The spin-off’s spin-off’s spin-off

17 May 2011

For the past few months I’ve had a puzzler simmering on the back burner.

It was triggered by MeTV airing, the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, a marathon of Love, American Style. Amidst the episodes was the segment “Love and the Happy Days” which, as any classic TV fan knows, spun off into the long-running sitcom Happy Days—a show that spawned several spin-offs of its own. More recently, Fox aired an episode of Bones that was obviously—nay, blatantly—a set-up for its next-mid-season replacement series The Finder, something known in the biz as a “backdoor pilot.”

At any rate, here’s my puzzler: What’s the longest chain of spin-offs in television history?

Before we go further, a definition: a spin-off is defined here, somewhat rigorously, as a show whose characters and premise were previously introduced and/or developed on another show. By this definition, the various incarnations of Star Trek (TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise) are not spin-offs of the original series—they are members of a franchise. Likewise, Doctor Who, credited by Wikipedia as the show with the greatest number of total spin-offs (9), falls short when it comes to a spin-off chain.

For example, the famed spin-off generator All in the Family begat The JeffersonsMaude, and 704 HauserMaude begat Good Times, while The Jeffersons begat a very short-lived show titled Checking In. Oh, and then there’s Archie Bunker’s Place (arguably a continuation rather than a spin-off) and its spin-off Gloria. This is quite a few spin-offs, but in terms of the spin-off chain it appears to top out at 3 shows end-to-end:

All in the Family → The Jeffersons → Checking In
All in the Family → Maude → Good Times
All in the Family → Archie Bunker’s Place → Gloria

In fact there are many spin-off chains that top out at 3 shows, including some currently on the air such as JAGNCISNCIS: Los Angeles, and CSICSI: MiamiCSI: New York (yes, CSI: New York started as a backdoor pilot on CSI: Miami and not on the original CSI).

Returning to our original example, Love, American Style begat Happy Days, which begat Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, and Joanie Loves Chachi. But then—Laverne & Shirley had an animated spin-off:

Love, American Style → Happy Days → Laverne & Shirley → Laverne & Shirley in the Army

That’s 4. Are there any other shows with spin-off chains to equal that? Better yet—because I’m not 100% convinced that an animated retooling of a sitcom using the same principal characters in a different milieu really counts as a proper spin-off—is there any show with a spin-off chain of 5?

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