Sunday, April 20, 2008

TV Spin-Off's: do they work?

Television spin-offs do not always fail. Nor do they always succeed.

With all the buzz surrounding the forthcoming spin-off of NBC's The Office, lots of internet commentators have been wondering if there can be a successful cousin from a popular television show. We went looking through the internet to find what worked and what didn't work. Here's some examples of what we found.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show - This popular sitcom about a woman balancing her personal life and career not only enchanted millions of viewers each week, it also had a bright cast of characters, a few of whom got their own television shows.


Mary's spunky neighbor moved from St. Paul/Minnesota back to New York to find romance, get married, get divorced and try to find love all over again. The show was a huge success when it premiered, sometimes out-performing the show it spun off from. However, creative decisions clashed with what fans wanted in later seasons and the show was ultimately canceled, but not before staying on the air for a respectable five seasons and producing 110 episodes.
VERDICT: Successful spin-off.

Phyllis: The precocious landlady left The Mary Tyler Moore Show to star in her own sitcom. During it's first season it was the sixth highest-rated television series, but was canceled in it's second season because of lower ratings.
VERDICT: Semi-successful.

Lou Grant
: After The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air, actor Ed Asner was able to continue playing his curmudgeon news director, this time switching from a half-hour sitcom about a television newsroom to an hour-long drama set in a newspaper. Like Rhoda, Lou Grant lasted five seasons and produced 114 episodes. The series continued to have great ratings and it's cancellation was the subject of controversy. (The networked thought Ed Asner was using the show, and his SAG presidency, as political soapboxes.)
VERDICT: Successful spin-off.

Friends - This television show about a group of friends experiencing life's ups and downs was one of the highest-rated television shows of all time. The final episode was watched by over 50 million viewers. So it seemed like a terrific idea to spin off one of the shows most popular characters into their own show, called...

Joey: Having moved from NYC to LA, Joey must now grow up and take charge of his life, while other characters continue to behave in eccentric ways. The series high point in the ratings was 18.6 million viewers, until it plummeted down to below 5 million. The show failed to attract a steady audience and was met with much criticism. The show produced 46 episodes and was canceled after two seasons.
VERDICT: Not successful. For modern-day television viewers, Joey is what people fear most in a The Office spin-off: completely changing a character and putting him/her in a situation that the viewer does not appreciate.

Grey's Anatomy - Hot doctors, hot young doctors, love triangles and sex. This premise has helped the Seattle-based hospital drama become a weekly staple for millions of viewers who need to get their Seattle Grace fix, no matter how many bad McPuns their friends make. In 2007, the show took one of their lead doctors and spun another show off, called...

Private Practice: Dr. Addison Montgomery moved to LA to work in a communal medical practice with her best friend from medical school. At Oceanside Wellness, she discovered that they too have hot young doctors, love triangles and sex. However, the show was aimed for more older, 'mature' viewers, alienating many original Grey's fans, who felt the show was a let-down. Despite this, the show found enough new viewers to make it one of the most-watched shows of the season.
VERDICT: It's still a young show. It has time to fail, it has time to blossom. I'd say it looks successful, but like Phyllis, it could take a sudden nosedive. (I hope not, though. It's got charm.)

SO? Could an Office spin-off work? If history is our guide, it could last for at least one season. And more often than not, it might actually work fairly well. Some shows like Joey and AfterMASH have scared a lot of people to the idea of spin-offs, while forgetting other notable successes, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer's spin-off Angel, which ran for five seasons. Or All in the Family, which begat Maude and The Jeffersons.

Television spin-offs can and have worked. But as to whether or not The Office 2 will work or not, unfortunately, we will just have to wait and see what it itself is like before making a judgment.

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