PoP! Top Six-Pack – Spin-Off TV Shows

The PoP!-Stars narrow it down to the cream-of-the-crop in categories ranging from (but not limited to) Comics, Movies, Toys, and Geek Culture in general. This is The Pop! Top Six-Pack.

6. Ashes to Ashes

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Spun-off From: Life on Mars

Aired: 2008 – present

One of the best gems to come out from British television in the last decade was Life On Mars: A 2006 police detective named Sam Tyler (John Simm) hunts down a serial killer. The investigation goes badly when Sam’s girlfriend and fellow detective gets kidnapped by the killer. One thing leads to another and Sam gets hit by a car and wakes up in the same spot, 33 years earlier. In this 1973 Manchester, Sam Tyler is a detective from out of town positioned in a new station under the command of DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), a role Sam holds in the present. While trying to find his way back home, Sam must take part in this new reality, unsure if it’s a hallucination or time travel. It doesn’t help when the radio or TV (hrrm, “tele”) speak to him, allegedly as his family or doctors visit his unconscious self in ’06. Besides DCI Hunt and their clashing egos, Sam also has to deal with his fellow detectives, the violent Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and the dumb Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster). Not all is gloomy, though, as Sam develops a relationship with WPC Annie Cartwright (Liz White), with whom he confides his suffering. The show was a huge hit thanks to the smart writing, the characters and reconstruction of the era (both in looks and music, as can be evident from the title of the series). Life of Mars wrapped up after two short seasons (that’s how British television work, I guess) but didn’t leave the fans depressed for too long.

In 2008 the BBC aired Ashes to Ashes. Modern day London detective Alex Drake (Keeley Haws) is obsessed with the recordings of Sam Tyler about his “adventures” (how she got to posses them I won’t tell for the benefit of those who didn’t watch Life on Mars). Alex is kidnapped by a psychopath and then shot in the head. Soon Alex wakes up in 1981 and meets the same Gene Hunt she remembers from Sam’s story and thinks she must be hallucinating like him. Joining Hunt’s force (still consisting of Ray and Chris), Alex tries to figure a way to get back to her daughter, while facing the age of brutal police force, male-dominant world as opposed to the new government led by Margaret Tatcher and all the cultural and social changes of the ’80s. What was once a testosterone war is now a fight between the sexes, with the usual sexual tense between the two leads. One thing taken from the original series is one tragic incident regarding Alex’s family and her attempts to figure out and prevent it. Another returning theme, obviously, is the use of a David Bowie song for the title. Ashes to Ashes went a step further and uses the Bowie clown from the famous video of that song as a figure that haunts Alex.

The third and last season of Ashes to Ashes will air sometime in 2010. When was asked about it in the past, Glenister said there won’t be another TV show in the franchise.

5. Frasier

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Spun-off From: Cheers

Aired: 1993-2004

Continuing with the ’80s theme, here comes Cheers. Aside from being one of the longest running sitcoms ever and building the careers of Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley and Woody Harrelson, its greatest achievement was giving birth to Frasier.

Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) started as psychiatrist and one of the regular customers of the Cheers bar. After his divorce from Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), Frasier returns home to Seattle. There he starts hosting a radio talk show and lives with his retired widowed policeman father, Martin (John Mahoney). Frasier’s brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) shared most of his big brother’s personality traits and occupation, but was mostly less… manly. Frasier and Martin’s live-in physical therapist/housekeeper was a British young woman named Daphne (Jane Leeves). One of the main plots during the show’s eleven seasons was Niles’ love for Daphne, but for awhile he couldn’t do anything with it due to his marriage to the troubled Maris (however, he didn’t confess his feelings to her for a couple more seasons). Speaking of which, a running gag was that Maris is never seen. There were also Roz (Peri Gilpin), Frasier’s producer and later close friend and Eddie, Martin’s dog that was more than just a pet.

As expected from a spin-off show, almost all of Frasier friends from Boston came to visit the charming doctor. A running shtick was that callers to Frasier’s talk show were voiced by various celebrities. From John Cusack to Carrie Fisher, the list is very long.

With Frasier going off the air in ’04, Grammer ended a 20-year run and over 250 episodes in three different shows (there was one guest-appearance on Wings) with the character, undoubtedly an impressive achievement.

(The following video contains spoilers to latter seasons of Frasier.)

4. The Simpsons

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Spun-off From: The Tracey Ullman Show

Aired: 1989 – present

I was a child in a time where The Simpsons was not yet created (or at least, not popular as it became in the early ’90s), so it’s easy for me to imagine what it feels like not having the yellow town of Springfield part of my life. Harder to believe is the fact that one of the longest running prime TV shows ever started as short animated episodes on The Tracey Ullman Show. I would’ve put The Simpsons much higher if not for the fact that it became such a legend, that it lasted way beyond anyone is allowed to remember the show that was canceled two decades ago; and even long after Ullman was last relevant, sad as it is to admit.

However, The Simpsons is no longer the epitome of animated satire, hardly a reminder to its prime days as opposed to modern successors like South Park and Family Guy. At least the cinematic movie based on the show was gorgeous.

3. Justice League Unlimited

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Spun-off From: Justice League

Aired: 2004 – 2006

Bruce Timm established the animated world based on DC Comics characters. With the success of the Batman and Superman animated shows in the ’90s, Timm and former collaborator producer/writer Paul Dini came up with an adaptation of DC’s prime super-team, Justice League of America. Running for two seasons, the series started with an extraterrestrial threat to the world that brought seven of the greatest superheroes together. Yes, just like in the first appearance of the team in 1960 (only they were five back then). Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally West), Green Lantern (John Stewart instead of Hal Jordan, so there’ll be a black character on the team; while neglecting Kyle Rayner who already appeared in Superman), Hawkgirl (replacing Hawkman, who in turn usually rotates places with Aquaman) and Martian Manhunter; this was the team. The second season ended with a 3-part episode (or TV movie, depends on your local network; here in Israel it aired in 3 parts) detailing a longtime plan of Hawkgirl’s planet Thanagar to invade Earth.

With that huge threat behind them, the seven founders of the League decided it’s time to branch out and invite every superhero in the world to join its ranks. Thus, begins Justice League Unlimited. From then on, the focus was obviously on the main characters, but it also gave the writers (leading them was veteran comic book writer Dwayne McDuffie) freedom to create stories that usually dealt with a small cast of no more than 4 characters and one-shot plots. With that, viewers got to know lesser iconic heroes like the Question and Booster Gold (personally, JLU made me a fan of the Question).

The second and last season focused on a bigger story where Lex Luthor made his path to become a larger threat than ever, but still managed to do the same format of one-shot stories. During that season the show also received scripts from famous comic book scribes, like J.M. DeMatteis and Geoff Johns. Despite the general awesomeness of JLU and the main plots, I mostly loved the one-shots, like ‘For the Man Who Has Everything’ (based on the classic Superman story by Alan Moore) or ‘Grudge Match’ (the League’s female hand-to-hand fighters get locked in a cage and forced to kick each other’s butt). Its greatness was telling stories with adult approach (not expletive, though), not dumbing down the original material ” for the kids” like many others did in the past. Unlike most animated shows, JLU wrapped the show with one of the greatest farewells ever, giving respect to many generations of the DCU.

In the following clip Booster Gold becomes the greatest superhero no one will ever know.

As a bonus, here’s one of the best scenes from ‘Starcrossed’, the “finale” to Justice League. If you don’t want to know Superman’s secret identity, don’t watch it.

2. Star Trek: The Next Generation

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Spun-off From: Star Trek

Aired: 1987 – 1994

Some spin-offs are doomed to fail, trying to bring to life a universe created in a show from the past, or reinventing a successful franchise. Luckily for Star Trek: The Next Generation fate stood on its side. The original 1966 sci-fi show, Star Trek was canceled after only three seasons. Becoming a cult hit over the years, in the late ’70s it was brought to the big screen and eventually cemented its status with the second film, The Wrath of Khan in ’82. With that, Paramount wanted to bring the franchise back to television and TNG was created.

With a new Enterprise ship led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) many decades after the previous staff, it seemed like the gamble was successful. And it was; TNG became the longest running Star Trek show with 7 seasons and set the bar for the shows to come later. The cast even took over the movie series in the ’90s.

Sadly, after couple of years Star Trek lost its steam. The last couple of movies were failures on most fronts and 2002’s Nemesis looked like the last nail on its coffin. It didn’t help, either, when the fifth TV show, Enterprise struggled with low ratings, eventually getting canceled by ’05. Lucky for us, the whole franchise was rebooted earlier this year in J.J. Abrams’ “year one” take.

1. Angel

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Spun-off From: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Aired: 1999 – 2004

Of course, a Joss Whedon creation from when he was in his prime. After 3 successful seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Whedon and producer David Greenwalt took her love interest, the 250 years old vampire-with-a-soul Angel (David Boreanaz) out of Sunnydale to his own quest in Los Angeles. The themes of Angel’s inner turmoil with his old evil self, Angelus, were delved into some more over the five seasons of the show, alongside Angel’s endless journey to retrieve his humanity according to some ancient prophecy. Yes, a modern day bloodsucking Pinocchio. Angel’s main nemesis was a local branch of the Walfram & Hart law firm, a corporation with deep roots in the occult and a history that goes all the way to the dawn of humanity.

Aiding Angel were Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), also leaving Sunnydale to the city of big opportunities and empty promises. While she remained the party girl who tries to become a star for awhile, with time Cordelia became deeply involved with the otherworld aspects of her surrounding, a far more serious woman and even a love interest for Angel. Doyle (Glenn Quinn) was Angel’s guide and connection to The Powers That Be, a mysterious group of prophets. Later in the first season Angel was joined by Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Alexis Denisof), formerly a Watcher assigned to oversee Buffy in the original’s third season and had feelings for Cordelia. For sometime Wesley was portrayed as his old nerdy self, but later his character has become gloomier. Later additions were Gunn (J. August Richards), a former vigilante vampire hunter; Lorne (Andy Hallett), an empathic demon with love for music and extravaganza; Fred (Amy Acker), a sweet scientist saved from Lorne’s dimension and a love interest to both Wesley and Gunn.

One of the greatest things about Angel (and any Whedon show, actually) was that it didn’t just focus on the main character and its motives with small focus on the rest, but developed the characters around it, even minor ones. Wolfram & Hart employees Lilah (Stephanie Romanov) and Lindsey (Christian Kane) started as mere lackeys executing their bosses’ orders, but by the last season ended in far developed roles (either they were still employed by the firm doesn’t matter). Each and every one of Angel’s friends was in different, darker places then they were in their early stages. Even Angel was changed, a mature person with greater responsibilities than just his personal goal.

I know there are comic books that continued the plots of Angel and co. in the form of Angel: After the Fall and others, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever read them. I prefer the ending of the series as it is, although it kept things open to interpretation.

Honorable Mentions: Pinky and the Brain, The Jeffersons, Daria, A Different World, The Facts of Life, Knots Landing, Torchwood, Darkwing Duck, The Yogi Bear Show, Tiny Toon Adventures, Family Matters, Bionic Woman.

To contact Tomer Soiker: tsoiker@panelsonpages.com

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  1. Superdoug says:

    Not to split hairs, but Frasier’s father’s name was Martin, and Daphne was a physical therapist-slash-housekeeper.

    Other than that, great article!

  2. Jim Gibbons says:

    Well done, sir! I’m a big Buffy fan, but I think Angel was a far superior show! Not a lot of people agree (though I’m entirely correct), so it’s good to see the show getting the props it deserves here!

  3. Batman25JM says:

    Nice article. I’ve never seen Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes (and I doubt I ever will), and I’m not a fan of the Simpsons, but I love the other four shows.

    I’m glad that Darkwing Duck at least got an honorable mention.

    There is one spin off that I love, but most don’t and that’s the Friends spin off Joey. I thought it was hilarious.

    Doug’s right about the Frasier stuff.

  4. Ska says:

    *slap* Doctor Who & Torchwood??!?

  5. Tomer Soiker says:

    @Doug: Thanks, fixed. Don’t know where “Harry” came from…

    @Jim: On some levels, I preferred Angel to Buffy. Maybe it’s the fact it was directed not necessarily at teenagers and was mostly a darker show (not without some humor, of course).

    @JM: You should watch at least LoM, really. I don’t remember enough of Darkwing Duck so the honorable mention was the least I could do. As you can guess from what I said about The Simpsons, I’m not a fan of the show (any longer) either. As for Joey: Didn’t we agree already you have a bad taste? 😛 Doug’s always right.

    @Ska: See the honorable mentions. Never watched a Doctor Who series or Torchwood, but I know they’re beloved enough to garner a mention (at least Torchwood, being the spin-off).

    @K-Whack: Huh?

  6. Tomer Soiker says:

    Never mind, Jason, I saw your comment before the edit.

  7. Batman25JM says:

    @Jim: I’m with you, as much as I love Buffy, I much prefer Angel.

    @Tomer: I had no interest in LoM prior to reading the article, but in all honesty, it sounds kinda good (as does Ashes to Ashes). I may have to check them out. Darkwing Duck is awesome, you should revisit it. And yes, we did agree I have bad taste, but damn you for bringing it up! 😆

  8. Joshua says:

    I don’t think I would classify either TNG or JLU as spin-offs.

  9. Robert Eddleman says:

    I agree with Joshua. Both are extensions of the previous series more than spin-offs.

    Still, good list Tomer. Love me some Angel.

  10. Tomer Soiker says:

    I know, I know. By extension, they’re considered spin-offs. Not by the classic definition (especially not JLU), but they still are.

    Actually, if you think of it JL/JLU was a spin-off of Batman:TAS and Superman: TAS.

  11. Spider_Fan14 says:

    yay! i love Fraiser but i find it hard to warm up to his other shows (Back to you and Hank) since i thik his whole sitcom career is basicly Fraiser imho. Was Dresden Files considered for this list? i’ve never seen it but i heard it was good but Fox screwed up with it.

  12. Tomer Soiker says:

    Frasier’s “career” ended with the show titled after his name. However, actor Kelsey Grammer appeared in those shows you’ve mentioned. Didn’t watch them, though. Same goes for Dresden Files so it never crossed my mind.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      Grammer was also the voice of the lead character in Gary the Rat. You didn’t miss much if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about.

  13. TENIME_art says:

    It still says “Harry”…

  14. Tomer Soiker says:

    Weird. Updated it yesterday and I’m pretty sure I checked the published version afterwards. Anyway, thanks.

  15. Batman25JM says:

    I didn’t see it before, but I’m happy Pinky and the Brain got an honorable mention as well.

    So, could you consider Beast Wars a spin off by extension? If so then it should most definitely be on the list.

  16. Tito Cruz says:

    Simpson’s is #1 for me followed by Fraiser. That’s just me.

  17. Ben Gilbert says:

    The Simpsons has been on for so long, I always forget that it was a spinoff. I need to check out the original Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes…they both sound really good.

    And, as much as I like Dr. Horrible and Firefly, I can’t really get into Buffy and Angel. Granted, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of a few Angel episodes and I’ve only seen the first two episodes of Buffy Season 1, so maybe I need more exposure.

    JLU was pure win. I wish it lasted longer.

    And is it sacrilege to say that TNG is more watchable than the original series? At least the original cast made better movies, for the most part.

  18. Tomer Soiker says:

    @JM: Haven’t cared about anything TF-related since 1989.

    @Ben: Yes, yo need to rewatch Buffy and Angel. I know people are sick to hear this, but Buffy really became a good thing by Season 2. You just need to pass the goofiness of the first 13 episodes (though not all of them were goofy…)

    Agreed about TNG.

  19. Joshua says:

    I wouldn’t call JLU a spin-off of Batman: TAS because it’s all based on pre-existing material.

    And Ben, you really need to watch more Buffy, it’s an incredible program.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      Sure, but… it’s the same voice actors (or at least some of the same) set in the same universe… JLU isn’t The Brave and the Bold… it’s TOTALLY a spin-off of Batman:TAS.

  20. Robert Eddleman says:

    IMO, a spin-off is when a supporting character gets their own series. If Jim Gordon or Batgirl has a DCAU show, that’d be a spin-off. But the title character? That a continuation.

  21. Tomer Soiker says:

    @Rob: Not necessarily. If to trust Wikipedia this is what spin-off means:

    “Media spin-off is the process of deriving new radio programs, television programs or video games or even novels from already existing ones.”

    (…)

    Variants of spin-offs

    Television spin-offs come in several variations, including:
    * A supporting character or characters in an existing series is given their own show in which they become the main focus. The original series continues without them and there may be some crossover of characters between the shows on occasion (e.g. The Lone Gunmen from The X-Files, Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flo from Alice, Go, Diego, Go from Dora the Explorer (Which often has the original character cameo), The Ropers from Three’s Company, Daria from Beavis and Butt-head, Torchwood from Doctor Who, Softly, Softly which features the characters of Barlow and Watt from Z-Cars).
    o Sometimes, as a springboard for a character spin-off, a special “backdoor pilot” episode within the parent series will be created, to establish the new supporting characters and setting for the child series. Examples of this include an episode of Three’s Company to establish The Ropers, and an episode of The Danny Thomas Show to establish The Andy Griffith Show. These special episodes usually stand out as oddities in the parent series’ continuity, especially if the spin-off is unsuccessful (and therefore little-known) or even aborted without ever spinning off (e.g. an episode of Welcome Back, Kotter established family characters and a home setting for a proposed spin-off based on Arnold Horshack, but the series – to be titled Horshack – was never produced).
    * New characters are specially incorporated into an existing series for the sole purpose of being launched into their own show that will feature no regular characters from the original series, except possibly as guest appearances (e.g. Empty Nest from The Golden Girls, Melrose Place from Beverly Hills, 90210, or Boston Legal from The Practice). There are even some examples of spin-offs generating their own spin-offs, leaving the new show with virtually no connection to the original series. Examples of this type of secondary-spin-off include Good Times and Models Inc.
    * Regular characters from a series continue in their own series after the original series ends (e.g. George and Mildred and Robin’s Nest from Man About the House; Frasier from Cheers; Joey from Friends). This is usually done with the same actors, though not always, such as Trapper John M.D. from M*A*S*H.
    * A new series is started with the same theme and existing in the same universe as the original series, but may not necessarily have the same characters. Examples of this type are the Star Trek, Stargate, The X-Files, Law & Order, and CSI series. These are sometimes called franchises.
    * A series that begins in one medium is branched out into other media with material that may or may not be canonically related to the primary production. Examples of this include Tokimeki Memorial, which began as a video game and later branched out into anime and CD audio dramas, and Star Wars, which includes the six feature films, numerous novels, radio dramas, television series, and video games set within the same universe.
    * In sketch comedy shows, the particular popularity of one character or setting may form the basis of a newly commissioned series, such as Da Ali G Show which originated as a part of the The 11 O’Clock Show. This can also occur for humorous skits in regular talk shows.
    * In soap operas, where the original show is broadcast ‘before the watershed’, spin off series may be created where the program wishes to air more controversial topics, or adult content, such as the Hollyoaks late night specials. As such, these do not introduce plot details required to understand the original series.”

  22. Joshua says:

    @Kerouac

    Except no characters from JLU were ever featured in Batman: TAS. It’s an all-new cast from pre-existing material. The only character in JLU that was in Batman is Batman. Even his rogues gallery was off limits because of The Batman.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      Fair enough… but I think it’d also be fair to say Justice League WAS a spinoff of Batman, and JLU was merely a continuation thereof, yes?

  23. Joshua says:

    I don’t see how Justice League would be considered a spin-off if JLU isn’t. The same basic principle still applies.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      @ Joshua – The Batvillains were a HUGE part of Justice League, and Batman was a far more central part than previously. Lex and the Joker picked up their begudging alliance from the world’s finest movie. It was DEFINITELY a spin-off.

  24. Batman25JM says:

    I COMPLETELY forgot about two of my all time favorite shows that also happen to be spin offs, NCIS and Boston Legal. Both of those shows just ooze awesome. I used to love the Practice (which Boston Legal spun off from), but I’ve never seen JAG (which NCIS spun off from).

    Another spin off that I really enjoyed was The Golden Palace which was a spin-off/continuation of The Golden Girls.

    NCIS: Los Angeles is also very good.

    @Tomer: Have you ever seen Beast Wars? If not I strongly suggest you check it out. It is fantastic. I think even non TF fans would like it.

    • Tomer Soiker says:

      @JM: Of all these four, I’ve only followed JAG.

      Don’t think I ever heard about Golden Palace

      Like I said, haven’t cared about anything TF-related since 1989. I thought about checking the comic books when the franchise first enjoyed a comeback several years ago, but never got into it.

  25. Batman25JM says:

    Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe are both great spins offs as well. Also, I guess Stargate SG-1 could kinda be considered a spin off of the movie, and it is awesome.

  26. Batman25JM says:

    @Tomer: I really want to check out JAG, just for the fact that I LOVE NCIS so much.

    The Golden Palace only ran for a year. I hadn’t heard of it either until Lifetime started airing reruns. It was basically The Golden Girls minus Bea Arthur, and was set in a hotel that they had purchased. It co-starred Don Cheadle and Cheech Marin. It wasn’t as good as The Golden Girls, but it was still pretty funny.

  27. Batman25JM says:

    @Keroauc:

    1. It might be television for women, but I like it too (either that or I’m actually a very manly woman).:) Lifetime actually had/has a lot of shows I like including The Golden Girls, The Golden Palace, The Nanny, Unsolved Mysteries, Frasier, Mad About You, Reba (yes, I like it), Still Standing, and How I Met Your Mother.

    2. Yep, for real.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      Still Standing and How I Met Your Mother (first two seasons) are epic win! Frasier’s good. But admitting you like The Golden Girls, Mad About You, AND Reba is dangerous dangerous territory.

  28. Joshua says:

    Don Cheadle also did a guest spot on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as Will’s friend, Ice Tray.

  29. Tomer Soiker says:

    Hmm… Kinda liked Mad About You

  30. Batman25JM says:

    @Kerouac: Eh. I’m comfortable enough with my masculinity to admit I like those shows. 🙂 I have very broad taste (and some would say bad taste as well). The Golden Girls is actually tied with Frasier as my second favorite sitcom of all time (Friends would be my favorite).

    You don’t like seasons 3, 4, and 5 of HIMYM? Personally, I think that the show gets funnier and funnier as it goes along.

    • Jason Kerouac says:

      As Barney was being humanized, I lost interest and gave up. I probably haven’t seen any of season five, and very little of four, so I can’t say how they were. Three lost me, sorry to say.

  31. Batman25JM says:

    Barney’s pretty much back to where he started. If you ever have time I’d suggest checking out season 4. Sure there is his crush on Robin, but he still acts like himself. And as of now Robin and Barney have broken up and Barney is pretty much 100% back to himself.

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