The 16 all-time best TV spin-offs, ranked

Caroline Corcoran
Photo credit: NBC/AMC / BBC

From Digital Spy

Like trying to make a cake out of the leftovers of a really good previous cake, the spin-off show is always going to be a risky game. But when it's done well, it can be a thing of such sheer "It's familiar but it's also not familiar" telly joy, that the viewing buzz is unrivalled.

There are tactics that seem to be winners – basing the new show around a slightly obscure character rather than someone at the heart of the action in the original is a good one, and a cheeky little location change generally does no harm – but really it's just about whether the show is strong in its own right. Here are the ones that nailed it, in order of least successful to most. (But they're all crackers, frankly.)

16. Damon and Debbie

Spin-off from: Brookside

Basically, the words Damon and Debbie are the '80s. A love story in stonewashed jeans, the Brookside couple were so popular that they elicited their own three-part spin-off which showed them running off to York to get away from their disapproving families.

We wouldn't ruin the ending – except that, really, who is going to watch this now? So yeah, Damon dies.

15. E20

Spin-off from: EastEnders

Not only did this smart, unique proposition from the EastEnders guys give us Fatboy, Zsa Zsa and the rest but it also functioned as a groundbreaking idea. By going online only and using it as an opportunity to nurture young, emerging talent, they did something soaps – TV actually – had never done before and it was genuinely exciting.

14. Tucker's Luck

Spin-off from: Grange Hill

This time the titular spin-off character was a main character in the original, but Tucker's Luck and the inimitable Todd Carty somehow pulled it off.

It helped that the show had a strong narrative – Tucker had now left school and was out in the "real world" – and it was an added bonus that castmates from Grange Hill would pop up occasionally. But mostly, it was just well scripted and well acted and in its own right a good show.

13. The Lone Gunmen

Spin-Off From: The X-Files

One of those shows that when you find someone who's watched it, and it's after 10pm and there's booze, they will not stop talking about it.

Ditto a chat room deep, deep in the TV internet. The Lone Gunmen was based around three men who run a conspiracy theory magazine – they often helped Mulder out on The X-Files – and was critically lauded. It's now one of those shows which takes on a hazy, nostalgic, could-have-been-the-best-show-of-all-time vibe to cult fans.

12. Knots Landing

Spin-off from: Dallas

There was a taste for shoulder pads and divas in the '80s and it wasn't sated by the time Dallas had come to the end of its run. Little known fact (ie outside chance it might come up in a pub quiz fact): Knots Landing was actually a concept before Dallas but was turned down by TV execs, only to be picked up once Dallas had been and gone.

11. Ashes to Ashes

Spin-off from: Life on Mars

A direct sequel to Life on Mars, based around the investigations of DCI Gene Hunt, Ashes to Ashes arrived on screens in 2008. They replaced the '70s with the '80s, and John Simm with Keeley Hawes, but lost none of Life on Mars' sharpness. In fact – get this, spin-off doubters – many reviewers argued that it actually surpassed its predecessor's greatness, it was so popular.

10. Melrose Place

Spin-off from: Beverly Hills 90210

We were at a place in the '90s where we had had the glossy Aaron Spelling world of Beverly Hills 90210 taken away and we didn't want to go back to rainy old British shows like Coronation Street. And that, right then, was when Melrose Place came to save us. PHEW. It too featured lots of blonde hair and impossibly attractive people and relationship dramas and a lot of materialism and we absolutely bleedin' loved it.

9. Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Spin-off from: The Archie Show

Another one you're likely to have no idea started life in another home, pre-teen legend Sabrina, aka Melissa Joan Hart/Clarissa, was originally a character in The Archie Show, the animated version of Archie Comics. Even more confusingly, a very dark version of Sabrina is now tipped to pop up in Netflix series Riverdale, which is part of the same Archie family.

8. Laverne and Shirley

Spin-Off From: Happy Days

Now this is confusing because firstly – caveat – Happy Days was actually itself a spin-off, of a show called Love, American Style, so let's add it to the list too. Whoa, this spin-off world runs deep.

But now on to Laverne and Shirley. One of a number of Happy Days spin-offs, the show was about two single roommates who were – in the original – friends of Fonzie. It was funny and female-positive.

7. The Hills

Spin-Off From: Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach: so-so TV that you might watch if there was nothing on the other channels. The Hills: cult Sunday morning viewing that was as vital to sorting one's hangover as a giant bacon sandwich with extra brown sauce and a really strong tea.

It was somehow oddly reassuring to know that while we smelled of stale vodka and 3am chips, Lauren Conrad still had that lovely glossy hair and a new handbag. Ah, the '00s.

6. Saved by the Bell

Spin-off from: Good Morning, Miss Bliss

Were you, like many of us, a '90s Trouble TV fan oblivious to the fact that Zack, Screech, Mr Belding and Lisa (Jessie, Kelly and AC Slater came later) had been here before in a different guise on a show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss? We know!

This is truly an amazing fact for next time everyone's getting nostalgic about shows from their childhood down the pub at 1am. There's more about it here.

5. Absolutely Fabulous

Spin-off from: French and Saunders

The era-defining Ab Fab began its existence as a sketch called 'Modern Mothers and Daughters' in which Dawn French played Saffy and Jennifer Saunders played her mum. Because they are clever, they knew it should go bigger.

4. Torchwood

Spin-off from: Doctor Who

Based around the Torchwood institute, where people investigate unusual happenings, the show became a TV behemoth in its own right. It's not the only Doctor Who spin-off (The Sarah-Jane Adventures, Class, K-9 and Company…) but it's certainly the one which seems to have captured the imagination of viewers.

To such an extent, in fact, that even though it last aired in 2011, John Barrowman still gets asked about its return. (He says never say never, FYI).

3. Angel

Spin-off from: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Hats off – capes off? – to the ideas guru who pitched spinning off Buffy because, whoa, that was a beast of a show to live up to.

But hey, Angel managed it – taking a major character from the series played by David Boreanaz and uprooting him to LA to seek redemption as a detective. It proved a ratings winner and the show was critically acclaimed too.

2. Better Call Saul

Spin-off from: Breaking Bad

Undoubtedly the most successful spin-off of recent years, AMC's Better Call Saul rummaged around the backstory of Breaking Bad's Saul Goodman, aka "Slippin'" Jimmy McGill. Making a prequel – or any spin-off – to one of the best shows of all time was seriously ballsy but it paid off.

It functions effectively if you need weaning off Breaking Bad and indeed entirely in its own right.

1. Frasier

Spin-off from: Cheers

The spin-off that's cited as evidence for why to do spin-offs at all: because sometimes, you get a Frasier. A show that is so good, no-one really remembers it's a spin-off.

Picking up the narrative of Dr Frasier Crane as he starts a psychiatric practice in Seattle, the show ran for a huge 11 seasons, winning a record (at the time) 37 Emmys. Let's call that a moderate success.

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