The 15 Best TV Spinoffs of All Time

Giancarlo Esposito, Bob Odenkirk, and Jonathan Banks reunite in Better Call Saul.
Giancarlo Esposito, Bob Odenkirk, and Jonathan Banks reunite in Better Call Saul.
Robert Trachtenberg, AMC/Sony Pictures

The TV spinoff is a time-honored tradition, going back decades to a time when characters would be introduced in sketches on a variety show and then be given their own full-fledged series just months later. The right character or concept can launch a spinoff into the pop culture stratosphere, where it can both blaze its own trail with new stories and possibly even become a bigger hit than its predecessor.

Yes, the bad spinoffs might simply say "Hollywood is out of ideas!," but the best ones leave you wanting more from a growing fictional universe. In that spirit, here are some of the best TV spinoffs of all time.

1. The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968)

In 1960, Andy Griffith appeared on The Danny Thomas Show as a country sheriff named “Andy Taylor” in the fictional town of Mayberry. The character worked, and within months Griffith had his own show. After a little fine-tuning in the early seasons, a TV legend was born.

The Andy Griffith Show is still, nearly 60 years after its debut, a series synonymous with Americana and small town strangeness. And Sheriff Andy Taylor still looms large as an almost Atticus Finch-like figure. It launched a hit spinoff of its own with Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., and is still regularly cited as one of the greatest TV series of all time.

2. Green Acres (1965-1971)

The small town of Hooterville and its many quirky characters could have been enough to contain in just one show, but CBS wanted more. So, creator Jay Sommers created a companion series to the Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres was born.

The show remains a favorite that grew beyond the success of Petticoat Junction thanks in no small part to the chemistry between Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor as the two fish-out-of-water leads, but the real brilliance of Green Acres lies in the surrealist approach to life in Hooterville. The show managed to work everything from a phone atop a telephone pole to a seemingly telepathic pig into its hijinks, and it all somehow paid off.

3. The Jeffersons (1975-1985)

With All in the Family, TV legend Norman Lear and company created one of the most influential, incisive, and celebrated sitcoms ever made. Then, just four years later, they did it again. The Jeffersons, about the title family’s move from their home next door to the Bunker family in Queens to a “deluxe apartment” in Manhattan, took All in the Family’s fearless approach in taking on the social issues of its era and adding its own spin, giving us one of television’s most revered African American families and the first major TV depiction of an interracial couple.

4. Maude (1972-1978)

All in the Family was such an influential, paradigm-shifting sitcom in the 1970s that it gets two spinoffs on this list. Even before The Jeffersons hit big, Lear and company were launching spinoffs from the Bunker family. The first was Maude, a show in which Bea Arthur starred in the title role after appearing as Edith Bunker’s cousin on All in the Family. The show’s willingness to take on major issues like alcoholism and abortion made it one of the most important shows of its era, and the gutsy decision to stage multiple episodes with just two characters—Maude and her husband Walter (Bill Macy)—made it a comedy acting masterclass.

5. Happy Days (1974-1984)

Happy Days began life as a failed pilot that hoped to capture 1950s nostalgia, and wound up airing on the anthology series Love, American Style. The success of ‘50s nostalgia hits like Grease and American Graffiti, though, led ABC to reconsider the series, which meant that by the time Happy Days actually made it to air as its own show, it was officially a spinoff. Eleven seasons and more than 250 episodes later, it was also an American icon. Few shows have ever made quite the same impact as this ‘70s-made, ‘50s-set story about necking in cars, dancing at Al’s, and hanging out with Fonzie. It was so successful that it became a spinoff machine in its own right, which we’ll get to shortly.

6. Laverne & Shirley (1976-1983)

Happy Days was such a television powerhouse that it spawned no less than seven spinoff series, two of which were animated, and that’s not even counting the pilots that didn’t get picked up. While Mork & Mindy is still well-known for its introduction of Robin Williams to a national audience, the biggest success story to come out of the wider Happy Days family is without question Laverne & Shirley.

The show succeeds thanks to an excellent cast led by Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, but also because of its willingness to become the anti-Happy Days in many ways. While that show was anchored in a sense of suburban comfort and carefree nights out with high school friends, Laverne & Shirley centered itself in a grungy apartment, and told the story of two struggling single women who were going to make their dreams come true. It altered the formula while never giving up the sense of joy, and became a hit in its own right. It also gave the world the unforgettable combination that is Laverne’s favorite drink: Milk and Pepsi. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.

7. The Simpsons (1989-present)

In 1987, a series of odd but funny animated short films began airing on The Tracey Ullman Show. Two years later, the same characters debuted in a half-hour sitcom on FOX, and promptly became the most popular thing on planet Earth.

The Simpsons, which will debut its 31st season in September, is the most successful animated series of all time, but it has long-since transcended animation. The show’s early seasons and their wickedly incisive satire of American life gave birth to countless new animated shows hoping to reach a more grown-up audience, a wave that gave us future hits like South Park and Family Guy. The Simpsons is so successful that it stopped being a TV series and started being a multimedia empire before many of its current fans were even born.

8. Frasier (1993-2004)

Cheers ran for 11 seasons and was one of the defining sitcoms of the 1980s. Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammar as the titular psychiatrist-turned-radio-host who traded Boston for Seattle, somehow managed to at least equal, if not surpass, its parent series in terms of sheer pop culture influence. Frasier won five consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, tied Cheers’s run of 11 seasons, and remains a syndication staple thanks to unforgettable performances from its ensemble cast.

9. Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001)

In 1995, the syndicated fantasy series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys introduced a warrior princess named Xena, played by a then-unknown actress named Lucy Lawless. Later that same year, Xena got her own fantasy series set in a fictionalized version of Ancient Greece, and rapidly outpaced her parent series.

Today, while Hercules still has its fans, Xena is remembered as a cultural phenomenon that catapulted Lawless to stardom and inspired dreams of a particular kind of badass woman in the hearts of ‘90s kids everywhere. To this day Xena: Warrior Princess remains one of the most important genre works of its era, and the Xena cosplayers are still out in full force.

10. Daria (1997-2001)

A recurring character from Beavis and Butt-head lands her own sitcom in which she analyzes high school life and her suburban surroundings through bespectacled eyes and a trademark monotone, and an unofficial mascot for Generation X is born. Daria remains one of the most specific and brilliantly constructed animated series to emerge from the adult-leaning animation wave of the 1990s, and remains such a touchstone that a spinoff, Jodie, is now on the way.

11. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999-Present)

In theory, Dick Wolf’s Law & Order franchise could launch an infinite number of interconnected spinoff series, and so far Wolf and company have been keen to test that theory with five spinoffs and counting, not to mention the interconnected One Chicago universe. With the right subtitle hook and the right cast, you could conceivably churn out hit after hit.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit—technically a spinoff of both Law & Order and Homicide: Life on the Street—turned out to be something special, though, as evidenced by its upcoming, record-breaking 21st season on NBC. Its cast, led by Mariska Hargitay (though Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch is technically the connecting spinoff character here), is endlessly compelling to audiences, and the presence of Ice-T has helped it become a meme magnet, thanks in no small part to John Mulaney.

12. Angel (1999-2004)

A Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff seemed like a no-brainer in 1999 when the series was one of the hottest things on TV, but Angel was not necessarily the safest choice. The decision to center a show around the brooding vampire with a soul (David Boreanaz) as he moved to Los Angeles and began helping people while atoning for his own past sins required a darker touch while still maintaining the wit and pacing of the Whedonverse, and somehow the show pulled it off. Angel moves between monster-hunting fun and tortured soul morality play with ease, and to this day its series finale remains one of the greatest mic drops in TV history.

13. NCIS (2003-Present)

A spinoff of JAG, NCIS emerged in the early 2000s as another tech-heavy procedural series at a time when CSI ruled the broadcast airwaves. Since then, it has grown into one of the most enduringly popular broadcast series of the 21st century, made Mark Harmon a sex symbol all over again, and launched two spinoff series of its own. As its 17th season looms, NCIS has long-since outgrown the show that spawned it and has grown into a syndication staple.

14. The Colbert Report (2005-2015)

It’s sometimes hard to describe to someone who didn’t get to see it in real time just how potent and influential The Daily Show with Jon Stewart became in the early 2000s. The show’s blend of irreverence and searing commentary made it must-watch TV, and while numerous imitators have since been launched, so far the only one that’s come close to having the same impact is The Colbert Report.

The Report, starring Stephen Colbert as his version of a pompous conservative commentator named “Stephen Colbert,” blended a caricature of right wing media with a tireless sense of empathy and joy that made it a hit across the political spectrum, and earned the acclaim of everyone from the Emmys to the Peabody Awards. Even as the fictionalized version of himself, “Stephen Colbert” was so likable that he was entrusted to take over The Late Show after David Letterman’s retirement.

15. Better Call Saul (2015-present)

A spinoff of any beloved TV show is a gutsy call, but a spinoff of one of the most beloved and acclaimed series of the 21st century, one that’s already been counted among the greatest shows in the history of the medium? That’s something few creators would ever have the nerve to tackle. Thankfully, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan saw something more in the store of how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) became Saul Goodman, and the result is a show that lives up to its predecessors darkly funny, often nerve-shattering storytelling.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

SIGN UP TODAY: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping Newsletter!

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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10 Facts About David Fincher's The Social Network for Its 10th Anniversary

Jesse Eisenberg stars in David Fincher's The Social Network (2010).
Jesse Eisenberg stars in David Fincher's The Social Network (2010).
Merrick Morton/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Social Network—a movie made when Facebook was less than seven years old and the social media era was relatively new—seemed destined to age poorly. But in the decade since its premiere in October 2010, the film’s depiction of the website and its young founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is more relevant than ever.

Even if you haven’t logged onto Facebook in years, the film offers plenty to love, from David Fincher’s detailed direction to Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning script. In honor of its 10-year anniversary, here are 10 facts about The Social Network.

1. Aaron Sorkin started writing the script for The Social Network before the book it's based on was published.

Aaron Sorkin makes a cameo in The Social Network (2010).Merrick Morton, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Social Network is officially an adaptation of The Accidental Billionaires, Ben Mezrich's 2009 book detailing the founding of Facebook. But according to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, he had already completed 80 percent of the script by the time he read the book. The project came to him in the form of a 14-page book proposal the publisher was shopping around to filmmakers ahead of the title's release. “I said yes on page three," Sorkin told Deadline in 2011. "That’s the fastest I’ve ever said yes to anything."

Instead of waiting for The Accidental Billionaires to be completed and published, Sorkin started working on the script immediately, doing his own first-hand research for much of the process instead of referring to the book.

2. Shia LaBeouf turned down the role of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network.

When Transformers star Shia LaBeouf turned down the role of The Social Network’s lead character, Jesse Eisenberg was hired to play Mark Zuckerberg instead. Superbad's Jonah Hill was another star who came close to being cast in the movie, in his case as Napster founder Sean Parker; ultimately, Fincher decided Hill wasn’t right for the role and cast Justin Timberlake instead.

3. The Social Network wasn’t filmed at Harvard.

Harvard University is integral to the legend of Facebook, and setting the first half of The Social Network there was non-negotiable. Filmmakers ran into trouble, however, when attempting to get the school's blessing. The 1970 adaptation of Love Story been shot there, and damaged the campus; the school has reportedly banned all commercial filming on the premises since then. To get around this, The Social Network crew shot the Harvard scenes at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and two prep schools, Phillips Academy Andover and Milton Academy, in Massachusetts.

4. David Fincher did sneak one shot of Harvard into The Social Network.

To convince the audience that they were indeed seeing Harvard, Fincher couldn’t resist sneaking in a shot of the campus’s iconic architecture. When Jesse Eisenberg runs across Harvard Square (which is not on Harvard property) in the beginning film, some nearby arches (which are on Harvard property) appear in the background. Fincher got the lighting he needed for this scene by hiring a street mime to roll a cart with lights on it onto the campus.

“If security were to stop him, the mime wouldn’t talk," The Social Network’s director of photography Jeff Cronenweth told Variety. "By the time they got him out of there, we would have accomplished our shot.”

5. Natalie Portman gave Aaron Sorkin the inside scoop on Harvard.

Natalie Portman attended Harvard from 1999 to 2003, briefly overlapping with fellow star alum Mark Zuckerberg. While enrolled, she dated a member of one of the university’s elite final clubs, which are an important part of The Social Network’s plot. When she learned that Sorkin was writing the screenplay for the movie, she invited the writer over to hear her insider knowledge. Sorkin gave the actress a shout-out in the final script. During one of the deposition scenes, Eisenberg's Harvard-era Zuckerberg is described as “the biggest thing on a campus that included 19 Nobel Laureates, 15 Pulitzer Prize winners, two future Olympians, and a movie star.”

6. Armie Hammer and his body double went to twin boot camp for The Social Network.

Armie Hammer and Josh Pence (as Armie Hammer) in The Social Network (2010).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Armie Hammer is credited as playing both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, but he wasn’t acting alone in his scenes. Josh Pence was cast as a body double and Hammer’s face was digitally pasted over his in post-production. For every scene where both twins appear on screen, Hammer and Pence played separate Winklevi, and then they would swap roles and shoot the scene again. This method allowed the characters to physically interact in ways that wouldn’t have been possible with split screens. Pence’s face may be missing from the movie, but his physical performance was still essential to selling the brothers' dynamic. He and Hammer worked with an acting coach for 10 months to nail down the characters’ complementary body language.

7. The Social Network's tagline was changed at the last minute.

For The Social Network’s main poster, designer Neil Kellerhouse made Jesse Eisenberg’s face the focal point. Over it, he superimposed the memorable tagline: “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Originally, the text read “300 million friends,” but it was changed under the assumption that Facebook would hit half a billion users in time for the movie’s October 2010 release.

“We were really hedging our bets," Kellerhouse told IndieWire. "But we scooped them on their own story because right as the film was coming out they got 500 million [members] so we got their publicity as well. It worked out super serendipitously.”

8. Fight Club’s Tyler Durden (kind of) makes a cameo in The Social Network.

Sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed the Easter egg David Fincher snuck into The Social Network. In the scene where Mark Zuckerberg is checking someone’s Facebook to cheat on a test, the name “Tyler Durden” can be seen in the top-left corner of the profile. Tyler Durden is the name of the narrator’s alter ego (played by Brad Pitt) in 1999’s Fight Club. Fincher directed both films.

9. The real Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t a fan of The Social Network.

Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network (2010).Merrick Morton, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The Social Network doesn’t paint Mark Zuckerberg in the most flattering light, and unsurprisingly, the real-life Facebook founder wasn’t happy about it. Following the movie’s release, he called out its “hurtful” inaccuracies, specifically citing the fictional Mara Rooney character that’s used as his motivation for founding the website. But even he admits that some details were spot-on. “It’s interesting what stuff they focused on getting right," Zuckerberg said at a Stanford event. "Like every single fleece and shirt I had in that movie is actually a shirt or fleece that I own.”

10. A sequel to The Social Network is not out of the question.

The Social Network premiered when Facebook was less than a decade old, and the story of the internet giant has only gotten more dramatic since then. Since settling lawsuits with Eduardo Saverin and the Winkelvoss twins, Facebook has been battling scandals related to privacy issues and its influence on the 2016 election. The last 10 years have provided more than enough material for a sequel to The Social Network, and both Aaron Sorkin and Jesse Eisenberg have expressed interest in such a project. As of now, there are no confirmed plans for a follow-up.