The 411 TV Top 10 09.08.12: The Top 10 Worst TV Spin-Offs
Posted by Jack McGee on 09.08.2012
From Baywatch Nights and Joanie Loves Chachi to Saved by the Bell: The College Years, Joey and more, 411’s Jack McGee breaks down his top 10 worst TV spin-offs!
Welcome one and all to my little corner of 411. I am Jack McGee, you may remember me from such columns as the Hollywood 5&1. I had fun last time breaking out my worst movie sequels, and some of you agreed, some disagreed and some downright hated it. And you know what? That is absolutely cool. I fully realize that I will never make everyone happy, because these are MY opinions. And you guys have your opinions, and I am glad to hear them. All I ask is that you do so in a respectful fashion. This week I want to discuss the worst TV spin-offs. So lets look at some of the worst offenders…
Quite simply these will be my top 10 WORST TV spin offs. I will grade on quality, how long it actually lasted and failure to live up in any way to the series it came from.
10. The Lone Gunmen
The X-Files ran from 1993 to 2002, nine seasons and 202 episodes. The show was highly praised by critics, and the fan base grew so much that it attained a worldwide cult following. Fox tried to expand with 21 Jump Street as, I will discuss below, but The X-Files was a much bigger hit, and they were desperate to create a spin-off before the main show went off the air. In 2001, The Lone Gunmen made it's debut the show featured three characters from the X-Files universe, known as The Lone Gunmen. They were Melvin Frohike, John Fitzgerald Byers and Richard Langly, three nerdy investigators that ran a conspiracy theory magazine. The show focused on government-sponsored terrorism, the creeping government-induced police state surveillance society, cheating husbands, corporate crime, arms-dealers, and of course escaped Nazis. While the characters were a popular part of The X-Files, and the show did receive positive reviews, ratings were poor and the show only lasted 13 episodes.
While not a good spin-off, the show does have an interesting legacy. The pilot episode, which aired six months prior to 9-11, depicted a secret faction within the US government plotting to hijack a Boeing 727 and fly it into the World Trade Center by remote control. Once 9-11 happened, conspiracy theorists came out of the woodwork, claiming the US Government to be behind the attack and using this show as evidence.
21 Jump Street ran from April 12, 1987 to April 27, 1991, and produced 103 episodes in five seasons. The show was an important part of the young Fox network's effort to draw the younger viewer, and is considered to be the role that got Johnny Depp national attention. With the show doing well, Fox then decided that they would spin-off the series, and Booker was born. The show featured the character of Dennis Booker (Richard Grieco); who was originally a recurring character during the third season of 21 Jump Street. 21 Jump Street focused on their young cast, undercover police work, issues such as alcoholism, hate crimes, drug abuse, homophobia, AIDS, child abuse, and sexual promiscuity and of course, the public service announcements featuring cast members after episodes. Booker saw Dennis Booker being hired by the US office of a large Japanese Company to investigate some suspicious insurance claims. EXCITING! They tried to keep him hip by bucking authority, and doing his own thing for himself, friends and family. But the show simply didn't work, because it wasn't 21 Jump Street. Booker was a lead in for it's predecessor, but was quickly moved to the 10PM timeslot on Sundays. It lasted one season, for 22 episodes.
The Dukes of Hazzard was on TV from 1979 to 1985, and while they had some casting issues (FUCKING COY AND VANCE) due to salary disputes, they produced 145 episodes, and several TV movies after the series. In 1981, CBS decided to make a spin-off of the series, and Enos was born. The show featured former Hazzard County deputy Enos Strate, who had moved to Los Angeles and joined the LAPD. This also gave us Cleetus as his replacement on The Dukes of Hazzard. The episodes were the typical style, he would work with his partner, a problem would arise, and they would solve things. At the end, Enos would write a letter to Daisy Duke, his one and only true love. Ratings were never strong for the series, so CBS would bring characters from the Dukes of Hazzard onto the show. Uncle Jesse, Daisy, and Rosco all made appearances, but even with their help, the show would not catch on. One season and 18 episodes later, and Enos was finished and back off to Hazzard County.
7. Saved by the Bell: The College Years
Saved by the Bell is one of those shows that if you're the right age, you have fond memories of and simply love. The show ran from 1987 (Good Morning Miss Bliss) through 1992 with a total of 103 episodes. The show lives on in syndication to this day, allowing for a new generation to fall in love with it. With Saved by the Bell being a success, NBC not only looked to spin it off, but they wanted to go primetime with it (straying from the Saturday morning formula). Saved by the Bell: The College Years seemed like the next logical step for the series, and in 1993 the show hit the airways. Zack Morris, A.C. Slater, Screech Powers and after the pilot Kelly Kapowski all returned for the series. While it had four of the main characters (and football player Bob Golic), the show ranked low in the ratings (88th overall in yearly ratings) and after only 19 episodes, the show was cancelled as Zack and Kelly decided to elope to Las Vegas. While we did get closure with Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas, it was a failed attempt to continue a series that is best remembered for the high school years. Thankfully Kelly Kapowski would enter the witness protection program and relocate to Beverly Hills under the name of Valerie Malone…
6. Baywatch Nights
Baywatch ran for 11 seasons (the final two as Baywatch: Hawaii) and produced over 242 episodes. NBC actually cancelled the show after only one season due to low ratings and also because the studio, GTG, went out of business. Star David Hasselhoff along with creators and Executive Producers Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz and Greg Bonann revived it for the first-run syndication market in 1991, and Baywatch became a global juggernaut, making bank. So in 1995, Douglas Schwartz, David Hasselhoff, and Gregory Bonann decided to take another version of Baywatch into syndication, and Baywatch Nights was born. The character of Sgt. Garner Ellerbee left the beach to become a private investigator, and Mitch Buchannon (David Hasselhoff) went along to help. But the problem was that they took out the hot ass in bikinis and made it a generic detective show. And when ratings fell during the first season, they changed course in season two. They tried to compete with The X-Files, going the sci-fi/paranormal route, and it failed even worse. The show lasted two seasons, and 44 episodes before it was mercifully ended. Lesson learned with a lot of these shows? If it ain't broke don't fix it!
5. That 80s Show
That 70s Show became a big part of pop culture in the late 90s, early 2000s, running from 1998 to 2006, and producing 200 episodes. The show was also remade by the British ITV network as Days Like These, using essentially the same scripts with only minor changes for the British culture. Again, Fox had a hit on their hands once again, and they once again tried and failed to cash in on a spin-off. Some will say that That 80s Show is a not a direct spin-off, but it had a similar name, structure, and many of the same writers and production staff. That is good enough for me. In my opinion, and the opinion of many, this was a pure cash in, and everyone knew it, no one was fooled. The cast of That 70s Show ended up working out perfectly, they jelled, and it all worked. You just cannot move decades, recast and expect lightening to strike twice. The show was a colossal failure, it was looked at as a fake, and it was simply a bad TV show. Thankfully this disgrace was only around for 13 episodes.
Friends is one of the biggest TV shows of all time, running from 1994-2004, producing 236 episodes which are now syndication gold. The show was nominated for 63 Primetime Emmy Awards, always successful in the ratings, and regarded as one of the greatest 50 TV shows, and had one of the most watched finales of all time (behind M*A*S*H, Cheers and Seinfeld). When you create something that big and successful, I guess you can't blame anyone for wanting to try and continue the good times. NBC gave the green light to Joey, which would inherit the old timeslot that Friends resided in. Rating weren't bad for the debut season, ranked 35th overall for the year. The show also won the People's Choice Award of Favorite New Television Comedy and Matt LeBlanc won Favorite Male Television Star. But the show was not well received overall by critics, and when the Friends hangover ended, Joey was doomed. In season two, the show dropped to 86th overall in the ratings, it was put on hiatus, and after 46 episodes in total, Joey Tribbiani was finished. Friends worked because it was a great ensemble cast, the characters grew as the show grew, and because people could relate. Once that was over, it didn't matter who the spin-off was about, it wasn't Friends and it was never going to be Friends. And with such big shoes to fill, there was simply no way that Joey could succeed.
3. The Tortellis
Cheers ran for 11 seasons (1982-1993), producing 275 episodes, earning 28 Emmy Awards and 117 nominations. It also produced one of the most successful spin-offs of all time, Frasier, which also ran 11 seasons and produced 264 episodes. 22 seasons and over 500 episodes of success, so why am I talking about that here? Because in 1987 NBC got greedy and went to the spin-off factory too early, and with the wrong characters. Carla Tortelli was the rude, loud mouthed waitress on Cheers, and she had an ex-husband named Nick, who was fine comic relief. This is the man NBC said, "Lets build a show around!" Yes, The Tortellis Nick and Loretta Tortelli. Loretta left Nick and sped off to Las Vegas, and he followed. Nick's kid was there as well with his fiancé, but no one cared about him. Nick set up a TV repair business and tried to live a normal life, but again, no one cared. The show ran for 13 episodes, and The Tortelli clan returned to Cheers for recurring roles. No one even realized that they were gone. Cheers has a great distinction in creating one of the worst along with one of the most successful spin-offs in TV history. Thankfully Frasier came along and helped lead The Tortellis into obscurity.
2. Joanie Loves Chachi
Happy Days was an icon of American TV, running from 1974 though 1984. The show produced 255 episodes, centered on life in 1950s American. The show is all that was successful with TV, music everyone knows, it coined the phrase "jumping the shark" and spawned FIVE spin-offs (Laverne & Shirley, Blansky's Beauties, Mork & Mindy and Out of the Blue). The fifth was Joanie Loves Chachi, and according to network executives, this was a sure fire hit of 1982. The show featured Joanie and Chachi moving to Chicago and trying to make it on their own with a rock band and a music career. Happy Days was successful because it had a great ensemble cast, a fun family feel, and one of the coolest people ever on TV, THE FONZ! But the network felt that Joanie, and the not as cool cousin of the Fonz, Chachi, were the next big hit. The show was bad, it included bad musical performances, and the show proved one things. No one is as cool as the Fonz. Joanie Loves Chachi made it into it's second season, and was canceled after 17 episodes. This type of cancellation seemed strange in the early 1980s, and for the most part it was. Today it is commonplace for a show to be quickly axed. Joanie Loves Chachi is considered one of the biggest blunders on TV history, for the over estimation that it would succeed, and because of the negative reaction it received. The real success spin-off wise came from Laverne & Shirley, which ran eight seasons and produced 178 episodes, and to a lesser extend Mork & Mindy, which ran four seasons and produced 95 episodes.
M*A*S*H is one of my favorite TV shows of all time, running from 1972-1983 and producing 251 episodes in 11 seasons. The show's finale, M*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen was one of the biggest accomplishments in TV at the time, drawing over 121 million viewers, beating out the Super Bowl from that year, the famed mini-series Roots as well as the "Who Shot JR" episode of Dallas. Now I am sure that most felt that if anything made the list, it would be After-MASH. But that's not the case, because a TV show called W*A*L*T*E*R exists. The show aired as a "CBS Special Presentation" in July 1984, in the Eastern and Central time zones of the US. The show was pre-empted on the West Coast by CBS News coverage of the Democratic National Convention. This was the ONE and ONLY time that the show aired.
W*A*L*T*E*R makes the list for a few reasons, first of all the fact that it only aired the one episode. But also because that episode is universally slammed. The show was to focus on former 4077-company clerk Walter "Radar" O'Reilly, unfortunately the show didn't give fans what hey wanted. The writers decided that "Radar" had to be portrayed differently, not the way he originally was. Forget the fact that they took one of TV's most beloved characters and made him a failure (he sold his farm that he went back to save) but they made him less of a man. We discover that his wife left him for another man after their honeymoon. I mean, that's some cold shit. On top of that, "Radar" tries to commit suicide by buy sleeping pills for an overdose. He ends up with his cousin Wendell, getting his a job on the police force, and the "Radar" we all knew was pretty much gone.
Destroying a loved character and only airing one episode following the massive success of the original? That is why W*A*L*T*E*R takes the top of the list.
So there you have my top 10 WORST TV spin off shows. I know that the list is not perfect; it is simply a reflection of my opinion. But now I ask you the fine readers of 411, what are some of YOUR worst TV spin off shows? Is there something on the list that doesn't belong? Please let me know if you disagree, we can still be friends.