Set at the fictional historically black college Hillman University, A Different World started as a way to send The Cosby Show's Denise Huxtable, played by bohemian goddess Lisa Bonet, to college. It ended up becoming a phenomenon, particularly for countless young black Americans who'll tell you they were directly inspired to go to college because of the show and the ways it presented college as a vibrant, fun experience. Bonet, along with original co-star Marisa Tomei, left after the first season but their departures were hardly missed: A Different World went on to make icons of Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison), Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) and Ron Johnson (Darryl M. Bel) and made its theme song, rendered by Aretha Franklin, immortal. One of the first TV shows to address the HIV/AIDS crisis, A Different World ran with its opportunity to create a dialogue around a number of social issues, but mostly focused on the romances, friendships and economic realities of college life, demystifying the scary notion of going away to school while romanticizing it too.
Angel took everything fans already loved about The WB/UPN series Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- threats of the apocalypse mixed with a sly sense of humor, David Boreanaz's titular vampire with a soul, literally everything about Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) -- and sent them north to Los Angeles, where the team set up shop at Angel Investigations. The series was darker, more "adult," and took on a noir style, and with the exception of the show's lackluster fourth season, which we've all agreed to never talk about, Angel rarely missed a beat during its tenure. The addition of Spike (James Marsters) during the show's fifth and final season also made sure the series went out on a high note. Did we mention it also had one of the best series finales of all time? OF. ALL. TIME.
The best spin-offs continue stories from their sources, and about halfway through each season of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, all the interesting stories get eliminated for causing too much drama. Bachelor in Paradise provides those pot-stirrers with another chance to continue what they were put on Earth for: to give us stupid sexy antics for our pleasure while they cluelessly scramble for fleeting fame, fish for Instagram sponsorships and, occasionally, follow delusions of real romance forged by reality television. God bless you, Bachelor in Paradise, for making sure these goofs aren't forgotten before we've seen their
On Soap, a parody of soap opera melodrama, Robert Guillaume starred as Benson DuBois, the wise-cracking butler of the dysfunctional Tate family. Once the character landed the lead in his own spin-off, he worked his way up from the head of household affairs for the widowed Governor Gatling (James Noble) to eventually take on the role of lieutenant governor himself. It was an impressive story about one man's climbing of the ladder, but the role of Benson also cemented Guillaume as a national treasure that we probably never really deserved. The show, which unfortunately ended on a cliffhanger in which Benson ran against Gatling for governor, ran for seven seasons.
Developing a spin-off of the Emmy-winning drama Breaking Bad could have been interpreted as the show's writers simply refusing to accept that the thrilling ride was over (who would honestly blame them?), but although Better Call Saul exists within the Breaking Bad universe -- the first season is set six years before Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) cancer diagnosis and chronicles Jimmy McGill's (Bob Odenkirk) transformation into the sleazy Saul Goodman -- it has a distinct flavor all its own. Part legal drama and part crime drama, it sometimes feels like two shows in one, but everything somehow always comes together. And although we don't know how much longer the show will go on, the heartbreaking tragedy of Slippin' Jimmy has already cemented the show's place in TV history as one of the best spin-offs we've ever seen.
Before he was hosting The Late Show on CBS, Stephen Colbert was absolutely killing it as the host of Comedy Central's half-hour series The Colbert Report on which he was fully committed to portraying a poorly informed fictional right-wing political pundit also known as Stephen Colbert. The satirical series was effectively paired with its parent series, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and brilliantly offered hilarious jokes alongside razor-sharp political commentary. In today's fraught political climate there might not be a show we miss more than The Colbert Report.
The character of Daria Morgendorffer originally appeared as a recurring character on the Mike Judge-created animated comedy Beavis & Butt-Head before being spun-off into her own series. An apathetic and cynical but intelligent teenager who'd probably hate to find her series on a list like this one, Daria was a one-of-a-kind character who probably spoke more to teens than any of the actual live-action teens being portrayed on TV at the time (or since). The witty animated series, which also featured Daria's parents, her artistic best friend Jane, and her shallow and narcissistic sister Quinn, excelled at social satire in a way that very few shows have been able to achieve in the years since Daria went off the air, and although there's talk of a new series being developed at MTV, we'd probably rather just watch the original, now streaming on Hulu.
Degrassi: The Next Generation might not technically be a spin-off -- Degrassi is a full-on franchise at this point -- but that won't stop us from praising the series that first introduced the world to Drake (then known as Wheelchair Jimmy), made young women swoon over Craig Manning (Jake Epstein) and his songs, or taught them all the important things they needed to know about growing up. As the epitome of young adult programming, Degrassi can live on forever in any form and probably never run out of relevant topics to address, but there's something truly special about The Next Generation iteration that makes it one of the most memorable spin-offs of all time. How else can you explain why everyone lost their shit over Drake's massive Degrassi reunion recently?
You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have The Facts of Life, a highly successful spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes. The series followed Charlotte Rae's Mrs. Garrett, the Drummonds' housekeeper, as she left and became the wise housemother to a number of impressionable young girls living in a dormitory at an all-girls boarding school. As the series evolved it would focus closely on four young women -- Blair (Lisa Whelchel), Tootie (Kim Fields), Natalie (Mindy Cohn) and Jo (Nancy McKean) -- as they grew up and learned, well, the facts of life. And yes, the series was also one of George Clooney's first acting credits (he played a handyman in 17 episodes), but it was really all about those young girls growing up to become young women that made it one of the best spin-offs of all time.
A spin-off of Cheers, the incredibly witty sitcom Frasier saw Kelsey Grammer's self-important psychiatrist Frasier Crane move from Boston back to his hometown of Seattle, where he worked as the host of a radio call-in show and reconnected with his blue-collar father Martin (John Mahoney), a retired police detective, and brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce), a fellow psychiatrist who shared Frasier's intellect and fancy tastes. The brothers often butted heads with their father, who didn't share their interests, but over time the trio were able to build warm, lasting relationships, despite being fairly broken individuals. Running for 11 years, Frasier is one of the most commercially successful spin-offs of all time, taking home 37 Primetime Emmys during its run, a record that stood until 2016, when it was broken by Game of Thrones.
Nothing about The Good Fight's continued success is surprising. The series, which recently wrapped up an excellent second season, was spun-off from The Good Wife, which was one of the final broadcast shows that could actually compete with streaming and pay cable shows during the Golden Age of TV. It should go without saying that The Good Fight's entire cast, led by a damn good Christine Baranski, is doing topnotch work, but the series is also one of the few that leaned into the Trump Era, and managed to do it well. However, that probably shouldn't be surprising either, because The Good Wife was similarly able to do ripped-from-the-headlines stories well, and there's nothing bigger in the headlines these days than Donald Trump.
A spin-off of Maude, itself a spin-off of All in the Family, Good Times holds a special place in the hearts of many for depicting a black family scratching and surviving in a Chicago housing project -- and making a depressing situation the basis for a heart-warming comedy with empowering intentions. Beloved as it is, it wasn't without criticism then and now: JJ Evans, the lovable doofus/gifted painter played by Jimmie Walker was derided by some as a cartoonish trivialization of black life, even if hardworking father James Evans (John Amos), dutiful but strong wife Florida (Esther Role) and their other children, precocious Michael (Ralph Carter) and bouncy Thelma (Bern Nadette Stanis) rounded out the principal cast. Though full of off-camera drama -- Amos got fired for challenging Norman Lear's depiction of black people and Role left the show in Season 5 for the same reasons too -- Good Times remains not just a TV show but an essential brick in the foundation of black culture, from the Ernie Barnes painting in the opening credits to Florida's distraught cry of "Damn, damn! damn!" after James died, brilliantly sampled by Outkast.
The second spin-off of All in the Family (the first was Maude), The Jeffersons followed George (Sherman Hemsley) and Louise (Isabel Sanford) Jefferson, an African-American couple who were originally the neighbors of the working class Bunkers but who moved to Manhattan following the success of George's dry cleaning business. Like many of Norman Lear's sitcoms, the show tackled a number of hot topics, including racism, but it wasn't tied to the notion it had to feature social commentary on timely matters every week. And it clearly worked in its favor, because The Jeffersons became one of the most successful sitcoms of all-time, running for 11 seasons until it was abruptly canceled without a true series finale.
Happy Days birthed a number of unforgettable spin-offs (see also: Mork & Mindy) but Laverne & Shirley, about two roommates and best friends who work as bottle cappers at a brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, stands out from the rest. There was obviously a lot to love about the show -- impeccable physical comedy, a memorable theme song, Laverne's (Penny Marshall) impressive devotion to monogrammed clothing, and hilarious next door neighbors Lenny and Squiggy all helped propel the comedy to eight seasons -- but the friendship between the titular characters continues to be one of our favorite things about it. After all, it wasn't until very recently that female friendships like the one between Laverne DeFozio and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) were given their due on TV.
Originally titled Sex Crimes, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit wasn't initially supposed to even be a part of the Law & Order franchise, but creator Dick Wolf pushed for it to be a spin-off, and we'll be forever in his debt because we can't imagine SVU without the classic chung-chung's and Captain Cragen (Dann Florek). Anchored by Mariska Hargitay as the greatest detective of our generation, Olivia Benson, SVU developed a strong enough ensemble that it was able to not only survive the departure of Benson's original partner, Det. Elliot Stabler (Christohper Meloni), but actually deliver some of its best seasons during a period when everyone expected it to fail. Now tied with Gunsmoke as the longest-running scripted drama in American history, SVU has consistently beat the odds over the years, giving us two decades of great drama -- and some excellent comedy too!
Running for six seasons, the Norman Lear-created Maude was the first spin-off of the iconic American sitcom All in the Family. Bea Arthur played Maude, the cousin of Edith Bunker and an outspoken, liberal feminist living in suburban New York. She was the complete opposite of the sexist Archie Bunker, and after appearing in two episodes, she was spun-off into what would become the first overtly feminist series in TV history. It was just one of the ways the show paved the way for the future of TV. Like many Lear productions, Maude was well known for telling topical stories and tackling controversial topics, such as alcoholism and abortion. Maude, which also featured Rue McClanahan, Arthur's future co-star on The Golden Girls, was so successful it even had its own spin-off, Good Times.
Spun-off from the high school-set Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place gave us Kimberly's Infamous Wig Reveal, which is an iconic moment in popular culture and reason enough to put it on a list of the best spin-offs of all time. But Kimberly's shocking scar was honestly just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the show originally about a group of friends who all lived in the same West Hollywood apartment complex. You see, after getting off to a rather boring start, the series really ramped up the soapy melodrama following the arrival of Heather Locklear's Amanda Woodward, and it never looked back. Running 226 episodes, Melrose Place is easily one of the craziest but also most successful spin-offs of all time.
It's hard to believe the 1970s-set comedy Mork & Mindy, starring Robin Williams as the titular alien Mork, was actually another spin-off of Happy Days, but it's true. Mork appeared in one episode of the 1950s-set series as an alien who wanted to take Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard) back to his home planet of Ork, and while it was originally supposed to just be a dream, people really took to Williams and his engaging, rapid fire-style humor, and Mork was spun-off into his own show. Set in Colorado, the show revolved around Mork's friendship with Mindy (Pam Dawber), who eventually became his wife and the mother of his child. The concept of the series allowed the show to comment on social norms and human nature that Mork found funny and interesting, and the show was so successful it ran for four seasons and launched Williams' career.
Sometimes it's easy to forget the long-running military-themed drama NCIS, which will debut its 16th season this fall, is actually a spin-off of the not-as-long-running military-themed drama JAG, but it's true! Starring Mark Harmon and following a simple crime-of-the-week format, the CBS drama has tapped into a winning formula that's made it one of the most-watched shows in the world. It's so successful it's produced two spin-offs of its own -- NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans -- which is how you really know you've made it as a spin-off.
No one would blame you if you'd completely forgotten The Simpsons was a spin-off of The Tracey Ullman Show, because with 29 seasons under its belt (as of July 2019), it's outlasted pretty much every TV show ever created. The Simpsons is now the longest-running American sitcom, the longest-running American independent animated program, and the longest-running American scripted prime-time TV series, both in terms of seasons and episodes. After nearly 30 years on air and a number of memorable crossovers, its influence on television -- and popular culture in general -- cannot be understated.
Star Trek: The Next Generation boldly went where the original series Star Trek had gone before, but it did so with a new starship Enterprise, a new captain in Patrick Stewart's Jean-Luc Picard, and a new lease on life. Airing from 1987 to 1994, TNG was incredibly successful, taking home numerous awards over the course of its run, including an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series, in 1994. It was followed by several more Star Trek spin-offs -- first Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and later Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, and most recently, Star Trek: Discovery. Live long and prosper, indeed.
Doctor Who has had a number of spin-offs over the years -- it's not that surprising when you consider the long-running British sci-fi series is more than 50 years old -- but Torchwood (an anagram of Doctor Who) is definitely its best. Another example of a spin-off taking on a more adult tone -- Doctor Who is still very much aimed at children, believe it or not -- Torchwood followed John Barrowman's fan favorite character Captain Jack Harkness, a bisexual, time-traveling con artist, as he and his small Cardiff-based team took on threats from aliens and saved the world on multiple occasions. The show's third season, subtitled Children of Earth, was considerably darker than previous installments, and proved that Torchwood wasn't just reliable fun, it could also be great television.