The knock against television series used to be that shows essentially told the same story week after week.
But lately, networks have been trying to replicate entire series night after night.
From NBC’s The Office to Fox’s Family Guy, broadcasters increasingly are urging their best performers to produce offspring. The debut of Grey’s Anatomy-inspired Private Practice last fall was only the start of the latest round. Next season there’s the still-unnamed The Office spinoff and Fox’s Family Guy extension, The Cleveland Show, as well as Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica prequel, Caprica, which is filming a two-hour backdoor pilot. Projects based on Fox’s House and Prison Break also are in development.
“It’s a simple financial equation,” House creator David Shore said. “Something is working, they want more of it. If you can figure out a way to split it in half, they’re gonna go for it. It’s really that simple, and I can’t blame them. It’s just a question of making it work.”
Spinoffs are nothing new. The annals of television count more than 100 attempts to successfully spin off a show’s character or concept. The 1970s in particularly were spinoff boom years, when such hits as All in the Family and Happy Days spun off multiple shows.
By the ’90s, however, spinoffs had become much less common. Sometimes a network would spin off a dying comedy to fill a ratings void (such as when NBC’s Cheers successfully spawned Frasier and NBC’s Friends, less successfully, gave rise to Joey).
TV historian Tim Brooks said the new spinoff projects represent an overall trend of networks trying to make safer plays.
“Networks with their declining audiences and pinched financials seem to be trying to stretch things more than create things,” Brooks said.
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