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?

  1. Andrew Cohn
    January 2nd, 2019 at 00:48 | #1

    The spin-off’s spin-off’s spin-off. I found a chain of 5. From Nickelodeon:

    All That begat The Amanda Show begat Drake & Josh begat iCarly begat Sam & Kat.

  2. January 11th, 2019 at 10:59 | #2

    You’re not the first to suggest this chain and at first it seems plausible: all had the same creator (Dan Schneider) and many of the same cast members appear throughout. The trouble is, the characters of Drake and Josh don’t seem to have been introduced on the Amanda Show. Likewise the actors on iCarly played different roles on Drake and Josh. So while these shows are closely related from a production standpoint, they are follow-ons rather than spin-offs.

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