The concept of the spinoff has always been a risky endeavor, even if the track record has enough successes for TV to keep doing them. Back in the true heyday of the spinoff, comedies were usually the main source considering sitcoms were ubiquitous on TV four decades ago. Since that time, the sitcom has inexplicably become less popular and the TV drama has more or less overtaken the entire primetime lineup on both the main networks and cable. Also, spinoffs have been reduced somewhat in recent years when many TV concepts are just too thin to possibly expand.
Some might argue the best spinoffs of yesteryear were just as thin as the shows they came from. Because the nation was in a different frame of mind then, there can’t be any argument on what was true quality and what wasn’t. It seems that the spinoffs that were unarguably substantive in the way of comedy were “The Andy Griffith Show” (spun off from “The Danny Thomas Show”), all of the spinoffs from Norman Lear’s “All in the Family”, plus Garry Marshall’s “Happy Days” offshoots.
And let’s not forget “Frasier” as perhaps the last sitcom to successfully spin off from a popular series into its own long run. Although the king of all comedy spinoffs in animation is obviously “The Simpsons.” Casual fans to the show have perhaps forgotten that it spun off from “The Tracey Ullman Show” 25 years ago. Because it stand so much alone, it may not necessarily be the best template to copy in the way of a new comedy spinoff.
Now that “How I Met Your Dad” has been announced as a spinoff of “How I Met Your Mother”, can TV still successfully spin off a comedy? With most successful spinoffs recently being primarily dramas, what’s the real trouble with the networks wanting to spin off more sitcoms?
Are Dramas Easier to Spin Off?
It’s true about the old adage of comedy being much more challenging to do than drama. Perhaps it explains why networks have stuck with dramas, even if some of the performances have arguably been more challenging than ever before. With this creates more compelling characterizations that stick in people’s minds. For example sidelines characters like Saul Goodman in “Breaking Bad” were memorable enough where he’ll be getting an offshoot. Wisely, it’ll be a prequel so people can connect some ironical dots to what happens later.
In the realm of crime, spinoffs have been incredibly fortunate. The “Law & Order” franchise alone has made more money for NBC than probably any other show on their primetime schedule over the last 20 years. CBS’s “CSI” franchise has already been the butt of jokes in having enough offshoots to a point where the only unfilled spinoff left was “CSI: Omaha.”
Because of that near oversaturation of spinoffs for crime shows, it might become too much of a joke now to spin off too many dramas. Then again, the networks may not think that way when you consider “NCIS” is the #1 show on TV lately after once spinning off from the long forgotten “JAG.”
Other than “The Simpsons” that shows no sign of stopping any time soon, “Frasier” seemed to be the last of a long string of sitcom spinoffs that were capable of decade-long runs. It ended right in the middle of the drama spinoff revolution and even had a “Law & Order” spinoff replace it on the schedule. Will CBS inevitably do the same if “How I Met Your Father” doesn’t hit it off with viewers?
Reportedly, the show will have Meg Ryan providing the older voiceover for a character named Sally (played by Greta Gerwig). No, there won’t be any connection to “How I Met Your Mother” other than in similar title. This could be a mistake considering all spinoffs of comedy in history have had a connection to the previous show. Not that they probably won’t have some kind of brush with the prior characters for a special episode or two.
Is that slight connection to a previous show the real secret to a successful comedy spinoff today? You can’t say that about “The Andy Griffith Show” 50 years ago. Regardless, all of the myriad Normal Lear spinoffs were characters everyone remembered seeing initially on “All in the Family”–hence giving a connectedness people liked.
It may turn out that we all want our comedy spinoffs today to be a part of a familiar universe and not an entirely new one. Even the dramas have crossover episodes with their spinoff counterparts. Only a supremely talented cast and writing team would help audiences almost forget where the show spun off from within five years.