At a television show’s peak, or at the end of its run, it is not uncommon for network officials and producers to create new shows based on familiar characters in an attempt to capitalize on their popularity. These spinoffs actually became some of the most popular shows in the history of television.
Here are five television spinoffs that were successful in their own rights.
In 1993, “Cheers” closed the doors on its 270-episode run with a finale that was watched by 93.5 million viewers. Just four months later, the spinoff series “Frasier” began on NBC, spotlighting the eponymous psychiatrist and his return to Seattle as a bachelor. Starring Kelsey Grammer in the lead role and an ensemble cast of David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney and Jane Leeves, “Fraiser” was a major ratings draw throughout its 11 seasons. It is also the current record-holder for most Primetime Emmy wins for a sitcom, earning 37 awards in its lifetime and winning Best Comedy Series a record five times.
“Laverne & Shirley”
The adventures of Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney began not on their ABC sitcom, but on “Happy Days.” The titular characters were originally introduced as dates for Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli and Richie Cunningham, and they were popular enough with audiences to earn their own television show from 1976 – 1983. In fact, “Happy Days” spawned a number of spinoffs that ran concurrently and enjoyed varying levels of success, including “Mork & Mindy” and “Joanie Loves Chachi.”
Only “Laverne & Shirley” ever bested its predecessor in the ratings, according to TV.com. The hit-show was the number-one television program in the Nielsen ratings from Sept. 1977 to May 1979.
“The Colbert Report”
“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” launched the careers of several major figures in comedy over its 16-year run, including Steve Carell, Ed Helms, John Oliver and Samantha Bee. It also launched a spinoff, “The Colbert Report,” which followed a similar political parody format and had host Stephen Colbert playing a caricaturized take on pundits like Bill O’Reilly. “The Colbert Report” lasted for more than nine years, ending in 2014 after it was announced that Colbert had been chosen as the successor for David Letterman on “The Late Show.”
The story of George and Louise Jefferson “moving on up” to a new apartment after seeing success in their dry cleaning business was originally launched in 1975 as both a mid-season replacement and the second spinoff (after “Maude”) of “All in the Family.” Where Edith and Archie Bunker only lasted for nine years on television, “The Jeffersons” ran for 11 seasons, becoming the third most popular show on all of television in 1981 – 1982, according to TV.com.
“Family Matters” was originally intended to be built around Harriette Winslow, the elevator operator from ABC’s “Perfect Strangers,” and her family. However, a one-off character by the name of Steve Urkel was introduced mid-way through the first season and quickly became a pop culture phenomenon. Urkel and his catchphrases became so popular that they reshaped the focus of the entire show, with the narrative turning to highlight the increasingly fantastic misadventures of Urkel.
Despite straying so much from its original intent (and, perhaps, because of that straying), “Family Matters” was a commercial success for nine seasons.
If a show you love becomes popular enough, do not be surprised if its characters live on.