Since the golden age of television there have been hundreds of spin-off shows based on popular series. Some, like Frasier and the recently released Better Call Saul, are welcomed with open arms and get the attention they deserve right from the start. While others, like Joanie Loves Chachi and the short lived Friends spin-off, Joey, are dismal attempts to recapture the audience that fell in loved their parent series.
Whether good or bad, spin-off series remain a likely outcome whenever a popular, long-running series comes to a close. However, sometimes a spin-off series is so different from its forerunner, or based on such an obscure character from the original show, that viewers are unaware that they’re even watching a spin-off. Here are 8 popular shows you probably never knew were spin-offs.
8. Mork & Mindy
Starring a then-unknown Robin Williams, this series about a quirky alien named Mork who befriends a human named Mindy got a lot of attention with its very first season. So much attention that, according to the Nielsen rating, it even gained a wider audience than the show that spawned it — Happy Days. That’s right. A show about a comedy-loving being from another planet was derived from a series that revolved around some high school kids in Wisconsin.
7. Beavis and Butt-Head
This mid-90s cartoon about a couple of high-school dim-wits resonated with the MTV generation as the characters critiqued live-action music videos, obsessed about sex, and generally taught teenagers everywhere what was “cool” and what “sucks.” But the idea for the show actually originated from another MTV show called Liquid Television, which showcased a number of animated shorts and music bites. Beavis and Butt-Head was eventually spun into its own series when MTV asked the shows creator, Mike Judge, to develop the rock-loving, under-educated duo into a series of 25 minute episodes.
6. Family Matters
Following the lives of police officer Carl Winslow and his family, Family Matters became a hit half-way through its first season when it introduced a new, accident-prone, cheese loving character to the cast by the name of Steve Urkel. But long before Urkel was around, Carl’s wife, Harriette Winslow, worked at the Chicago Chronicle Newspaper. The very same Chicago Chronicle Newspaper where Larry and Balki worked on the show Perfect Strangers. In fact, Larry and Balki’s characters were originally planned to appear in the pilot episode of Family Matters but the script was re-written before shooting.
Revolving around a team of special agents in a Washington-based criminal investigation unit, NCIS was voted as America’s favourite show in 2011 and later, during the 2012-2013 season, was the most watched series in the U.S. Oddly enough, neither of these triumphs were achieved by the Navy-themed legal drama series JAG, which is where the idea for the spin-off series called Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, was generated. NCIS was actually originally referred to as Navy NCIS during its first season, but the Navy was quickly dropped from the title — likely due to the obvious redundancy.
In Millennium, freelance forensic profiler Frank Black has the unsettling ability to see life through the eyes of murderers and serial killers. This power is put to good use in the employment of the Millennium Group, which seeks to find answers to mysterious and often grisly crimes. The show deals a lot with supernatural forces and the unexplained, making it pretty closely related its predecessor — The X-Files.
The name for this series refers to the fictional Torchwood Institute, where a team of alien hunters tackle matters involving extraterrestrials and, often times, save all of mankind in the process. Anyone unfamiliar with BBC television or historical sci-fi programs would likely think Torchwood is an original, stand-alone series; but fanatics of the show will recognize that the main character, Captain Jack Harkness, made his first appearance in a 2005 episode of Doctor Who titled “The Empty Child.”
2. Saved By The Bell
Anyone who grew up in the 90s probably had Zach Morris and Screech Powers as Saturday morning staples in their lives. But before Zach and Screech were joined by the rest of the Saved by the Bell cast at Bayside High, they were actually junior high students on another school-themed show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss.
1. The Simpsons
With 26 seasons and over 550 episodes under its belt, The Simpsons is the longest-running American sitcom of all time. Its seemingly endless supply of oddball characters, cameos, and pop culture references have helped keep the show fresh for years. Nevertheless, before The Simpsons became a primetime juggernaut, Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa had their humble beginnings on The Tracey Ullman Show — a variety program featuring sketch comedy, song-and-dance routines, and animated shorts.