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What is a Spin-Off?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 17, 2024
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In television, a spin-off is a show featuring a character from a previously produced program. The character is taken away from the original concept and given a new spin on life, so to speak. One could also say that in spin-offs, writers are spinning new stories for familiar characters. A spin-off may be in any genre such as a variety show, soap opera, cartoon or reality show, but situation comedies, or sit-coms, seem to be especially popular for spin-offs.

The situation comedy Frasier is an example of an extremely successful spin-off. It is spun off of the big hit Cheers and features pompous psychologist, Dr. Frasier Crane, who was one of several regulars at the bar in Cheers owned by the main character, Sam Malone. The success of Cheers was phenomenal and its star, Ted Danson, was said to be the highest paid television actor during the time Cheers was in its prime. Cheers ran eleven years, from 1982-1993, yet Frasier, with Kelsey Kramer reprising his Dr. Frasier Crane character also enjoyed an eleven year run, from 1993-2004. The show Frasier focused on Dr. Crane's new life in Seattle as a psychologist with a call-in radio program.

Sometimes, spin-offs are broadcast during the run of the original show. For example, the 1960-1968 sit-com The Andy Griffith Show led to the spin-off Gomer Pyle USMC from 1964-1969 and Mayberry RFD from 1968-1971. It's important to note that remakes of shows are not the same as spin-offs. An example of a British show that was remade for an American audience was 1973's Man about the House that was remade as 1977's Three's Company.

1968's children's program The Archies which was based on the popular comic books, had twelve different spin-off programs. All of these twelve shows featured Archie comic book characters. Sabrina the Teenage Witch was arguably the most popular of these. The reality show American Idol debuted in 2002 and was such a huge success that it led to three spin-offs. These are: American Juniors, American Idol Christmas, American Idol Extra and American Idol Rewind.

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