June 10, 2008— -- You turn on the television and wonder, "Didn't I see this character on a different show last season?" The truth is you're probably correct.
In recent years, it seems that Hollywood has become less creative with the production of fresh new shows and, instead, has turned to spin-offs –- and the upcoming season is no exception.
With recurring characters and elements, television spin-offs have been around since the early 1970s, with successful spin-off duos like "Rhoda" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Jeffersons" and "All in The Family," and "Laverne and Shirley" and "Happy Days."
James Hibbard of the Hollywood Reporter calls a TV show a product. "[Spin-offs] are a safer bet than buying a new show," he said. "They see one successful brand and are able to sell more of it."
While television spin-offs reached an all-time low in the 1990s, they are certainly back in action. With many major networks seeing recent dramatic falls in their ratings, Hibbard said, "they look increasingly at shows that they already know work."
Perhaps this is the reason that networks have slated a number of spin-offs of already successful shows for the fall. Both NBC's "The Office" and Fox's "Family Guy" anticipate sibling shows that look promising to critics. While little is known about "The Office" spin-off, the one for "Family Guy" will have Cleveland Brown (from "Family Guy") as its central character.
There have been reports of other spin-offs for "House" and "Prison Break," but Hibbard believes those shows will most likely introduce new characters first, to see how they are received by the public before giving them their own series.
Sometimes a successful spin-off can lead to the birth of its own spin-off. This fall, MTV anticipates the arrival of a spin-off of "The Hills," which was originally a spin-off of "Laguna Beach." The new show will track Whitney as she moves to New York to work at a public relations firm and makes friends with a group of New York socialites.
Whitney's Co-star Brody Jenner will also be staring in his own new series, "Bromance." The show will consist of a group of guys who come to Hollywood with hopes of becoming part of Jenner's entourage. The group of young men will compete in challenges and face elimination rounds in an attempt to be a member of Jenner's elite group.
With as many as three or four shows following the first show, networks can just keep on spinning. ABCNEWS.com tracks some of the biggest hits and misses among TV spin-offs:
"Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Rhoda"
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show," a favorite since its September 1970 debut, featured a single woman who moved to Minneapolis after a breakup with her fiancé. Mary Richards, played by Mary Tyler Moore, paved the way for female liberation on television by providing audiences with the image of a single working woman in a traditional society where women were expected to stay home with their families.
The show ran on CBS for seven years and became a favorite in households nationwide, while receiving numerous awards including Emmys and Golden Globes.
The success of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" led to the birth of a sister show, "Rhoda." Rhoda Morgenstern, played by Valerie Harper, was Mary Richards' upstairs best friend. On "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," Rhoda had moved to Minnesota because she felt that she "would keep better in the cold."
On her own show, Rhoda was visiting New York when she met a man and decided to stay. During its five-season run, the show received 11 Emmy nominations and 7 Golden Globe nominations, making it one of the most successful spin-offs on American television.
"Beverly Hills 90210" and "Melrose Place"
"Beverly Hills 90210," a popular FOX drama, followed the lives of a group of wealthy young adults as they experienced high school and college in Beverly Hills. The series identified some of the largest problems in mainstream teenage culture, while creating a strong fan base.
"Beverly Hills 90210" lasted 10 years, beginning with the transition of two characters, Brandon and Brenda Walsh, from Minnesota to California, and continuing with their journeys through young adulthood and friendship. After the show was nominated two years in a row at the Golden Globes for best TV series-drama, creator Darren Starr and executive producer Aaron Spelling realized they had hit gold.
In 1992, the duo produced "Melrose Place," a "Beverly Hills 90210" spin-off, but with the intent of reaching an older audience. The show featured a group of young professionals living in the same Los Angeles apartment complex. It ran for seven seasons, leading to spin-offs of its own, including "Models, Inc." and "Pacific Palisades."
With "Melrose Place," FOX became one of America's most successful networks by jumping on the spin-off bandwagon. This fall, the CW hopes to garner some of that success by bringing back some of the original cast and themes of "Beverly Hills 90210" for its own drama, "90210," about a family moving from Kansas to -- you guessed it -- Beverly Hills.
"Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice"
"Grey's Anatomy" has been one of ABC's top shows since its 2005 debut. A medical drama, circling around Dr. Meredith Grey and the other doctors at Seattle Grace Hospital in Seattle, the show -- which just finished its fourth season -- continues to thrive.
Through its sizzling love triangles and sexy cast, "Grey's Anatomy" producers noticed the opportunities of the show and began production on "Private Practice" in May 2007. The show follows Dr. Addison Montgomery as she moves away from her job with the cast of "Grey's Anatomy," to a private practice in Los Angeles to escape her complicated failed love with "Dr. McDreamy," aka Dr. Derek Shepherd. This successful spin-off plans to premiere its new season in the fall.
"Laguna Beach" and "The Hills"
Teens and young adults across the country became obsessed with the lives of a select group of high school students on MTV's reality show, "Laguna Beach." Located in the wealthy Orange County, Calif., the students of Laguna Beach were filmed as they conquered the ups and downs of high school, through good times, drama, and everything in between. Often criticized as superficial, the show focused on one class, through their junior and senior year of high school until graduation.
"Laguna Beach" lasted three seasons, but with all of America's favorites gone, the show did not have the fan base to continue. At that point, MTV created the spin-off "The Hills," which tracks the life of one of Laguna Beach High's graduates, Lauren Conrad, after she moves away from home and pursues an internship with Teen Vogue in Los Angeles. Just completing its third season, "The Hills" is scheduled to continue this August, along with its own spin-off, which follows Whitney Port (from "The Hills") on her new venture in New York City.
"Cheers" and "Frasier"
NBC's "Cheers" was an American favorite that lasted 11 seasons. The show, filmed primarily in a bar, originally tried a spin-off series featuring Carla's husband, Nick Tortelli, as the main character. The show was titled, "Tortelli's" and lasted only four months before NBC took it off the air.
After this failed attempt, NBC tried again, giving bar regular Dr. Frasier Crane his own show. The new show, "Frasier," led by Kelsey Grammar as a Seattle psychiatrist, became wildly successful and ranked right up there with "Cheers." During its 11 seasons on the air, "Frasier" became the first television series to win five consecutive Emmy Awards for outstanding comedy series. The spin-off proved to be more successful than its older sibling.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel"
Originally spun off the film of the same name, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" starred Sarah Michelle Gellar as a typical high school student Buffy Summers. When she realized she was responsible for fighting off demons and vampires, her world changed drastically.
First airing on the WB, and later on UPN, the show tracked Buffy through her conquests with villains. Later, Buffy fell in love with Angel, a "good vampire." Together, the duo fought demons. That is, until 1999, when the WB gave Angel his own show called "Angel."
The show tracked Angel as he moved to Los Angeles to continue his battle against the dark forces. A surprising success, it lasted fve years on the WB.
"Happy Days" and "Joanie Loves Chachi"
Among the flops of television spin-offs is ABC's "Joanie Loves Chachi." It spun off of one of America's favorites, "Happy Days," a show that lasted 10 years and garnered numerous awards and great ratings.
"Happy Days" featured the Cunningham family living in Milwaukee, including son Richie and his friends Potsie, Ralph and Fonz.
"Joanie and Chachi" followed Joanie, the Cunningham's daughter, and Chachi as they moved to Chicago to pursue a music career. The show, which tried to mix together comedy and music, didn't make it on ABC and lasted a little over a year.
"Friends" and "Joey"
"Friends," an amazingly successful show which lasted for 10 years, starred six New York City friends and followed them as they ventured through life in the big city.
In 2004, NBC created the spin-off "Joey," which featured one of the friends, Joey Tribbiani, a struggling actor known for his witty personality. The show followed Joey as he left his friends in New York to pursue his acting career and reunite with his family in California.
Lasting less than two years, "Joey" struggled without the rest of the "Friends" cast. While the show demonstrated high interest in its premiere, numbers continued to drop, and "Joey" was eventually cancelled.
"Baywatch" and "Baywatch Nights"
While the babe-filled "Baywatch" proved to be a huge success, lasting over 12 years, its spin-off "Baywatch Nights" was a huge dud.
"Baywatch," a show consisting of beautiful lifeguards, including Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra, patrolling the beaches of California, was a favorite among viewers.
"Baywatch Nights" followed Mitch Buchannon, played by David Hasselhoff, as he worked at a detective agency. The show lasted only two years and was taken off NBC for poor ratings.
"Three's Company" and "Three's a Crowd"
ABC's "Three's Company" featured two roommates, Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Sommers) and Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt), who met Jack Tripper (John Ritter) at a party for their old roommate who just got married. Jack was studying to be a cook, and, since the two girls were hopeless in the kitchen, they invited him to move in with them. The show lasted for eight seasons and lost ratings after Chrissy left to go to college.
ABC hoped to create another hit in 1984 with "Three's A Crowd" which followed Jack Tripper as he moved in with his girlfriend Vicky Bradford. The central conflict of the show was that Vicky's dad bought the restaurant downstairs and constantly dropped by. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only problem on the show. The spin-off lasted less than a year.
"The Golden Girls" and "The Golden Palace"
"The Golden Girls," an NBC show featuring America's four favorite "golden age" females, Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche and Rose, lasted for seven years. The foursome lived in a classy Miami home and the show tracked them through the challenges of facing near-retirement.
After Dorothy, played by Bea Arthur, decided to leave the show, NBC turned to a spin-off, "The Golden Palace." The show contained the three remaining golden girls selling their home and buying a struggling hotel in Miami after Dorothy left to move in with her husband. The spin-off failed in less than a year, but a later spin-off, "Empty Nest," with Estelle Getty from "The Golden Girls," became a hit.
"Who's the Boss?" and" Living Dolls"
"Who's the Boss" introduced an unusual family situation when Tony, played by Tony Danza, a widower and former pro baseball player, took the job as a housekeeper for a successful divorced career woman, Angela. Tony and his daughter, Samantha, moved into Angela's Connecticut home with her son and mother.
The sitcom lasted for eight years, but its spin-off, "Living Dolls," which followed Samantha and her three model friends sharing an apartment in New York with their agent, lasted just three months, making it one of the shortest-lived spin-offs on television.