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Media spin-off is the process of deriving new radio programs, television programs or video games or even novels from already existing ones. Spin-offs work with varying degrees of success. Some become very popular and last for a number of seasons, whereas others exceed the popularity of the forebearing show and others are poorly received and have considerably shorter life spans.

This phenomenon was already established in radio before the advent of commercial broadcast television; for example The Great Gildersleeve was a spin-off from Fibber McGee and Molly.

Jack Benny's popular radio program spawned at least two spin-offs when blustery bandleader Phil Harris and naif Dennis Day launched their own programs after their success on Benny's show.

In genre fiction, the term parallels the usage in television; it is usually meant to indicate a substantial change in narrative viewpoint and activity from that (previous) storyline based around the activities of the series' principal protagonist(s) and so is a shift to that action and overall narrative thread of some other protagonist(s), which now becomes the central or main thread (storyline) of the new sub-series. The new protagonist generally appears first as a minor or supporting character in the main story line within a given milieu, and it is very common for the previous protagonist to have a supporting or cameo role, at the least as a historical mention, in the new sub-series.

Variants of spin-offs

Television spin-offs come in several variations, including:
  • A supporting character or characters in an existing series is given their own show in which they become the main focus. The original series continues without them and there may be some crossover of characters between the shows on occasion (e.g. The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files, Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flo from Alice, Go, Diego, Go from Dora the Explorer (Which often has the original character cameo), The Ropers from Three's Company, Daria from Beavis and Butt-head, Torchwood from Doctor Who, Softly, Softly which features the characters of Barlow and Watt from Z-Cars).
    • Sometimes, as a springboard for a character spin-off, a special "backdoor pilot" episode within the parent series will be created, to establish the new supporting characters and setting for the child series. Examples of this include an episode of Three's Company to establish The Ropers, and an episode of The Danny Thomas Show to establish The Andy Griffith Show. These special episodes usually stand out as oddities in the parent series' continuity, especially if the spin-off is unsuccessful (and therefore little-known) or even aborted without ever spinning off (e.g. an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter established family characters and a home setting for a proposed spin-off based on Arnold Horshack, but the series – to be titled Horshack – was never produced).
  • New characters are specially incorporated into an existing series for the sole purpose of being launched into their own show that will feature no regular characters from the original series, except possibly as guest appearances (e.g. Empty Nest from The Golden Girls, Melrose Place from Beverly Hills, 90210, or Boston Legal from The Practice). There are even some examples of spin-offs generating their own spin-offs, leaving the new show with virtually no connection to the original series. Examples of this type of secondary-spin-off include Good Times and Models Inc.
  • Regular characters from a series continue in their own series after the original series ends (e.g. George and Mildred and Robin's Nest from Man About the House; Frasier from Cheers; Joey from Friends). This is usually done with the same actors, though not always, such as Trapper John M.D. from M*A*S*H.
  • A new series is started with the same theme and existing in the same universe as the original series, but may not necessarily have the same characters. Examples of this type are the Star Trek, Stargate, The X-Files, Law & Order, and CSI series. These are sometimes called franchises.
  • A series that begins in one medium is branched out into other media with material that may or may not be canonically related to the primary production. Examples of this include Tokimeki Memorial, which began as a video game and later branched out into anime and CD audio dramas, and Star Wars, which includes the six feature films, numerous novels, radio dramas, television series, and video games set within the same universe.
  • In sketch comedy shows, the particular popularity of one character or setting may form the basis of a newly commissioned series, such as Da Ali G Show which originated as a part of the The 11 O'Clock Show. This can also occur for humorous skits in regular talk shows.
  • In soap operas, where the original show is broadcast 'before the watershed', spin off series may be created where the program wishes to air more controversial topics, or adult content, such as the Hollyoaks late night specials. As such, these do not introduce plot details required to understand the original series.


Examples of notable spin-offs

Name changes/retoolings





  • After the seventh year of Da Vinci's Inquest, most of the main characters returned the next season for Da Vinci's City Hall. The new series carries over some of the same plot threads, the difference being a slight shift in themes that began in the last season of the original series. City Hall is sometimes even referred to as the eighth season of Inquest.


  • Before the final season of M*A*S*H the main cast voted as to whether or not to continue the series. The final vote was 4–3 against. William Christopher, Jamie Farr, and Harry Morgan wanted to continue work on M*A*S*H, and, after the eleventh season, they began work on AfterMASH. It lasted just two seasons and 30 episodes, with the final episode unaired.








  • Six years after the British sitcom Are You Being Served? ended, a new series started up featuring five of the six cast members from the final season of the original show. The new show was entitled Grace & Favour (aired in the United States as Are You Being Served? Again!) and featured the characters from the original show transplanted into a new setting.


  • After three series of the prison based sit-com Porridge, the main character of Norman Stanley Fletcher was released from prison and the show was retooled as Going Straight. It sees Fletcher trying to re-emerge as a valued member of society, having vowed to stay away from crime on his release.




Support character getting own show (during run)











  • The Dukes of Hazzard spun off TV series Enos starring Deputy Enos Strate. He was invited to Los Angeles to join a special police team after he had caught two infamous criminals in Hazzard. The series was canceled after one season and the character returned to The Dukes of Hazzard.


  • The series A Different World, a spin-off from The Cosby Show, was originally created as a vehicle for Lisa Bonet's character, Denise Huxtable. In an unusual turn of events, even though Bonet was written out of A Different World after the first season and returned to The Cosby Show, Different World continued – and thrived – for another five seasons without her.




  • Trapper John, M.D. was another spin-off from the movie M*A*S*H (when sued by the makers of the series M*A*S*H, the makers of Trapper John proved in court that it was instead a spin-off of the movie).


  • By 2007, the long-running BBC series Doctor Who is the show with the most spun off media, with nine in total. The first was a spin-off pilot made in 1981 based on the character of Sarah Jane Smith called K-9 and Company (the series was not picked up). In 1987 the spin-off Wartime was made, about the adventures of some of the UNIT personnel. The 1995 film Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans features one of the race of Dr. Who villains, but for licensing reasons not the Doctor himself. In the 1990s, Reeltime distributed PROBE, a series of five made-for-video movies featuring Caroline John as her Pertwee-era character, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. BBV, on their part, produced and released a series of movies based on one of Dr. Who's villains: Auton, Auton 2: Sentinel and Auton 3. In 2006 the BBC launched another spin-off, Torchwood, aimed at a more adult audience and featuring Captain Jack Harkness from the newer series. The Sarah Jane Adventures is currently airing, however it is more child-oriented than Dr Who. K-9 is currently in production, and there is also an animated serial The Infinite Quest.




  • Kinnikuman spun off Tatakae!! Ramenman, which depicts Ramenman in his native country of China. However it is not the same Ramenman as in the series and is instead an ancestor of the main Ramenman.








Support character getting own show (after original series ended)



Shows from segments/episodes of anthology series









TV franchises







  • Frasier is a spin-off of the show Cheers and picked up immediately after the original show ended.




  • NCIS is a spin-off with its characters originating from JAG, and has it's own spin-off in NCIS: Los Angeles.


  • The Practice was a TV series that ran for eight seasons on ABC and then was canceled. New characters who were introduced during the later seasons became so popular they became the main characters in a spin-off, Boston Legal, which ran for five more seasons—giving the franchise a 13-year total run. The show shared such similar characters in the same universe, the show began with the working title The Practice: Fleet Street, before the name was changed.










  • CSI, the popular series produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, has produced two spin-offs: CSI: Miami and CSI: NY. CSI: Miami is connected to the original series by a crossover episode, while CSI: NY started in a cross-over episode with CSI: Miami (Miami and NY have had further cross-overs in later seasons, and a three-way crossover is anticipated).
















  • The BBC show HolbyBlue is a spin-off of Holby City, which is itself a spin-off of Casualty. All shows are set within the fictional town of Holby, and characters from the various shows often appear in episodes of the other shows.




In film



In video games



In comics

Some notable examples of comic book characters who at first were supporting characters in one comic but then got their own titles include the Smurfs who originated in Johan and Peewit, Marsupilami who first appears in Spirou et Fantasio, and the Legion of Super-Heroes who first appeared in Superboy which in turn was a spin-off from Superman.

Related phenomena

Remakes

One notable case which is not a spin-off is when the same series is later remade, or re-imagined. Examples include Battlestar Galactica (1978, 2003), He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983, 2002), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987, 2003).

Television remakes are particularly common as trans-Atlantic ports, where US shows are remade for the UK (see List of U.S. television series remade for the British market) or more frequently, UK shows are remade for a US market (see List of British television series remade for the U.S. market). A particularly interesting example is Three's Company, a US remake of the British Man About The House: not only was the original show re-created (with very few character or situation changes made, at least initially), but both series had spin-offs based on the Ropers (in the UK, George And Mildred, in the US, The Ropers), and both series were eventually re-tooled into series based on the male lead (in the UK, Robin's Nest, in the US, Three's A Crowd).

Another noteworthy (and increasingly common) development is the use of a successful (usually older) television series to be remade as a feature film. Often, these fare badly at the box-office and/or are considered a poor reflection on the source material (e.g. The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, My Favorite Martian, Dudley Do-Right), however, some have gone on to become successful film franchises (e.g. Scooby-Doo, The Addams Family, Mission: Impossible, and Transformers).

Cross-overs

Sometimes even where a show is not a spin-off from the other, there will nevertheless be cross-over, where a character from one show makes an appearance on another. A notable example of this are Ursula and Phoebe Buffay, twin sisters played by Lisa Kudrow who normally are on different shows, Mad About You and Friends respectively, but sometimes meet. This is also done by Ray Romano and Kevin James with Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens. Additionally, Romano appeared on an episode of The Nanny where it was revealed that the characters Ray and Fran attended the same high school. Steve Urkel from Family Matters was also shown to be the cousin of one of D.J.'s friends on Full House. The title character from Ally McBeal appeared on episodes of The Practice, both David E. Kelley shows. Steven Harper, the main character from Boston Public who played the principal of a Boston high school, appeared as a client in Boston Legal a year after Boston Public was taken off the air. These two were also David E. Kelley shows. Harper also was represented by Young, Frutt and Berlutti in The Practice, the show that preceded Boston Legal. Therefore, all four shows were in the same universe.

Sometimes (often in the Simpsons and Futurama, which also have a comic series named "Crossover Crisis") characters will appear in the background, often as part of a crowd.

Sometimes crossovers are created in an attempt to provide closure to fans of another failed series. For example, Millennium’s characters Frank & Jordan Black (played by Lance Henriksen and Brittany Tiplady) appeared alongside Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in the X-Files 1999 episode "Millennium" (episode #7.05). This allowed the fans to have some closure, as none was given when Millennium was abruptly canceled prior to the 1999 season.

Sometimes show producers will re-introduce a character from an older series into a later one as a way of providing a connectivity of that particular producer's television "universe". TV producer Glen Larson is particularly known for this; for example, the character of Jonathan Chase (played by Simon MacCorkindale) from Glen Larson's failed 80's show Manimal appeared in an episode of Larson's syndicated 90's series Night Man.

References

See also




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