The 15 Best Spin Offs in TV History

Not long ago we did the 15 worst spin offs in TV history and it was a fairly popular post. People do love talking about bad TV. I was surprised that I didn’t hear from more people on the things I forgot to put on the list so either I did a great job or I’m far too intimidating of a force for anyone to think of critiquing my work. Because you all know that I am an incredible narcissist, I of course think both reasons are equally valid. Riding high on my brilliance and success, I want to come back this week and look at the other side of spin offs because not all of them were bad. Before we start, I want to clarify what I’m calling a spin off. To qualify as a spin off in my book, there has to be a character connection between the parent show and the spin off. The Simpsons for example would not be considered a spin off. Yes it was on The Tracey Ullman Show, but it was not really a spin off. It went out on it’s own. I would also say that Star Trek: The Next Generation is not a spin off. There was no connection between the original Star Trek and the Next Generation other than they were all a part of The Federation. Ok. Clear? That should cut down on 5% of the angry emails I’ll get when I leave off some show. If we are all good on the rules, let’s get to the 15 best spin offs in TV history.

15 Best Spin Offs in TV History


#15 – Knots Landing (1979-1993)

15 best spin offs in tv historyKnots Landing was a spin off Of Dallas. By the time it’s run had finished in 1993, Knots Landing had become one of the longest running prime time dramas in TV history behind Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Knots Landing outlasted it’s parent show Dallas and towards the end of their runs, was even beating Dallas in the ratings. The show was much more of a soap opera than Dallas was which contributed to it’s popularity. Also, how could a show with Michelle Lee not be popular?


#14 – Trapper John, M.D. (1979-1986)

15 best spin offs in historyThere was a legal battle fought over Trapper John. Was this a spin off of M*A*S*H the TV show or M*A*S*H the movie? The fight was over who would get paid royalties and the movie folks ended up winning in court so legally, Trapper John, M.D. is a spin off of the movie, but really, it’s the TV show too. The M*A*S*H TV writers just got screwed out of royalties from this show. This was one of my favorite shows back in the day and one of the best medical dramas of the time. Starring Pernell Roberts, who I thought for a long time was the same guy from The Christian Children’s Fund, as Trapper John, the show did what all medical dramas do. Turn a hospital in to a TV show. This one was one of my favorites.


#13 – The Colbert Report (2005-Present)

15 best spin offs in tv historyThe Colbert Report is a spin off of The Daily Show starring Stephen Colbert. Colbert was a correspondent on The Daily Show with John Stewart and was popular enough to get his own show that is essentially the same thing as The Daily Show. The show is intended to be satire but sadly, more and more people are actually getting their news from this show. I’m not a fan myself but you can’t deny it’s cultural impact. The Colbert Report coined the term “truthiness” which was named the word of the year for 2006 by Merriam-Webster.


#12 – The Dr. Phil Show (2002-Present)

15 best spin offs in tv historyThe Dr. Phil Show is a spin off of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Never let it be said that the Oprah wasn’t good for some people. If she mentioned your book, you would be a millionaire. If she had you as a guest on her show, you could end up with your own show like Dr. Phil did. Running since 2002, he has become a star on his own and is still out there berating and beating up guests who do dumb things.


#11 – Mork & Mindy (1978-1982)

15 best spin offs in tv historyMork & Mindy was a spin off of Happy Days. Remember when Mork visited the guys from Happy Days? He appeared on the show in two different episodes. The first, “My Favorite Orkan” aired in 1978. Mork from Ork threatened to take Richie back to Ork as an example of a human but his plot was foiled by Fonzie (of course). The second episode Mork appeared in was “Mork Returns” which then lead to the character being spun off in to his own show. Full disclosure, one of my wife’s relatives owned the house that is shown at the end of the Mork & Mindy intro but that has no bearing on this show making my list. I was a kid when this show was on the air and Robin Williams’ brand of humor was perfect for kids.


Head to page 2 for #’s 10 through 6.

8 Comments on The 15 Best Spin Offs in TV History

  1. IndianaGreg // February 2, 2014 at 3:41 am //

    How is Law & Order SVU not listed on here? That show is going on 15 years now. Also..if you squint your eyes, The Simpson’s originally got their start on The Tracey Ulman show…so I’ve seen other lists that count that as a Spin Off.

  2. Since you titled this “Best” and not “Most Popular” I would question very highly having Good Times on here but not Maude.
    Angel should certainly be on this list as well in my opinion.

  3. Enjoyed the list, but I have to say Boston Legal is glaring omission. James Spader played Alan Shore the last season of The Practice and they used the last eight episodes of that show to set up Boston Legal. Boston Legal ran five seasons and Spader won a couple Emmys for his work on the show.

  4. I found it strange that “Mork and Mindy” is on this list as a spin off from “Happy Days” while “Happy Days” itself is not listed. I was always under the understanding that “Happy Days” was spun off the show “Love, American Style.” This may or may not be the case but I will let the wisdom/research of the MWTVG staff prevail to settle it. Lastly, even though I’m not a much of a fan, how is “The Simpsons” not on the list via The Tracy Ullman Show?

    • Midwest Mike // January 30, 2014 at 6:10 pm //

      I don’t consider Happy Days to be a spin off in the traditional sense. Love American Style was a show that showcased many different vignettes. Happy Days was then given it’s own show from that. Not really a spin off, just an increase for Happy Days.

      I also don’t consider The Simpsons to be a spin off. None of the characters were on the Tracey Ullman show. It was a short that would run on the show. It too was then given it’s own show but you can’t trace any of the characters back to a parent show.

  5. All this list tells me is that spin offs, in general, are a hot mess. The fact that some of those shows are considered the “best” is indicative that original programming is the way to go. Frasier should be number one, by the way. And how are you differentiating between Mork and Mindy and The Simpson’s? Colbert and Dr. Phil feel wrong also. Was The Newhart Show a spin off?

    • Midwest Mike // January 30, 2014 at 6:14 pm //

      I was clear on criteria to be a spin off. There had to be a character connection between shows. Mork was on Happy Days (I even provided a link to a video showing a scene). Colbert was on the Daily Show, Dr. Phil was on Oprah.

      Newhart was not a spin off. Not the same character.

      I didn’t put Frasier at number 1 over NCIS because of the ratings. Both had the same longevity but NCIS has been the #1 show on all of TV. Frasier’s best season was #3 in the ratings in 1998-1999 with 15 million viewers.

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