A successful show does not necessarily mean a successful offshoot. Here are three examples of TV show spinoffs that never took off.
Upon its conclusion in 1993, Cheers spawned the 11-season hit spinoff Frasier. But the first Cheers spinoff was The Tortellis. While Cheers was urbane and sophisticated and a cut above other ’80s sitcoms, The Tortellis was broad and crass, focusing on Carla (Rhea Perlman)’s sleazy ex-husband Nick Tortelli (Dan Hedaya) and his trophy wife Loretta (Jean Kasem) who lived in Las Vegas. Despite the Cheers pedigree (it was created by Cheers writer Ken Estin), the show was cancelled after 13 little-watched episodes in 1987.
When Friends debuted in 1994 (20 years ago this week), the cast of six was relatively unknown…unless you were a fan of obscure sitcoms. The network tried several times to land a spinoff of Married…With Children. Two of them starred future Friends and Episodes star Matt LeBlanc. The first was Top of the Heap, in which Al Bundy’s friend Charlie Verducci (Joe Bologna) and his dimwitted son Vinnie (LeBlanc) try and fail to get rich. It was gone after seven airings in the spring of 1991, only to resurface a year later as Vinnie & Bobby. This time around, the character of Charlie was replaced with Vinnie’s friend, Bobby (Robert Torti). They shared an apartment, worked on a construction crew, and chased girls. This spinoff also lasted just seven episodes.
Columbo aired every few weeks in the 1970s as part of The NBC Mystery Movie, alternating with McCloud and McMillan & Wife. By 1979, star Peter Falk was done with the character, but NBC wasn’t. Result: Mrs. Columbo, in which Detective Columbo’s wife, Kate, solved mysteries. The connections were tenuous and even nonsensical—the original Columbo never depicted or mention Columbo’s wife by name, but she was said to be as old as Columbo. Mrs. Columbo, however, starred 24-year-old Kate Mulgrew. The show confused Columbo fans (on which her husband never appeared), so the show was retitled Kate Loves a Mystery. It didn’t work—the show barely lasted a year.