As audiences take a double dose of Sheldon Cooper, how will ‘Young Sheldon’ compare to 7 of the best and worst spinoffs in TV history?
TV studios, like all businesses, are in the industry of making money. Given the production costs of making a brand-new TV series, it makes sense that TV shows often overstay their welcome. But another thing makes sense, too: spinoffs. Offshoots of hugely successful television series have preinstalled fan bases, making them less risky than wholly original ideas, while simultaneously switching it up a bit to draw in new viewers.
That’s exactly what CBS is running with Young Sheldon, a spinoff prequel of the enormously popular comedy series The Big Bang Theory.
By now most people with cable have seen The Big Bang Theory either through CBS or syndication. It’s been one of the most watched shows in the U.S. for years now. Best buds Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj work at a university in California. Penny, a fledgling actress-turned-waitress-turned-pharmaceutical sales rep moves in across the hall from Sheldon Cooper and Leonard in the pilot episode and goes on to start a relationship with Leonard. Over the years, the main cast has expanded to include Sheldon’s almost equally awkward partner Amy, Howard’s wife Bernadette, and a revolving door of failed relationships for Raj. The Big Bang Theory capitalizes on nerd culture, as the men of the show are obsessed with comic books, science, video games and technology. They are social misfits, an uncommon focal point of a prime-time television show. Despite its popularity, though, the show has been polarizing due to its frequent use of geek-infused jokes that some find to be disingenuous.
Regardless, millions of viewers have been enamored by The Big Bang Theory since it premiered 10 years ago. And when you ask diehards which character is their favorite, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the incredibly peculiar theoretical physicist, is probably the most common response. It makes sense that out of the possible spinoffs, a series centered on a young Sheldon Cooper would be at the top of the list. After all, Dr. Cooper frequently discusses his radically different life as a nine-year-old high schooler (yes, Sheldon has always been super smart) growing up in East Texas in a religious home where science often clashes with his mother’s feelings about God. Jim Parsons (Dr. Cooper) even narrates the series, making the spinoff feel like an extended version of one of the stories Sheldon often tells about his former life.
The question is: How much Sheldon is too much Sheldon? He’s a lovable character but also one who gets on his friends’ nerves and, occasionally, the audience’s too. It’s not entirely uncommon for spinoffs to premiere while the original show is still on the air, but it comes with increased risks. Young Sheldon had a special preview event on September 25, directly following The Big Bang Theory’s season 11 premiere. The remaining episodes of Young Sheldon season one will run starting November 2, while The Big Bang Theory is still ongoing. Considering that the sitcom has already been renewed for a 12th season, the first Sheldon Cooper show and the spinoff will coexist for at least another year, if all goes well.
With spinoffs, though, you never really know. Sometimes they continue the magic of the original, as HBO’s upcoming Game of Thrones spinoff is expected to do after the main show ends. Other times they flounder quickly, incapable of latching onto the hearts and minds of viewers. Let’s take a look at the quality of spinoffs of other triumphant shows that came before the Sheldon Cooper spinoff.
Right on the heels of the sitcom Cheers, in 1993 NBC plopped Kelsey Grammar into his own starring role in the eponymous sitcom Frasier. Acting as a direct sequel, the show follows Dr. Crane after his rocky marriage with Lilith has officially ended. Now divorced, he moves back home to Seattle to begin the next chapter of his life. Frasier, like Cheers, was an excellent show. Each series ran for 11 seasons over roughly a decade. Throughout Frasier’s run, which ended in 2004, major and minor Cheers characters make appearances. No one can complain about more than two decades of Kelsey Grammar in his heyday on prime-time TV.
2. Better Call Saul
How does one follow up arguably the greatest television drama of all time? That’s the question everyone had for Vince Gilligan following the conclusion of the seminal show Breaking Bad, which follows Walter White’s transformation from meek high school chemistry teacher to crystal meth kingpin for five seasons. Gilligan and AMC went the spinoff prequel route, choosing to focus on Saul Goodman (portrayed by Bob Odenkirk), a fan-favorite lawyer from Breaking Bad, starting six years prior to the events of the first show. Saul’s real name is Jimmy McGill, and he’s having a rough go. While season one started off a bit slow in 2015, seasons two and three settled into the level of prowess seen in Breaking Bad. The inclusion of characters Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) from Breaking Bad brought the spinoff to new heights. Season four of Better Call Saul is set to premiere in 2018.
3. The Jeffersons, Maude and Archie Bunker’s Place
Just over a year after the important sitcom All in the Family premiered in 1971, its first spinoff, Maude, started on CBS. The shows contrast with one another in huge ways. All in the Family centers on Archie Bunker, a narrow-minded, bigoted white man, while Maude proudly displays racial and gender equality themes by putting the spotlight on Edith Bunker’s cousin who first appears in two episodes of All in the Family. Maude ran for six seasons. While All in the Family and Maude were running, a second spinoff, The Jeffersons, premiered in 1975. The Jeffersons focuses on a Black family who happen to be Archie and Edith’s neighbors. Like Maude, The Jeffersons runs perpendicular to the ideals presented in All in the Family and aired for 11 seasons. All three shows were critically acclaimed. After All in the Family ended, and while The Jeffersons was still on air, a third spinoff began: Archie Bunker’s Place. A direct sequel to All in the Family, it had four seasons and was fairly successful even without the acclaim of the other three shows.
4. Private Practice
After season three of Grey’s Anatomy wrapped in 2007, Dr. Addison Montgomery exited Seattle Grace for Los Angeles’ Seaside Wellness Center. Thus, Private Practice was born. Capitalizing on the immense popularity of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice has crossover events with the more famous ABC medical drama and guest appearances throughout its six seasons. However, unlike Grey’s Anatomy — especially early Grey’s Anatomy — Private Practice was met with mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. The spinoff likely managed six seasons because of the success of Grey’s Anatomy but was cancelled in 2013. Grey’s Anatomy, on the other hand, has remained ABC’s highest-rated drama throughout its 13 seasons. Heading into its 14th season, Grey’s Anatomy is the second-longest-running medical drama behind only NBC’s ER.
Maybe the lovable characters from Friends could enthrall audiences only as an ensemble cast. That’s what it seems like at least, now 13 years removed from the season finale of the iconic sitcom. Friends was the kind of show that was ripe for spinoffs, as each of the show’s six main characters could lay claim to the title of fan favorite, depending on who you asked. But the chances of successive spinoffs were quickly curbed when NBC went with Joey Tribbiani, the funny guy, to star and ultimately fail in his own eponymous show, premiering just a few months after the season finale of Friends. Joey was so poorly received that NBC put the show on hiatus in its second season. Although the studio brought the series back, it was cancelled before the end of the season, with NBC choosing to not even broadcast the remaining eight episodes. To this day, those lost episodes have not been made available to the public.
6. Joanie Loves Chachi
Happy Days was one of the most influential sitcoms of all time. It ran for 11 seasons and more than 250 episodes from 1974 to 1984. Near the end of the show’s heyday, ABC premiered a spinoff starring Scott Baio and Erin Moran: Joanie Loves Chachi. The show received high ratings at first but quickly lost viewership. Each of its two seasons was cut short, and Joanie and Chachi were sent back to Happy Days for its final season. This was a case of the wrong choice for a spinoff. While Joanie Loves Chachi doesn’t hurt the legacy of Happy Days, its existence is a bit cringeworthy.
Do you remember Dave Chappelle’s guest appearance on Home Improvement in 1995? This was before Chappelle was a household name, but when he and fellow comedian Jim Breuer arrived on Tool Time to seek relationship advice from Tim Taylor, ABC decided to give them their own show. It may not be completely fair to label Buddies a Home Improvement spinoff, but its brief and disastrous existence makes it worth mentioning. Before its premiere, ABC decided to replace Breuer with Christopher Gartin. That decision didn’t work out — at all. Chappelle and Gartin didn’t have good chemistry and Buddies lasted only five episodes, with the eight remaining episodes going unaired. Buddies has been long forgotten, but Chappelle’s career certainly wasn’t hurt by the gaffe.
Which TV spinoffs are the best / worst? Sound off in the comments.