Sunday, March 27, 2016

SitcomsOnline Book Club Review - Spinning Laughter: Profiles of 111 Proposed Comedy Spin-offs and Sequels That Never Became a Series

Happy Easter to everyone from all of us at! Our regular weekly TV Ratings and Analysis will return next week. Today we bring you a special edition of our SitcomsOnline Book Club.

Spinning Laughter: Profiles of 111 Proposed Comedy Spin-offs and Sequels That Never Became a Series

SitcomsOnline Book Club Review - Spinning Laughter: Profiles of 111 Proposed Comedy Spin-offs and Sequels That Never Became a Series

by Todd

The Andy Griffith Show begat Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C. The Mary Tyler Moore Show spun-off Rhoda and Phyllis. An episode of All in the Family became Maude and another episode became The Jeffersons. You remember the successful spin-offs, but you may now know about the spin-offs that never were.

Why did the characters of Fred and Ethel Mertz from I Love Lucy never star in their own spin-off? What animated spin-off pilot could be considered a forerunner of The Simpsons? Which situation comedy has had the greatest number of attempted spin-offs? Why did the idea of a Krusty the Krown spin-off from The Simpsons never become a series? What could have been the first gay family comedy? What was the live-action Monsignor Martinez pilot from King of the Hill series all about?

Discover rare summaries of treatments, scripts, and pilots along with comments from fifty writers, directors, producers, and actors involved with proposed spin-offs and sequels; actress Elinor Donahue remarks about the Father Knows Best reunion movies; actor Patrick Cassidy talks about his audition for The Nanny spin-off; former actress Sheila James describes why her character, Zelda from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, never got her own series; Eddie Mekka from Laverne & Shirley comments on the Lenny & Squiggy in the Army spin-off.

Author Richard Irvin is back with his latest book with a sitcom theme. His previous books have included Sitcom Bombs: A Guide to the Most Forgettable TV Comedies, Forgotten Laughs: An Episode Guide to 150 TV Sitcoms You Probably Never Saw and George Burns Television Productions: The Series and Pilots, 1950-1981. This time he focuses on proposed sitcom spin-offs which never became a series.

The book begins with an introduction where he describes the three types of television series spin-offs: the "character-spin-off", the "planted spin-off" and the "back-door pilot". He also talks about crossovers, which are not the same as spin-offs. Crossover examples included The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. A spin-offs and imitations section describes efforts to make a female version of M*A*S*H. Front-door pilots and anthology series examples include the "Love and the Happy Days" segment on Love, American Style, which was the pilot for Happy Days.

Each of the 111 proposed sitcom spin-offs receives an individual section. The book is divided into six parts by decades. It covers potential spin-offs from the mid-1950s and continuing through 2013. Each proposed spin-off includes a background section which provides general information, such as the episode title and original airdate. A complete summary of the storyline is provided for the episodes which actually aired. A concept section is included for proposed spin-offs which never made it to air. A postscript section includes comments from select actors and crew members on why it was not picked up to be a series or never aired in some cases. Some brief where are they now updates are provided for some of the people involved.

Dwayne Hickman's Chuck McDonald character from The Bob Cummings Show was the first proposed spin-off of a regular supporting character from one series to another. The Mertzes would have featured Vivian Vance and William Frawley, but they never had a good working relationship. The first attempted comedy sequel was My Wife Irma, which was a potential sequel to My Friend Irma. The Plumber and His Daughters was the first proposed spin-off (from The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show) of an occasional character appearing on a sitcom. The first back-door pilot to air was Teenage Idol from Mr. Adams and Eve.

While many people think The Andy Griffith Show was the first sitcom spin-off in 1960, there was actually another series which spun-off from December Bride which premiered a few weeks earlier. Proposed spin-offs in the 1960s included three pilots each for possible spin-off series from The Donna Reed Show and Mister Ed. Some stars for proposed spin-offs included Miyoshi Umeki, Jack Carter, Pat Buttram and Ann B. Davis. Back-door pilots included episodes of The Ann Sothern Show, McKeever and the Colonel, The Danny Thomas Show and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

The 1970s saw a number of successful spin-off series which featured characters from hit series. These spin-offs included Rhoda, Phyllis, Lou Grant, The Jeffersons, Maude, Good Times, The Facts of Life, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy. Proposed spin-offs and back-door pilots included episodes of My Three Sons, Green Acres, The Love Boat, Chico and the Man, Welcome Back, Kotter, The Brady Bunch, Laverne & Shirley, Here's Lucy, Green Acres, Happy Days, On the Rocks, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Barney Miller and The Doris Day Show.

Gilligan's Island was attempted to be revived with The Castaways on Gilligan's Island TV movie in 1979. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show had some successful spin-offs, there was a back-door pilot with Bill Daily that never made it to series. A Father Knows Best Reunion aired in 1977. It led to a second Christmas reunion movie later that year, but a series never materialized. George Lindsey's Goober Pyle character from The Andy Griffith Show was in a proposed spin-off called Goober and the Truckers' Paradise. A proposed sequel to My Little Margie never made it beyond the treatment stage. A pilot for a sequel to Dobie Gillis aired in 1977, but it never made it to series.

NBC had only Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life on its fall 1980 schedule, so their demand for more comedies led to many spin-off attempts. Of the 37 proposed spin-offs in the 1980s section, almost one-third came directly or indirectly from Norman Lear's company. The Facts of Life had five spin-off attempts, the most of any sitcom in history. One Day at a Time, Diff'rent Strokes and The Jeffersons each had one proposed spin-off. Family Ties twice attempted to spin-off Nick Moore's (Scott Valentine) character.

Other proposed spin-offs and back-door pilots in the 1980s included episodes of Webster, Gimme a Break! (three episodes), Who's the Boss? (two episodes), My Two Dads, Laverne & Shirley, Too Close for Comfort, Punky Brewster, 227 (two episodes), Kate & Allie, She's the Sheriff, Hooperman and The Cosby Show. CBS attempted to revive The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis again with the 1988 TV movie Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis. Animated spin-off attempts were made for Carlton Your Doorman (from Rhoda) and The Coneheads (from Saturday Night Live). The Munsters was attempted to be revived with The Musters' Revenge 1981 TV movie. A sequel to The Ropers was considered. M*A*S*H had a spin-off attempt with Gary Burghoff's Walter "Radar" O'Relly character from M*A*S*H in a pilot called W*A*L*T*E*R.

New broadcast networks and cable channels in the 1990s meant more opportunities for spin-off attempts. Charles in Charge had three proposed spin-offs in which a character from the series would play a lookalike but different relative in the proposed spin-off. They tried this with Ellen Travolta, Willie Aames and Nicole Eggert. A sequel to Clarissa Explains It All called Clarissa Now was filmed, but it wasn't picked up as a series. Phil Morris would have starred as his Jackie Chiles character from Seinfeld in the proposed The Jackie Chiles Show. A live-action Krusty the Clown (from The Simpsons) series was considered. A script for an Empty Nest spin-off was written but never shot. A spin-off of Roseanne featuring two married men taking care of a daughter was proposed but never shot. Other proposed spin-offs and back-door pilots included episodes of The Nanny, Malcolm & Eddie, Married with Children (two episodes), Martin, Evening Shade and All-American Girl.

Cable channels Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel were the major sources of spin-offs beginning in the 2000s. Proposed spin-offs were considered for The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and iCarly. Nickelodeon aired an animated spin-off of The Rugrats called The Carmichaels. NBC attempted a spin-off with Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) in an episode of The Office. That's So Raven had a spin-off pilot called Goin' Hollwood. Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper appeared in the Mary and Rhoda TV reunion movie in 2000, but ABC didn't move forward with a series. A live-action spin-off from King of the Hill called Monsignor Martinez was shot but never aired. Spin-offs for Daria and Hey Arnold! were proposed but never made. A Sabrina, the Teenage Witch spin-off aired as an episode, but it never became a series.

Of the 111 proposed spin-offs profiled in the book, I would have most wanted to see The Facts of Life spin-off with Lisa Whelchel. While she may not have starred as Blair Warner for as long as Kelsey Grammer played Frasier Crane in Cheers and Frasier, I think the show could have had a decent run in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The series would have featured a pre-Blossom Mayim Bialik, Seth Green and Juliette Lewis. It had all of the ingredients to be a hit.

The book is a good read at 218 pages. It includes a convenient Appendix, Endnotes and Index section. There are also 20 black and white publicity photos sprinkled throughout the pages.

I was thoroughly impressed with the book. It's well-researched, organized and contains all the information you could possibly want to know about these proposed spin-offs and sequels that never became a series. I think it's sometimes more interesting to read about the failed spin-offs rather than the successful hits. I found the comments from the fifty cast and crew members to be especially interesting and insightful. The behind-the scenes details and trivia nuggets are fascinating to read. The only thing that I would have liked to see done differently is to present the profiles in chronological order in the chapters rather than alphabetical order when they were already organized by decade, but that's a minor issue.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to all sitcom fans for their TV reference library. While there have been other books about spin-offs and revival series, this is the most comprehensive and up-to-date. The book was clearly a labor of love for Mr. Irvin who watched all of the available pilots and provided detailed summaries for them.

(5/5 stars)

To purchase this book, click below and help support

Check out Richard Irvin's other books:

Sitcom Bombs: A Guide to the Most Forgettable TV Comedies / Review

Forgotten Laughs: An Episode Guide to 150 TV Sitcoms You Probably Never Saw

George Burns Television Productions: The Series and Pilots, 1950-1981 / Review

New on DVD/Blu-ray (September)

The Big Bang Theory - The Complete Ninth Season Newhart - The Complete Sixth Season 2 Broke Girls - The Complete Fifth Season Family Matters - The Complete Eighth Season Modern Family - The Complete Season 7

09/06 - Coach - Season One (Mill Creek) / Season Two / Seasons One and Two
09/06 - South Park - The Complete Ninteenth Season (Blu-ray)
09/13 - The Big Bang Theory - The Complete Ninth Season (Blu-ray)
09/13 - Newhart - The Complete Sixth Season
09/20 - 2 Broke Girls - The Complete Fifth Season
09/20 - Family Matters - The Complete Eighth Season
09/20 - Modern Family - The Complete Season 7
09/20 - Veep - Season 5
09/27 - The Wonder Years - Season Six
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Sitcoms Airing Tonight

Saturday, October 22

Superstore - "Guns, Pills and Birds" (NBC, 8:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
When Amy (America Ferrera) assigns an uncomfortable Jonah (Ben Feldman) to the gun section of Cloud 9, Jonah abuses his right-to-refuse sale to anyone that causes concern, causing an open-carry protest to gather in the store. On principle, Glenn (Mark McKinney) attempts to purchase all of the store's morning-after pills, but finds himself in a moral dilemma when he can't afford them. Dina (Lauren Ash), Garrett (Colton Dunn) and Mateo (Nico Santos) hunt down a crow that has flown into the store.

The Thundermans - "Happy Heroween" (Nickelodeon, 8:00PM ET/PT)
It's a major Halloween storm outside, but inside Colosso keeps the family spooked by telling three scary stories that are sure to terrify even the bravest of superheroes.

School of Rock - "Welcome to My Nightmare" (Nickelodeon, 9:00PM ET/PT)
Mr. Finn's class decides to celebrate Halloween in school after Principal Mullins, who hates the holiday, goes home sick. When she returns sooner than expected, they have to scramble to keep her from finding out the truth.

Complete TV Listings

Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of October 24)

Saturday, October 22

  • Jim J. Bullock (Too Close for Comfort) - Jim talks about touring the U.S. in Kinky Boots on Oprah: Where Are They Now? at 10pm ET/PT on OWN.
Sunday, October 23
  • Patti LaBelle (Out All Night) - Catch Patti on Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
Monday, October 24
  • Ricky Gervais (The Office) - Watch Ricky on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:34pm on NBC.
  • Tom Hanks (Bosom Buddies) - Tom appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS. He also talks about Inferno on NBC's Today sometime between 7-9am and on LIVE! with Kelly, so check your listings.
  • Elijah Wood (Wilfred) - Elijah is a guest on Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
  • Ana Gasteyer (People of Earth/Lady Dynamite/Suburgatory) - Ana visits Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
  • Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) - Nick stops by The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
  • Ron Howard (Happy Days/The Andy Griffith Show) - Ron appears on The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
  • Zooey Deschanel (New Girl) - Zooey is a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, so check your local listings.
  • Michael Chiklis (Daddio) - Michael drops by Harry, so check your local listings.
  • Jameela Jamil (The Good Place) - Jameela appears on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT.
  • Aya Cash (You're the Worst) - Aya talks about You're the Worst on the AOL Build ShoW at 2pm. She will also be on New York Live on WNBC in New York at 12:30pm ET.
  • Will Forte (The Last Man on Earth) - Will is a guest on ABC's Good Morning America sometime between 7-9am.
  • Mary Steenburgen (The Last Man on Earth/Ink) - Mary talks about The Last Man on Earth on NBC's Today in the 10am hour. She will also be on the AOL Build Show at 12:30pm.
  • Anna Camp (The Mindy Project) - Anna talks about Good Girls Revolt on People Now at 8:30am.
  • James Brolin (Life in Pieces) - James is a guest on Access Hollywood Live, so check your local listings.