeed it was, with Mrs. Garrett having gotten her start on Diff’rent Strokes. But while Facts was able to soldier on for nine inexplicable seasons, it certainly wasn’t a success out of the gate. After a rocky first season, much of the cast (including a prepubescent Molly Ringwald) was jettisoned, making way for the core cast that made the show a hit. We’re betting, though, that it only made it through that rough transition because the theme song attaches itself to your brain like a vicious parasite and demands you watch the adventures of Blair, Jo, Tootie and Natalie.
Don’t … Completely Wreck The Premise Of The Show That Inspired You (Galactica 1980)
When fans of the original Battlestar Galactica had visions of what it would be like should the mammoth spacecraft carrying the last remnants of humanity ever reach Earth, you can bet they weren’t thinking of Galactica 1980. A mess from the beginning, this short-lived (10 episodes) debacle featured inconsistent storylines, halfhearted performances and lots and lots of kids. The Super Scouts supposedly developed super strength due to their muscles forming differently from having lived their entire lives in space. Yeah, whatever. Fun note, though, kid genius Dr. Zee was portrayed in the series’ first three episodes by Robbie Rist, who played the notorious Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch.
Do … Play The Franchise Game (CSI, Law & Order, NCIS)
Not only do the original shows give their basic procedural formats to their offspring, but their theme songs travel as well. CSI just spins a different Who song for each edition (“Who Are You” for CSI, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” for Miami, and “Baba O’Riley” for NY), while Law & Order and NCIS just offer reworked versions of the original. Viewers know what to expect and are happy to make room for more of what is already familiar. The casts are easily replaceable, showing that it’s truly the brand that draws people in and not any one player. This trend shows some signs of plateauing, though, with the cancellations of Law & Order, Law & Order: Los Angeles and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior.
Don’t … Do A Variety Show (The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, Osbournes Reloaded)
There have been successful spinoffs from variety show sketches — Mama’s Family came from The Carol Burnett Show; The Honeymooners from Cavalcade of Stars — but it doesn’t really work the other way around. Two of the most notoriously bad spinoffs are examples of this wrongheaded thinking, which seems to posit that people would groove to the idea of seeing characters they enjoyed in fictional or reality-show settings sing and dance. The Bradys, minus Eve Plumb as Jan, were laughed off the air after nine episodes in 1976, while the Osbournes were reviled enough that FOX pulled it from the schedule in 2009 after only one airing.
Do … Switch Genres (Lou Grant)
No, Lou Grant wasn’t always the hardest-hitting of dramas, but it was a far cry from the shenanigans on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I mean, there wasn’t a laugh track or anything. But Ed Asner’s firm presence and gruff demeanor were strong enough to work as a comic foil and a dramatic centerpiece. This is one success story we really admire. What spunk!
Don’t … Switch Genres (Baywatch Nights, The Bradys)
Truthfully, Lou Grant seems to be the exception to the rule. Baywatch Nights and The Bradys show how trying to switch things up on viewers can go horribly, horribly wrong. Baywatch Nights sought to add some (apparently) much-need X-Files action to the beach, while The Bradys masqueraded as a drama — tackling issues like Marcia’s alcoholism — while still keeping the hokey dialogue and laugh track.
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