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20 Sitcom Spin-Offs That Were Doomed To Fail

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For every Frasier, there are a thousand Joeys. There are even a few hundred The Green, Green Grasses and Rock & Chipses, both unimpressive sitcom spin-offs, but still somehow successful enough to pull in reasonable viewing figures. The following definitely didn’t break any ratings records, and in retrospect, make you wonder why anyone gave a green light to them in the first place. So for a meandering trip around the great big failed-pilot bin in the sky, enjoy the following 20 situational comedy could-never-have-beens.

Number of episodes: 19 (One season)
Spun off from: Saved By The Bell (1989-1993)
Spun-off characters: Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Samuel “Screech” Powers (Dustin Diamond), A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen)

Why it didn’t work:

Taking a kiddier-than-kiddy Saturday morning show – full of kerrazy schemes, bad dancing and epilepsy-triggering dungarees – and transferring it to an adult-centric evening slot was never going to work, with no bell to save it from cancelled sitcom hell. This was despite the best efforts of four stars from the original show, an almost-as-catchy theme tune called ‘Standing At The Edge Of Tomorrow’ and – spoiler alert – Kelly and Zack kinda-sorta getting married. At least there’s the TV movies Saved By The Bell: Hawaiian Style (1992) and Saved By The Bell: Wedding In Las Vegas (1994), on top of a franchise reboot in the form of Saved By The Bell: The New Class, to rewatch over and over and over. Go Bayside!

Number of episodes: 13 (10 aired, one season)
Spun off from: Ally McBeal (1997-2002)
Spun-off characters: Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) and the rest

Why it didn’t work:

Possibly the cheekiest spin-off in the history of television, let alone this list, Ally was a re-edited version of the regular 45-minute programme designed to cash in on folk who only watched McBeal for the McFeels, cutting out the boring-schmoring legal stuff and concentrating on the surreal dancing-with-the-twins dramedy of it all. And so this 22-minute deleted-scene-filled Frankenstein’s mini-monster was stitched together every week, making approximately no-one happy and infuriating real fans who mistakenly thought they might be missing out if they didn’t watch this sub-par pseudo-rerun. (Cut to Ally literally putting her foot in her mouth, then tripping over a dancing baby and falling out the window of a unisex toilet)

Number of episodes: 13 (Two seasons)
Spun off from: Last Of The Summer Wine (1973-2010)
Spun-off characters: Compo Simmonite, Norman Clegg, Seymour Utterthwaite, Foggy Dewhurst (recast with younger actors)


Why it didn’t work:*

Love it or loathe it, Last Of The Summer Wine was a ridiculously successful sitcom, boasting 31 series, 295 episodes and plaudits from The Queen herself. Its ill-fated prequel, First Of The Summer wine, was less successful, going sour in the barrel after just one series, with its hangover follow-up the final, acidic, unfortunate belch. Set just before World War II broke out, it jumps up and down over its bigger brother series’ continuity – Seymour is part of the gang back in the day, despite later being introduced as an unknown – and failed to be funny enough to justify its awkward title (and existence).

Number of episodes: 13 (One season)
Spun off from: Bewitched (1964-1972)
Spun-off characters: Tabitha Stephens (Lisa Hartman), Adam Stephens (David Ankrum)

Why it didn’t work:

Remember Tabitha, Samantha and Darrin Stephens' daughter from Bewitched? Of course you don’t, and so you won’t remember her spin-off show either, unleashed on the American public five years after the original hung up its broom and saw a doctor about that unfortunate nose-twitching problem. Stuffed full of fan-infuriating continuity errors – think characters that used to be warlocks but are warlocks no longer, gaps in time that just don’t make sense – it saw Elizabeth Montgomery, the star of the parent show, once say that she “got almost as much mail about [the continuity errors] as I get about anything else”. Cue a very brief spell on screen, with only half a season seeing the light of day.

Number of episodes: 46 (Two seasons)
Spun off from: Friends (1994-2004)
Spun-off characters: Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc)

Why it didn’t work:

As one of six, the pizza-chomping womaniser that was Joey Tribbiani worked. As one of one, the pizza-chomping womaniser that was Joey Tribbiani did not work. A washed-out character that went from consummate shag-banger in 1993 to mopey can’t-get-a-job no-hoper in 2004, Joey was the weakest choice for a Friends spin-off – imagine Monica and Chandler raising kids together! Or Rachel and Ross finally making it work! – and the generously-publicised tie-in died a sudden death, with the first episode high of 18.55 million viewers crashing down to 4.09 million when NBC finally pulled the plug.

Number of episodes: 12 (Two series)
Spun off from: Are You Being Served? (1972-1985)
Spun-off characters: Mrs. Betty Slocombe (Mollie Sugden), Mr. Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries (John Inman), Miss Shirley Brahms (Wendy Richard), Captain Stephen Peacock (Frank Thornton), Mr. Cuthbert Rumbold (Nicholas Smith)


Why didn't it work?*

Are You Being Served was so popular all around the world that Australia’s Network Ten remade it as a pseudo spin-off featuring John Inman’s Mr. Humphries (16 episodes, two seasons) and America’s Paramount Television produced a pilot called Beane’s Of Boston, which wasn’t picked up. The most successful follow-up was this sitcom sequel, which had five of the original cast come back to deal with their characters’ pension problems. It turns out their boss, Mr. Grace, had invested their retirement funds in a variety of weird places, including an old manor hotel. Cue Rumbold and the gang farting about an old country pile, not selling any clothing to anyone while still making “Is that a sex joke?” sex jokes. The show’s title is a pun on landed gentry giving poor folk somewhere to live, which says more about the programme than anything else could.

Number of episodes: 13 (One season, eight episodes unaired)
Spun off from: Home Improvement (1991-1999)
Spun-off characters: Dave Carlisle (David Chappelle)

Why didn’t work?

Occasionally, TV miracles happen. These miracles sometimes go horribly wrong. On Home Improvement for just one episode in 1995, comedians Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer won the audience’s hearts as a pair of guys who go onto Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor’s show to ask for girlfriend advice (see video clip above). Their real-life best-friend chemistry worked so well, ABC execs offered them both a spin-off, only to fire Breuer at the last minute. A terrible atmosphere spread across the fledgling sitcom’s set, and now the DVD cover boasts the words “The show Dave Chappelle doesn’t want you to see!” Chappelle himself has said, “It was a bad show. It was bad. I mean when we were doing it, I could tell this was not gonna work.” Oops.

Number of episodes: Nine (One season, four episodes unaired)
Spun off from: Happy Days (1974-1984)
Spun-off characters: Random The Angel (Jimmy Brogan)

Why didn’t it work?

Pick a Happy Days spin-off, any Happy Days spin-off. There’s Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983), and the spin-offs from that, Laverne & Shirley In The Army (1981-1982) and the failed pilot Carmine! (1983), as well as Blansky's Beauties (1977), another failed pilot in the form of Ralph And Potsie (1977), the super-successful Mork & Mindy (1978-1982) and its animated series (1982-1983), the thoroughly odd The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang (1980-1982) and the infamously bad Joanie Loves Chachi (1982-1983). Out Of The Blue is getting your attention now, however, as it’s just that, um, Random. It featured an angel called Random and boasted the rare distinction of being a sitcom that first aired before the episode the Happy Days’ character that inspired it had even hit screens, thanks to an unfortunate scheduling quirk. It’s also not very good.

Number of episodes: One (Failed pilot)
Spun off from: MASH (1972-1983)
**
Spun-off characters: *Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff)

Why didn’t it work?

Of the two failed MASH spin-offs, AfterMASH probably gets the most abuse, featuring as it does Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan), Klinger (Jamie Farr) and Father Mulcahy (William Christopher). After two seasons and 31 episodes, AfterMASH was dishonourably discharged after having its knackers kicked in by timeslot rivals The A-Team, while WALTER managed to do one worse by never making it to air. It also featured suicide as a major plot point and Walter solving a dispute between two strippers. All this lack of success after the finale of the original MAS*H, ‘Goodbye, Farewell And Amen’, was watched by 121.6 million viewers – still the biggest number any show’s last episode has ever managed. Still, as the US Army will tell you, you win some, you lose some.

Number of episodes: 13 (One season)
Spun off from: Cheers (1982-1993)
Spun-off characters: Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya), Loretta Tortelli (Jean Kasem)

Why didn’t it work?

The first spin-off from Cheers, which would later give the world another spin-off so successful (Frasier) that it dwarfed the original, The Tortelli’s crashed and burned before its first season finished, with its stars eventually coming back to Cheers itself as if the whole sorry affair never happened. Based around Carla Tortelli’s (Rhea Perlman) ex-husband and his new trophy wife, it had the Boston-born couple move to Las Vegas to make things work, keeping the continuity in play with cameos from Norm Peterson (George Wendt) and Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger). Perlman also appears in the pilot during a dream sequence. This, and everything else about it, is so very, very weird.

Number of episodes: 24 (one season)
Spun off from: The Golden Girls (1985-1992)
Spun-off characters: Rose Nylund (Betty White), Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), Sophia Petrillo Weinstock (Estelle Getty)

Why didn’t it work?

The Golden Palace is notable for two rather wonderful reasons: it was produced by Mitch Hurwitz, who would later create Arrested Development, and co-starred a young Don Cheadle as a by-the-rules hotel manager. Devised by CBS to keep the Emmy Award-winning grey-vy train going despite a key character getting off at the previous station (Dorothy Zbornak’s Bea Arthur), it had the GG-Unit managing a rather odd guesthouse, but failing to be as successful as the original show’s first spin-off, Empty Nest, which ran from 1988 to 1995. Perhaps its biggest flaw was changing the characters’ characters, with Rose getting tougher, Blanche less vain and Estelle distinctly kinder, eventually kicking the bucket when the studio canned the whole Friday night comedy block it was hiding in.

Number of episodes: Eight (Four unaired, one season)
Spun off from: Sanford And Son (1972-1977)
Spun-off characters: Grady (Whitman Mayo), Bubba (Don Bexley), Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page)

Why didn’t it work?

In a sentence, it’s because neither Sanford (Redd Foxx’s Fred G. Sanford) nor his son (Demond Wilson’s Lamont Sanford) were part of the project. The former left to make a variety show – itself cancelled after four months – while the latter failed to get the pay deal he wanted and stormed off. So in perhaps the most tenuous connection there’s ever been between any two sitcoms, an old army buddy of Fred’s buys up his old scrap business, as well as the hotel next door, and brings his two teenage children along for the ride. Viewed as a let’s-pretend-this-didn’t-happen blooper, the other Sanford spin-off three years later – 1980's Sanford, two seasons, 26 episodes – totally ignored what had happened in Sanford Arms, and explained Lamont’s absence by a sudden work move to Alaska.

(Sitcom trivia: Sanford And Son was based on the BBC’s Steptoe And Son, which was also remade in Holland as “Stiefbeen En Zoon” and in Sweden as “Albert & Herbert”.)

Number of episodes: Six (One season)
*
Spun off from: Little Britain (2003-2006) Spun-off characters:* Marjorie Dawes, Bubbles DeVere, Vicky Pollard, Daffyd Thomas and the rest

Why didn’t it work?

No-one could turn down HBO. Not when your three-series sketch show has done so appallingly well in the UK, not when the live show hoovered up all that cash, not when, you know, it’s HBO. So David Walliams and Matt Lucas took all the same old sketches, but did them in America, again and again and again, and were paid for the privilege. The title alone – Little Britain USA – should have been the biggest clue that it wasn’t going to work, but perhaps the lack of new and, more importantly, genuinely amusing characters was the death knell of the Little Britain franchise (aside from the 2025 reboot, of course).

Number of episodes: 12 (Two series)
Spun off from: Desmond’s (1989-1994)
Spun-off characters: Augustus Neapolitan Cleveland "Porkpie" Grant (Ram John Holder)

Why didn’t it work?

It’s hard to say. Porkpie was one of the most popular characters from the original Peckham-set barbershop sitcom, and the set-up – Porkpie the lollipop man wins the lottery and has to learn who he can trust – was sufficiently different and undeniably amusing, but it failed to catch fire with audiences, petering out even after it was given a second series. Perhaps it was the simplistic moralising that did it in – a shame, really, considering the loveable larger-than-life characters it was so blessed with.

Number of episodes: Six (One series)
Spun off from: Till Death Do Us Part (1965-1975)
Spun-off characters: Alf Garnett (Warren Mitchell), Elsie 'Else' Garnett (Dandy Nichols), Rita Rawlins (Una Stubbs)*

Why didn’t it work?*

It wasn’t made by the same people, and didn’t have the same feel. The show that made Alf Garnett everyone’s favourite East End bigot, Till Death Do Us Part, was a BBC production, whereas this spin-off that saw Else and Alf move to an Eastbourne bungalow was created by ITV’s ATV, and couldn’t even use the same title, as Auntie Beeb’s lawyers had called dibs on it. Una Stubbs' very popular Rita only appeared in three episodes, while her layabout husband Mike (Anthony Booth) never cropped up at all. To make matters worse, just four years later BBC One brought the original show back, renamed it In Sickness And In Health, and scored yet another huge hit in the ratings and saw it last for seven long years.

Number of episodes: 38 (Two seasons)
Spun off from: Diff’rent Strokes (1978-1986)
Spun-off characters: None


Why didn't it work?*

Another sitcom curio here. While not a direct spin-off from Diff’rent Stokes per se, its studio NBC, in such trouble in the ratings at the time, tweaked the script so that the new show’s lead character Larry Alder (McLean Stevenson) was an old army buddy of Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain). As well as making Diff’rent Strokes’ rich guy the owner of the radio station Larry worked for, several crossover episodes were created to boost Hello, Larry’s ratings, but to little effect. Making matters worse, Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show monologues regularly used the show as a punching bag, and soon it was – you guessed it – Goodbye, Larry.

(Sitcom trivia: Diff’rent Strokes is remarkable for many reasons, but in the spin-off sitcom department, it is the grandfather of five failed pilots, through its main spin-off, The Facts Of Life: Brian & Sylvia (1980), The Academy (1981), Peekskill Law (1987), Big Apple Blues (1988) and More Facts Of Life: Beginning Of The Beginning (1988).)

Number of episodes: 18 (One season)
Spun off from: Dukes Of Hazzard (1979-1985)
Spun-off characters: Enos Strate (Sonny Shroyer)

Why didn’t it work?

The kind of show where the lead character asks for “Coke” in a bowling alley and ends up involved in a cocaine smuggling ring, Enos was a country-cop-in-the-big-smoke comedy – you could call it Enos: Pig In The City if you’re looking for a punch from your nearest law enforcement officer – that took the loveably naive Dukes Of Hazzarder and dropped him into the LAPD. Unspeakably cute at times, it began and ended most episodes with Enos writing a letter home to Daisy Duke. Think Crocodile Dundee, only not, and far less successful, and you’re just about there.

Number of episodes: 12 (One season)
Spun off from: Who’s The Boss? (1983-1992)
Spun-off characters: None

Why didn’t it work?

Spawned through a back-door pilot on Who’s The Boss? – whereby one episode is essentially another show’s pilot in all but name – Living Dolls is a sitcom based around the world of New York’s modeling scene, and it’s about as funny as that would indicate. Notable for redoing its own pseudo-pilot (see above) with new actors because execs changed their minds over casting, it features the acting debut of Halle Berry as a professional clothes-wearer called Emily Franklin. It’s also the proud owner of an “F” rating from People Magazine, which along with the terrible viewing figures, saw it explode into nothingness while its parent show trundled on.

Number of episodes: 10 (One season)
Spun off from: The Brady Bunch
Spun-off characters: Marcia Brady (Maureen McCormick) and Jan Brady (Eve Plumb)

Why didn’t it work?

Partially, because of its tortured road to TV screens. The first three episodes were actually the final TV movie for The Brady Bunch, where Jan and Marcia get married – though not to each other, it should be said – but CBS and Paramount decided at the last moment to chop it up and use it as a sneaky three-part pilot. It turned out a big reason behind The Brady Bunch’s charm was the whole bunch Bradying about together, and these particular two grapes weren’t sweet enough to work on their own. This point was proven with embarrassing directness by the success of the reunion movie A Very Brady Christmas seven years later, the highest-rated TV film of 1988.

Number of episodes: Seven
Spun off from: Married… With Children (1987-1997)
Spun-off characters: Charlie Verducci (Joseph Bologna), Vinnie Verducci (Matt LeBlanc)

Why didn’t it work?

Despite only managing seven episodes, Top Of The Heap was the most successful of Fox’s Married… With Children spin-offs – the others being Radio Free Trumaine and Enemies, both so dreadful they only bear a passing mention – and featured serial spin-offerer Matt LeBlanc in a starring role. Doubling down on the disaster that was Top Of The Heap, which saw two minor M…WC characters devise zany plans to get rich quick, Fox tried one more time to make a sitcom vehicle for Matt LeBlanc in the same universe, remaking the spin-off, only this time calling Vinny & Bobby. It also only lasted for seven episodes.