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Hollywood is littered with spin-offs in movies and television, and for the most part, they are utter trash. Seriously, just look at stuff like Joanie Loves Chachi or, more recently, Joey. But sometimes, spin-offs can equal or even eclipse the shows that spawned them. Frasier was insanely successful, and while it didn’t equal Cheers, plenty of other spin-offs have done just that. Family Matters comes immediately to mind, having been spun from Perfect Strangers. Okay, bad example. But here are some awesome shows that you may not have realized were actually spin-offs of some lesser known shows…
Okay, so of all the shows we’re listing here, this is probably the one you’re most likely aware is actually a spinoff. But at this point, who actually remembers the show it was spun off from, or for that matter, just how awful that early incarnation of Springfield’s favorite family was?
Originally featured on The Tracey Ullman show, The Simpsons is now in its 22nd season and is the most enduring prime time sitcom in television history with no signs of slowing down (except, arguably, in quality…but let’s not be snarky here, we’re better than that, even if the show did peak about 14 seasons ago). The show was actually sort of a spur of the moment creation and an act of sheer laziness, when you consider that when James L. Brooks asked Matt Groening to pitch a series of animated shorts, he came up with The Simpsons by naming the characters for members of his family and because he didn’t want to give up the syndicated rights to his comic strip Life in Hell. Also, remember when we said that the early incarnation was awful? That’s also partly due to the laziness of the animators. Groening submitted rough sketches of what the characters should look like, fully believing the animators would clean them up. Nope, they just traced over them. Thankfully, they’ve been cleaned up over the years to become the beloved, hilarious family we all know and love.
Now, what you’re probably well aware of is the fact that Happy Days is pretty much the king of spawning its own spin offs. Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy were both the progeny of the Ronnie Howard sitcom about a nerd, his family, his tool friends and the cool Jewish guy in a leather jacket who ultimately took over the whole damn show. Seriously, when you think about it, Arthur Fonzerrelli is pretty much exactly like Steve Urkel in that respect, only the opposite. You know what we mean. Anyway, if we pressed you to guess what Happy Days was originally spun from, you’d probably guess the classic film American Graffiti (also known as the film no one can believe was written by George Lucas because it actually contained good dialogue).
That’s a solid guess, considering it was set in the same time period (the 1950’s) and even feature the same star (Rappin’ Ronnie Howard). And yes, American Graffiti did come into play in helping bring Happy Days to television screens everywhere. But it’s not where the show originated, and you would probably never guess where Happy Days was actually born. But go ahead, guess anyway. Okay, did you say Love, American Style? Of course you didn’t, because no one remembers that show. The show was one of the anthology variety, and when the original concept for Happy Days was not picked up as a pilot, it was pitched as a segment for Love, American Style with the title “Love and the Happy Days.” This was right around the time Lucas was casting for American Graffiti, and he viewed the pilot and immediately cast Howard. Following the success of the film, the pilot for Happy Days was recast and the classic sitcom we know and love was born. Happy days, indeed.
The Andy Griffith Show
Hey, look, it’s Ron Howard again! Maybe in terms of chronology we should have gone with this one first, but screw it. Let’s talk a little bit about the show that made Ron “Dopey Opie” Howard a child star, and even cemented the fact that he could or would never do a project without including his brother Clint (who appeared in a semi-recurring role as peanut butter and jelly eating toddler Leon in The Andy Griffith Show). Much like Happy Days, The Andy Griffith Show was known more for spawning sitcoms than being another show’s spawn itself.
Back in 1960, the idea was hatched to create a vehicle for Broadway, film and comedic star Andy Griffith in conjunction with The Danny Thomas Show. Man, you had to love those incredibly original television show titles back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, eh? Anyway, Griffith originally filmed a segment that was to appear on The Danny Thomas Show (which in turn was a spin-off of the show Make Room for Daddy) called “Danny Meets Andy.” Again, we’re just amazed at the creativity of these people. Initially, the idea was to have Andy play a small town justice of the peace and newspaper editor, but at some point that was changed to “small town sheriff” because, presumably, people found it hard to believe that a backwoods hillbilly like Andy Griffith could read, let alone edit, a newspaper. The spinoff went into immediate production following that first sketch, and later that same year, the show debuted, and we’ve all been whistling the theme music ever since.
The Untouchables/The Twilight Zone
Now, we’re going to go ahead and lump these to together because, believe it or not, they were both spun from the same show, entitled Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. Sounds like a real winner to us. Ahem. Anyway, Desilu Playhouse (which was a production of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s production company) was an anthology series that ran from 1958 to 1960 and featured 48 episodes in all, and believe it or not, two segments served as the inspiration for the shows The Untouchables and The Twilight Zone. Well, in the case of The Untouchables, the real life story of Eliot Ness taking down Al Capone was the inspiration, but let’s not let history get in the way of this article.
At this point, you may not even remember that The Untouchables was a classic television show starring Robert “Unsolved Mysteries” Stack as Ness due to the equally classic movie starring Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro and Sean Connery (in his Oscar-winning role). But back in the day, this show was arguably the first great crime show on television and served as a precursor to pretty much every other cop show that’s ever been produced. On the flipside, you no doubt know all about The Twilight Zone, which was also later turned into a movie but less successfully so, and not just because of all the freak accidents and curses that accompanied the production.
The Muppet Show/Sesame Street
Look at us, doubling up on shows again! Well it makes sense since, really, The Muppet Show and Sesame Street are both shows about puppets, with The Muppet Show being aimed more toward an adult audience while Sesame Street is aimed more toward people who still crap in their pants. Of course, that could easily describe the elderly, so let’s just move on. Both of these classic shows created by Jim Henson were, remarkably, actually spun from a very short lived show called Our Place, which in turn was spun from a show called Sam and Friends. Sam and Friends aired from 1955 to 1961, and was a show created by Henson that was filmed and aired solely in the Washington, DC area.
It featured such characters as the titular Sam, some puppet named Yorick, another called Harry the Hipster, and a lizard-like creature named…wait for it…Kermit. Later, this character would evolve into Kermit the Frog, and he would go on to get all up on a pig and tell us how it’s not easy being green. As Henson and his puppets gained more fame, they eventually spawned the far more famous and enduring Muppet Show and Sesame Street, and in doing so, shaping all of our childhoods forever. Yes, that’s right, we very all very nearly raised on a character called Harry the Hipster. Definitely dodged a bullet on that one.
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