TV’s Greatest: Spin-Offs

From the Scarlet Speedster to corrupt lawyers, we count ‘em down.

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!


The Saturday Evening Post’s TV’s Greatest” series is an ongoing look at the greatest characters, shows, songs, and moments in the history of TV. Also see “TV’s Greatest: Best “Best Friends,” “TV’s Greatest: The 20 Best Supernatural Detectives,” “TV’s Greatest Doctors,” “TV’s Greatest: Best and Worst Moms,” and “TV’s Greatest Lawyers.”

We’ve said before and we’ll say it again: there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than a franchise. On television, a hit show is a valuable commodity. But when you can translate that show into more shows, you’ve struck gold. Unfortunately, a true hit is rare; the television landscape is littered with spin-offs that didn’t click (spin-off of a spin-off Models, Inc.) or were intolerably bad (the first Cheers spin-off, The Tortellis). However, some spin-offs achieve greatness and occasionally become so successful that audiences forget that they came from an earlier show. Here’s a look at TV’s greatest spin-offs.

The Rules: The list is scripted series only. No Bachelorette, no various cities of Real Housewives, and nothing from the more than half a dozen shows featuring a family where all the women’s names start with K. We’re not counting entries from the 21st century mega-franchises that exist on both TV and the big screen. Sure, arguments could be made for The Mandalorian or WandaVision, but since those concepts originated in films and expanded to TV, rather than originating in one series and jumping to the next, we’re going to exclude them. (And yes, we’re all well aware that the first time a Mandalorian was seen on screen was when Boba Fett popped up in animated form in The Star Wars Holiday Special. Still not counting it.)

15. The Flash (The CW; 2014-2023)

Spun from: Arrow

The original series trailer for The Flash (Uploaded to YouTube by IGN)

After a decade of the Superman-less Smallville, The CW went in a different super-hero direction with Arrow, based on another DC Comics character, Green Arrow. In the eighth episode of the second season of Arrow, viewers meet CSI Barry Allen (Grant Gustin); in the following episode, Barry is in the lightning-derived lab accident that leaves him comatose, but will give him super powers that. As The Flash, Gustin headlined his own series for a nine-season run as the Scarlet Speedster that will wrap up in May. What sets The Flash apart from Arrow is its whole-hearted embrace of super powers and the craziness of the comics; mental-powered talking gorillas, evil doppelgangers, time travel, and musical crossovers with Supergirl were not out of bounds for the show. The fun factor and willingness to take chances lands it on the list.

14. The Facts of Life (NBC; 1979-1988)

Spun from: Diff’rent Strokes

Jo’s introduction on The Facts of Life (Uploaded to YouTube by The Norman Lear Effect)

Charlotte Rae’s Edna Garrett was enough of a scene-stealer in her role as housekeeper on Diff’rent Strokes that NBC gave her the chance to take a new job as the housemother at a girls’ school. Rae juggles wise advice and comedic timing overseeing seven young regulars (including Molly Ringwald) in the first season. The show got retooled for season two, jettisoning four girls (again, including Ringwald) and adding Nancy McKeon as Jo. The Blair-Jo-Natalie-Tootie foursome remained through eight more seasons (Rae dropped out after seven and was replaced by a new character played by Cloris Leachman). Though certain episodes haven’t aged well, The Facts of Life is fondly remembered for regularly tackling tough topics as they related to young women and also giving an occasional spotlight to Geri Jewell, the stand-up comedian and disability advocate who played Blair’s cousin across 12 episodes.

13. NCIS (CBS; 2003-if they didn’t stop when Gibbs left, they probably never will)

Spun from: JAG

NCIS Season 1 opening credits (Uploaded to YouTube by Classic TV Zone)

NCIS has been running so long that not only do many people not remember that it was a JAG spin-off, many people don’t remember JAG! JAG ran for ten seasons (one on NBC; the rest on CBS) and centered on the Judge Advocate General program, making it a military legal drama with occasional action. NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigation Service) got a so-called “backdoor pilot” across two season-eight episodes of JAG that set up the concept, including the introduction of five future regulars (notably Mark Harmon as Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Pauley Perrette as Abby Sciuto, David McCallum as Donald Mallard, Alan Dale as Tom Morrow, and Michael Weatherly as Tony DiNozzo. The military-flavored police procedural has itself generated three spin-offs (Los Angeles, New Orleans, Hawai’i) and one upcoming spin-off (Sydney); a fifth attempt, NCIS: Red, didn’t go past its own backdoor pilot episode. The show has remained incredibly popular with its solid adherence to format (even if it does include a hacking scene in the season two episode “The Bone Yard” that’s so bad, entire columns have been written about it).

12. Xena: Warrior Princess (Syndication; 1995-2001)

Spun from: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

Lucy Lawless on being cast as Xena (Uploaded to YouTube by FoundationINTERVIEWS)

Give it to Lucy Lawless for being incredibly charismatic. Her character Xena was supposed to appear as an antagonist across three episodes of Hercules and die. Instead, she got so popular so fast that the brain trust behind Hercules (including acclaimed director Sam Raimi and his long-time producing partner Rob Tapert) created a new show for her. Xena was a massive success, instantly becoming more popular than its progenitor and taking the top spot in the syndicated ratings by its second season. The show works for many reasons: Lawless’s action prowess makes her a perfect bridge figure from earlier heroes like Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman to later TV mainstays like Buffy Summers and Sidney Bristow. The character’s arc of former villain to altruistic hero is interesting, and her (implied) relationship with sidekick/best friend Gabrielle drew a lot of interest from the LGBTQ+ community at a time when any same-sex relationship was far from a regular feature on television. The series made Lawless a star, and it also resulted in her and Tapert getting married in 1998.

11. Daria (MTV; 1997-2002 including two made-for-TV films)

Spun from: Beavis and Butt-Head

15 Times Daria Got Way Too Real (Uploaded to YouTube by Next of Ken)

In between getting into trouble by being not terribly bright and making hilarious incisive comments on music videos of the day, Beavis and Butt-Head didn’t yield a ton of time to their supporting cast. However, the bespectacled wiseass Daria Morgendorffer (voiced by Tracy Grandstaff) always made a big impression in her brief scenes, usually by pointing out how ridiculously dumb the title pair were. Daria proved popular enough that Mike Judge’s creation was spun-off into her own show. The premise has Daria and her family moving to a new town and following her as she navigates high school life, a social structure that never really fits her. Daria appealed to a rather wide audience of GenX and Millennial young women who admired her intelligence and her lacerating wit. Last year, it was announced that there will be a new spin-off film featuring regular character Jodie, proving that the show’s influence continues.

10. Laverne & Shirley (ABC; 1976-1983)

Spun from: Happy Days

Laverne & Shirley Season 1 intro (Uploaded to YouTube by RetroAlexander)

There’s a funny bit of history here, as Happy Days itself is sort of a spin-off (see sidebar); for our purposes, we decided to accept ABC’s explanation of its status and award Laverne & Shirley a proper place on the list. Happy Days actually turned out to be an incubator for several spin-offs; besides L&S, it launched Mork & Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, Out of the Blue, Blanksy’s Beauties, and three animated series: The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang; Laverne & Shirley in the Army; and a third that combined elements of both shows with Mork & Mindy, the Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour. Laverne (Penny Marshall) and Shirley (Cindy Williams) are introduced as friends of The Fonz that double-date him and Richie. The spin-off has them living in Milwaukee and initially working at Shotz Brewery (a mini arc that sees them enlist in the Army inspired the animated series). By season three, the comic chemistry of Marshall and Williams sent it to the top of the ratings. A pregnant Williams left the show in 1982, and it was cancelled at the end of its eighth season. Though the two actors had a bit of a falling out at the time, they later reconciled and sat for interviews about the show together, including a comprehensive series for the Television Academy Foundation.

9. The Good Fight (CBS All Access/Paramount+; 2017-2022)

Spun from: The Good Wife

The Good Fight official trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Serially)

On the critically-acclaimed The Good Wife, Christine Baranski earned six Emmy nominations playing lawyer Diane Lockhart. At that series wound down, Lockhart was the obvious choice to lead a spin-off. She was joined by Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo) as they became part of a new firm. The series would be defined less by the romantic tensions and subplots that drove much of the mother series, and much more by legal wrangling and social justice issues. Fight received a wagonload of award nominations from various quarters, including 18 from the Critics’ Choice Television Awards. The strength of the show comes from Baranski’s powerhouse work for 13 seasons across two series and the absolutely insane high quality of rotating regulars (which include Rose Leslie, Delroy Lindo, Audra McDonald, Andre Braugher, and more) and recurring/guest stars (Alan Alda! Louis Gossett Jr.! Jane Curtin!).

8. Boston Legal (ABC; 2004-2008)

Spun from: The Practice

William Shatner discusses creating Denny Crane (Uploaded to YouTube by FoundationINTERVIEWS)

The Practice was a high-powered legal drama from David E. Kelly that, in case you don’t remember, was slugging it out in the awards trenches with the likes of The West Wing and The Sopranos. As that 1997-2004 series wrapped, a handful of characters were bundled into Boston Legal. Two of those characters — William Shatner’s Denny Crane and James Spader’s Alan Shore — are pillars of the cast along with new season-one addition Candace Bergen as Shirley Schmidt. The tone of the show could veer wildly from serious legal issues to absurd relationship crises to flat-out comedy, but the jarring turns are what frequently make it interesting. Spader won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in 2005 and 2007 while Shatner picked his Outstanding Supporting Actor statuette in 2005.

7. Frasier (NBC; 1993-2004)

Spun from: Cheers

The first scene of Frasier (Uploaded to YouTube by Brilliant Moments)

Frasier Crane first pops up as a recurring character during the third season of Cheers. Kelsey Grammer’s stuffy, neurotic psychiatrist is initially a romantic complication for the central Sam-Diane relationship, but he eventually becomes one of the gang. Frasier received a significant amount of development on Cheers; he found a love interest and eventual wife in Lilith (the hilarious Bebe Neuwirth), and they had a son, Frederick. When Cheers had its last call after 11 seasons, Frasier moves from Boston to Seattle to host a radio advice show. Frasier and Lilith have divorced off-screen, and the supporting cast is filled out with Frasier’s brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), their father, Martin (John Mahoney), Martin’s caregiver, Daphne (Jane Leeves), Frasier’s producer, Roz (Peri Gilpin), and Martin’s dog, Eddie (Moose, later Moose’s son, Enzo). The eccentric cast makes for one of the snappiest ’90s TV comedies, and the show was a rare spin-off that lasted more than a decade (as its predecessor did).

6. Angel (WB; 1999-2004)

Spun from: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Angel Season One trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by BuffyverseTrailers)

Angel (David Boreanaz) begins his (undead) life on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A vampire who has been cursed by the return of his soul, Angel feels the weight and remorse of decades of horrible deeds and eventually seeks redemption that he feels he will never achieve. A staunch ally to Buffy and her friends, he also becomes the vampire slayer’s primary love interest. The Buffy/Angel tension powers the early seasons of Buffy, particularly when Angel is turned into his evil Angelus persona for much of the second season. After Buffy and friends graduate high school at the close of season three, Angel knows he has to move on (to his own series). Establishing a private investigation firm in L.A. with the purpose of “helping the helpless,” Angel gathers a keen supporting cast and contends with monsters, prophecies, and the demonically-powered law firm of Wolfram and Hart. The show was praised for its dark tone and performances of the cast (notably Charisma Carpenter as Buffy transplant Cordelia and Alexis Denisof as the morally complicated demon hunter Wesley). In 2004, it wrapped up in what’s widely considered by critics (and this writer) to be one of the greatest series finales of all time as Angel and his allies launch what is essentially a suicide run to destroy the Circle of the Black Thorn (an alliance of their major foes) and Wolfram and Hart once and for all.

5. The Jeffersons (CBS; 1975-1985)

Spun from: All in the Family

The pilot episode of The Jeffersons (Uploaded to YouTube by The Norman Lear Effect)

Much like Happy Days, All in the Family was a spin-off generating machine. Though some might argue the exact nature of how a few of the shows count as spin-offs, Family was nevertheless the “parent” responsible for Maude, Good Times, Archie Bunker’s Place, Gloria, 704 Hauser and The Jeffersons (which would also spin-off Checking In). Of all the child shows, The Jeffersons lasted the longest at 11 seasons. Originally introduced as the Bunkers’ next door neighbors, George (Sherman Hemsley) and Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford) offer a counterpoint to the prejudices of Archie Bunker. The premise of the spin-off has the Jeffersons (and their son, Lionel) moving to Manhattan due to the success of George’s dry-cleaning business. Lionel’s fiancée, Jenny, is the multiracial child of Tom (Franklin Cover) and Helen Willis (Roxie Roker, cousin of Al Roker and mother of Lenny Kravitz). The Jeffersons’ housekeeper, Florence (Marla Gibbs), was very popular for her withering humor and top-lined Checking In when it debuted. The show pulled in 14 Emmy Awards during its run; the most notable was Sanford’s 1981 win for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, making her the first African-American actress to do so.

4. Star Trek: The Next Generation (Syndicated; 1987-1994)

Spun from: Star Trek

Star Trek: The Next Generation trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by JTVFX)

Some might argue that a spin-off of a show needs to be expressly set up in the original series; to that we say a) U.S.S. Enterprise and b) Doctor Leonard McCoy drops by in the first episode for a symbolic passing of the torch. But as far as quality goes? That’s inarguable. Wildly popular in syndication, the show won 18 Emmys and a Peabody Award. It was so successful that it built the backbone for a run of shows that spun off from it and was the core of Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+. Like the original series, it probes very human questions in a science-fiction context while juggling some great action beats (notably the terrific “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter). It also features an all-time great leading performance by Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

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

Spun from: Law & Order

Today talks to Mariska Hargitay (Uploaded to YouTube by TODAY)

Dick Wolf is the current king of the franchise, with three entire nights devoted to nine of his shows across two networks, but it had to start somewhere. Wolf started out in the ’80s, writing for film and TV shows like Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice. He got his creation, Law & Order, on the air in 1990. Nine years later, he unveiled the first spin-off; the opening narration reveals the focus: “In the criminal justice system, sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit.” The show stars Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler and Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson; mainstay Richard Belzer (reprising his John Munch character from Homicide: Life of the Streets) and Season 2 addition Ice-T (as Fin Tutuola) round out the line-up that carries the first twelve seasons. Today, it’s the longest-running drama in the history of network television, and has been renewed for a 25th season to begin in the fall of 2023. The pillar that holds up the show is Hargitay’s Benson; she has evolved from Junior Detective to Captain as Hargitay has created a complicated and realistic character who has become an advocate for women and children (as Hargitay has off-screen). Ice-T can claim the second longest-running character, and has become so popular and associated with the role that people occasionally forget that he was a pioneering hip-hop artist first. The success of SVU allowed Wolf to build a L&O franchise that includes seven series (and probably counting) with three currently on-air.

2. The Simpsons (Fox; 1989-Present)

Spun from: The Tracey Ullman Show

The Simpsons “32 Seasons” trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Disney+)

Yes, it’s a spin-off. Here’s how. When the then-fledgling Fox Network launched its original line of prime-time programming in 1987, the first two sitcoms were Married . . . With Children and the eponymous sketch comedy series The Tracey Ullman Show, featuring the multi-talented British comedienne. Ullman producer James L. Brooks invited Life in Hell cartoonist Matt Groening to pitch a series of animated shorts for the show. Groening originally intended to pitch Hell, but he was concerned about his future ownership of that feature and instead pitched a new idea based on his own family. Ullman cast members Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner voiced Homer and Marge, respectively. The Simpsons would appear in 48 shorts on the series (which won 11 Emmys during its run) before spinning off into their own show. Once that happened, The Simpsons began a pop culture juggernaut. In addition to becoming the longest running series in American prime time television, the show has generated toys, comic books, video games, a feature film, and even hit albums (if you forgot “Do the Bartman,” you’re probably better off). Though The Simpsons wasn’t the first animated series in prime time (that was The Flintstones in 1960), its arrival heralded a new era for animation on television that would pave the wave for everything from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block to MTV’s various series to Fox’s own King of the Hill and Family Guy.

1. Better Call Saul (AMC; 2015-2022)

Spun from: Breaking Bad

Better Call Saul Season One extended trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by AMC+)

The very idea of series creator Vince Gilligan doing a spin-off from Breaking Bad just seemed crazy. Breaking Bad was critically adored, beloved by fans, and earned piles of awards. It also managed to stick the landing with a fifth season that includes an episode universally praised as one of the greatest hours of television ever (“Ozymandias”) and one of the all-time best finales (“Felina”). So the notion of basing a spin-off on Bob Odenkirk’s morally compromised lawyer Saul Goodman, no matter how admired Odenkirk was in the role, was a risky proposition. And yet, Gilligan and co-creator Peter Gould made creating another TV classic seem effortless. Better Call Saul not only compares favorably to Breaking Bad at all levels, there are some critics and fans who believe it surpasses its show of origin. As Screen Rant’s Craig Elvy put it: “When Better Call Saul began, many would’ve hoped the spinoff could either escape Breaking Bad‘s shadow, or somehow enhance Walt and Jesse’s story with illuminating new details. Few dared dream Better Call Saul would achieve both, and the sheer ambition to create a spinoff that wholly embraces its predecessor whilst also existing in a totally different realm exemplifies why Better Call Saul has an ever-so-slight edge over Breaking Bad.” That audaciousness, that willingness to plunge into uncertainty, and the sustained 11 seasons of acting excellence across two series on the part of Odenkirk are the reasons why Better Call Saul is TV’s greatest spin-off.

When Is a Spin-Off Not a Spin-Off? When It’s Happy Days!

Happy Days has one of the most bizarre journeys to series ever. It originally came together as a pilot called New Family in Town. ABC passed on the pilot, but then decided to use it as an episode of anthology series Love, American Style called “Love and the Television Set.” Based on that episode, director George Lucas cast Ron Howard in American Graffiti. When that movie was a hit (and with Grease already big on Broadway), the network decided to exercise their option to turn the episode into a series. Howard, Marion Ross, and Anson Williams returned from the episode, but the dad was recast with Tom Bosley. However, despite where it started, ABC does NOT claim that Happy Days was a spin-off of Love, American Style; they count that episode as the Happy Days pilot. Which means that Happy Days, which technically should be a spin-off, isn’t.

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now


  1. How could the Mary Tyler Moore show be neglected? The spinoffs, of which there were several were up to the same standards as the original, in acting writing, and direction. A major overlook.

  2. ‘Happy Days’ (for me) got old fairly quickly to say the least. Regardless of its origin per the box, it capitalized on the “70s-wants-to-be-the-50’s-more-than-ANYTHING” desire going back to the beginning of the decade, only gaining strength as the years wore on. Long sociology explanation made short: make the 60’s ‘disappear’.

    The only good thing that came of it was ‘Laverne & Shirley’. It was so much better, it’s hard to believe it had the same creators. The theme song (1:18–unbelievable!) alone is one of the greatest ever, cleverly combining 50’s/70’s Doo-Wop beautifully for the times. A classic to this day and beyond.

    ‘Maude’ is a particular favorite, much more so than ‘All in the Family’. ‘The Jeffersons’ I liked better than ‘Family’. That theme song is wonderful, too. You can let me know if I’m wrong Troy, but wasn’t ‘Good Times’ actually a spin-off of ‘Maude’ with her maid Florida, getting that show in 1974?

    Classic ‘NCIS’ is a longtime favorite going back to the beginning. I had a BLAST at the NCIS Fan Fests in 2006 and ’07 at Paramount’s Valencia business park studios. There’s enough similarity there to Virginia where the show is set, to film a lot in the vicinity, keeping costs in check.

    Got to meet Pauley Perette, Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo; have an incredible catered lunch with them, see the sets (much smaller than they appear) and learn inside information. Very nice, genuine (working class) stars. Each are a lot like their characters; gotta love it! Best $75 (each year) I ever spent on anything, hands down.

    After those stars left the show, I only watched it sporadically. Does that make me a bad fan? It just wasn’t the same for me, but really, the show’s been on since 2003! I loved ‘The Practice’ but not nearly as much as ‘Boston Legal’. Fantastic, clever show. The only legal drama that came close to it was ‘Harry’s Law’ starring Kathy Bates, also by David E. Kelley. I was furious when NBC cancelled it in 2012 after only little more than a year. It was their highest rated drama of the 2011-2012 season, when they were doing poorly. Doesn’t make sense to me…

  3. Hi Russ,

    It was adapted, as opposed to a spin-off.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. All in the family was a spin off from a British TV show “Till Death Us Do Part”.

  5. I didn’t forget “Mork & Mindy.” It’s mentioned in the “Laverne & Shirley” section. I didn’t RANK M&M precisely because it had a sharp drop in quality after the first season. And it only lasted four seasons. L&S was #1 by their 3rd season, and lasted five more seasons after that. I think it’s pretty clear that in terms of “Happy Days” spin-offs, L&S is the best.

  6. You forgot Mork & Mindy (spun off from Happy Days) which, at least in its first season, was the funniest TV show ever made.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *