TV spinoffs generally follow their source material closely, but sometimes they diverge wildly. As Better Call Saul, a comic spinoff of Breaking Bad, starts filming this week, here are some other genre-switching spinoffs.
The most famous example of this TV phenomenon is Lou Grant. Ed Asner’s gruff news director from The Mary Tyler Moore show was supplanted to Lou Grant, where he became the city editor of The Los Angeles Times. Asner won an Emmy for portraying the character on the comic MTM, as well as on Lou Grant, the only actor to ever win Emmys for playing the same part in a comedy and a drama.
This series made a lot of TV history. It’s one of the first American TV shows with a gay regular character (Upstairs John, played by Bill Brochtup). It’s also among the handful of series cancelled after one episode. And it’s a sitcom spinoff of the dark, gritty cop drama NYPD Blue. (Both shows were created by Steven Bochco.) Upstairs John originated on NYPD Blue, switched over to Public Morals…and then returned to NYPD Blue.
The Bradys (1990)
Perhaps the two biggest stories in TV in 1988 were thirtysomething, a low-key drama that marked one of the first to depict Baby Boomers in a realistic way, complete with angst and “affluenza.” On the other end of the spectrum, the highest rated TV movie of the year was A Very Brady Christmas, in which all six grown up kids from The Brady Bunch return home for Christmas with their families. It did so well that CBS expanded it into a series in 1990: The Bradys. TV critics nicknamed it “Bradysomething” because, unlike the goofy, beloved Brady Bunch sitcom of the ‘70s, The Bradys was incredibly serious, as the Brady kids dealt with problems like divorce and infidelity. Poor Bobby Brady was paralyzed after a racecar accident. (It lasted one season.)
Towards the end of the 11-year run of M*A*S*H*, a related show debuted on CBS: Trapper John, M.D. According to producers, however, it wasn’t a spinoff of the TV show—for legal reasons, they had to say it was an offshoot of the 1970 film version of M*A*S*H*. That explains why a new actor, Pernell Roberts, played Trapper, and not Wayne Rogers, who portrayed the character on the M*A*S*H* TV series. While M*A*S*H* was mostly a comedy—as was the film—Trapper John, M.D. was a fairly standard hospital drama. It ran for seven years.
Public Morals wasn’t the first time Bochco took a character from a cop drama and built a comedy around them. In 1987, Norman Buntz (Dennis Franz) quit the beat on Hill Street Blues and became a private detective in a zany California setting. Beverly Hills Buntz lasted half a season.
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