Some TV shows capture lightning in a bottle, but lightning doesn’t always strike twice.
With the “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul” airing on AMC every Monday at 8 p.m., television critics are confronted with what works in a spinoff series and what doesn’t. (If there are any “Breaking Bad” purists out there reading this – “Saul” is one that works. Watch it).
The Collegian is joining in on this conversation by ranking five of the best (and three of the worst) TV spinoffs of all time.
First, the best:
- “CSI: Miami” (CBS, 2002-2012)
However, “Miami” made a pop culture icon out of David Caruso’s sunglasses-wearing Lt. Horatio Caine and cemented a legacy for “CSI,” which renders the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
“CSI: Cyber” will make its debut Wednesday. Patricia Arquette headlines with this year’s Oscar win fuelling her superstardom takeoff (and an acceptance speech that got people talking about wage inequality between genders).
- Law & Order: SVU (NBC, 1999-)
“Law & Order,” which was cancelled back in 2010, is tied with “Gunsmoke” for longest-running live-action scripted American primetime series with ongoing characters. It holds first place for crime dramas in that category.
“Special Victims Unit” is not the only “Law & Order” spinoff, but it is the first, and it has outlasted “Criminal Intent.” (It also sparked the trend of crime shows with a lot of acronyms in their titles).
With the advent of Netflix, this topical police procedural about sex crimes in New York City has been rediscovered by our generation.
- “Maude” (CBS, 1972-1978)
“Maude” is one of the myriad spinoffs from the controversial sitcom “All in the Family,” which aired from 1971 to 1979. Other notable spinoffs include “The Jeffersons” and “Archie Bunker’s Place,” which even had a spinoff of its own, “Good Times.”
But “Maude” gets top honors, because Bea Arthur.
(Speaking of, have you seen the video on YouTube of Bea Arthur at “The Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson,” reading a passage from Anderson’s novel? Because, if you haven’t, you should).
Arthur lights up the small screen as the titular Maude, cousin of Edith Bunker (Jean Stapleton) on “All in the Family.” Maude is a bleeding-heart liberal where Edith’s husband, Archie (Carroll O’Connor), is a racist, sexist, overall insensitive conservative.
In keeping with the spirit of its parent show, “Maude” is not afraid to tackle taboo social issues. In a November 1972 episode, Maude gets an abortion, two months before the Supreme Court’s “Roe v. Wade” decision.
“Maude” also gave us Dorothy in “The Golden Girls,” which I think we can all agree was the right thing to do.
- “The Colbert Report” (Comedy Central, 2005-2014)
Many of us still aren’t over the fact that Stephen Colbert walked away from his news satire extravaganza last year, and it’ll be even longer before we begin to accept the new host of “The Daily Show” whenever Jon Stewart hands over the reins after 17 years on the job.
After all, “The Daily Show” is what gave us “The Colbert Report” in the first place, which makes Jon Stewart the Oprah of launching comedians’ careers.
Stewart demonstrated his power when he singlehandedly got CNN’s “Crossfire” cancelled in 2004, and there is an entire Wikipedia article on the cultural impact of Stephen Colbert’s performance artistic critique of conservative news media pundits.
He’s so fearless, he completely took the torch to the Bush Administration at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, with former President George W. Bush himself sitting all of a few feet away from him.
- “Frasier” (NBC, 1993-2004)
Kelsey Grammer stars as Dr. Frasier Crane, a Seattle psychiatrist we first became acquainted with on “Cheers,” a comedy set in Boston (which also introduced the world to Woody Harrelson).
Frasier’s brother, Dr. Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce), is as snooty as he is, and their father, a streetwise retired cop named Martin (John Mahoney), could not be more different. Frasier hosts a psychiatric radio show, and his well-spoken nature makes for the smartest American sitcom ever.
“Frasier” validates its own influence on television history in a Season 11 episode, when Frasier’s first wife, Nanette Guzman, who is a famous children’s singer, asks Frasier if he knows what it’s like to play the same character for 20 years.
Grammer knows what it’s like. “Frasier” lasted as many seasons as “Cheers,” and Nancy Marchand played his mother in a 1984 “Cheers” episode before she herself went on to play mother to another TV icon, Tony Soprano’s mom, Livia, in HBO’s “The Sopranos.”
It must run in the family.
If you’ve read all the way through to this point, then you’re in luck (depending on your point of view). As an added bonus, here are three of the worst spinoffs in history.
- “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” (TLC, 2012-2014)
A companion piece to the already ethically questionable “Toddlers & Tiaras,” “Honey Boo Boo” further exploited child beauty pageant contestant Alana Thompson and her family after Thompson’s “Toddlers” appearance went viral on YouTube.
Honey Boo Boo Child proved to be more entertaining in a two-minute video than in her own TV series.
After four seasons of critical crucifixion for TLC cashing in on the redneck reality television craze, it was finally cancelled when family matriarch “Mama” June Shannon began dating a man who was convicted of molesting one of her daughters in 2004.
Honorable mention goes to “Kate Plus 8.”
- “Joey” (NBC, 2004-2006)
Rather than allow “Friends” to go out on a high note, network executives decided to milk their goldmine for all it was worth and give Matt LeBlanc’s Joey Tribbiani his own show. (Speaking of “The Sopranos,” Drea de Matteo costarred in this embarrassment).
The beauty of “Friends” is THE friends, not a friend. It’s not “Ross” or “Rachel,” it’s “Ross AND Rachel.” Taking Joey away from the rest of the cast, whose chemistry with him helped support his character, was symptomatic of Hollywood’s out-of-touch heartlessness.
At least they didn’t give the spinoff to Monica.
- “Joanie Loves Chachi” (ABC, 1892-1983)
“Happy Days” had its share of successful spinoffs – “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy” – and it was a spinoff from “Love, American Style.” Nevertheless, the ‘50s-nostalgic sitcom literally invented jumping the shark, and “Joanie Loves Chachi” fared no better in the end.
Without Henry Winkler’s Fonzie to attract ratings and a disastrous timeslot rescheduling, “Joanie Loves Chachi” is the ultimate representation of just how disappointing spinoffs can be when compared to their classic source material.
As long as there is money to be made in show business, spinoffs will dog television at every turn, but on very special occasions, they give us even more of what we already loved before them.
Collegian A&E Writer Hunter Goddard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @hunter_gaga.