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Tuesday, October 2, 2012
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With ‘Private Practice’ At The Top, TV Spinoffs’ Hits And Misses

By Carson Blackwelder
Television Contributor

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ABC’s Private Practice premieres the second episode of its sixth season tonight. The event marks a feat only dreamt of by other shows — let alone spinoffs.

Private Practice began in 2007 as a strategic and well-planned crossover with the series that led to its creation, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. The backdoor pilot saw Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) trading in her ties to Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) and the rest of the sexy Seattle doctors for a slice of California and a new start.

Private Practice has been going strong for five seasons, and with the advent of the sixth season, the series has surpassed the lifespans of several shows. For fans of many programs, like NBC’s Community, the hope is for “six seasons and a movie,” which is more of a pipe dream than anything.

This summer, Walsh announced this season, which consists of 13 episodes, would be her last. The jury is out on whether or not this will be the final season of Private Practice — but it’s not looking good.

While spinoffs aren’t always destined for greatness, they are numerous. Let’s take a look at which have worked and which have spun out of control throughout the years.

Spinoffs that worked

One of the most successful franchises in TV history is Joss Whedon’s cult classic Buffy The Vampire Slayer on The WB, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as the blonde, spike-wielding heroine. By the fourth season of Buffy, Angel (David Boreanaz) embarked on his own show (with his namesake) instead of returning as a series regular. The WB’s Angel stuck around for five seasons (ending in 2004) and has spawned a series of comics: Angel: After the Fall and Angel & Faith. Buffy The Vampire Slayer itself lasted for seven seasons, ending in 2003, and has also spun off into comic books as well as novels and video games.

This year, TNT’s The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick, ended after seven successful seasons and gave birth to the new crime procedural Major Crimes, starring Mary McDonnell (Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica). There was much worry of whether or not this show would be able to capture the spirit of The Closer, but TNT renewed the spinoff for a second season. Reasons for the success of this spinoff could be that it still feels like The Closer and that much of the cast returned for this show — all, in fact, except for Sedgwick and J.K. Simmons.

Sometimes spinoffs don’t take the same genre as their parent shows. One such example is CBS’s medical drama Trapper John, M.D. (starring Pernell Roberts), which was a spinoff of the 11-season, dark comedy M*A*S*H on CBS. This spinoff ran for seven seasons, crossed genre lines and won over the hearts of viewers in the process. The CBS drama Lou Grant, which branched off from CBS’s successful comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show and aired for five seasons, is another example.

NBC’s Law & Order, which lasted for 20 seasons, has given birth to four spinoffs, but the most successful of them is Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which is in its 14th season. This celebrated, intense show is full of drama and character development, which has undoubtedly led to its good fortune. Other long-standing procedurals that have enjoyed many years of success and popular spinoffs are CBS’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and NCIS.

Highly regarded as one of the best series of all time, NBC’s Frasier premiered in 1993 as a spinoff of another highly successful series, NBC’s Cheers. Kelsey Grammer led this show for 11 seasons.

Spinoffs that failed

The wildly popular NBC sitcom Friends concluded in 2004, and Matt LeBlanc went on to star in a spinoff series, aptly called Joey, that centered around his character Joey Tribbiani. This show was terrible and lasted for two sub-par seasons, proving that six is better than one. Luckily, LeBlanc went on to star on Showtime’s Episodes, which proved better-suited for him.

The beloved NBC sitcom The Golden Girls, starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, kept its audience in stitches for seven seasons, but it was its spinoff that didn’t fly high with viewers. CBS’s The Golden Palace starred all of the original girls, except for Arthur, since she got married and left her her sisterhood behind in the series finale of The Golden Girls. The Golden Palace lasted for one season and proved that even most of the beloved cast along with the young, talented Don Cheadle couldn’t please audiences.

Even sci-fi shows have a hard time with getting spinoffs off of the ground. Battlestar Galactica tried its attempt at a spinoff with the canceled Caprica. And the ever-popular Star Trek franchise even has a thorn in its side. Star Trek: Voyager lasted for seven seasons and garnered some awards, but it still remains the least popular of all the pieces in the Star Trek universe.

Another series that had both a successful and unsuccessful spinoff is ABC’s Happy Days. ABC’s Laverne & Shirley, starring Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, was a fan favorite for eight seasons, while ABC’s Joanie Loves Chachi, starring Scott Baio and Erin Moran, wasn’t the same without the rest of the gang.

Spinoffs to look forward to

One show that is already set to premiere a spinoff is HBO’s Sex and the City. The CW is premiering The Carrie Diaries, which will act as a prequel to the popular show, which chronicled Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her girlfriends as they lived glamorous and sexy lives in New York City. The Carrie Diaries stars AnnaSophia Robb as the high school version of Bradshaw and shows how she falls in love with NYC and fashion. This series will take over Gossip Girl‘s slot following that show’s midseason end. Having already seen the pilot forThe Carrie Diaries, I can say that this spinoff is set to take its place as a justified and successful prequel, and it should retain fans of the original as well as swaying the targeted younger demographic who is new to the franchise.

With NBC’s The Office slated to end after this season, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) may be getting his own spinoff series called The Farm. This show would follow Dwight as a beet farmer running a B&B. Will this series be as successful as The Office and retain its devout fans? Or will it prove to be one step too far?

If I missed any of your favorite or least favorite TV spinoffs, sound off in the comments below.

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  • Guest

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended in 2004.

  • Natasha

    I don’t get how it has 7 sevens, but was only on for 6 years.

    • Natasha

      Nevermind. I forgot how short the 1st season was.

  • acter

    You missed out on two shows that spawned more spinoffs than any others. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” spun off “Rhoda”, “Phyllils” and “Lou Grant”. “All In The Family” spun off “Maude”, which spun off “Good Times, “The Jeffersons”, which spun off “Checking In”, “Gloria”, “Archie Bunker’s Place” (not really a spin-off I guess) and “704 Hauser” (loosely).