Question: Checking out TV Guide's prime-time listings from the past, I came up with The Gene Autry Show in 1954 and then The Adventures Of Champion in 1955. I mentioned to my wife that it might be the first spinoff and she insists that the first was The Andy Griffith Show. Who's right? I'd sure like to show her up for a change. She thinks she's never wrong. — James P., Las Vegas, Nev.
Televisionary: Why, doesn't she know about the uncanny phenomenon of the person who bothers to write me always being correct? Survey says... she does not. This oughtta put her firmly in her place, then, James, because you're right by the margin of a few shows.
Going by the standard that prompted so many readers of my Jan. 28 column to write in and argue (and I'm sticking with it since, again, it's my column), we'll define a pure spinoff as one featuring a regular character from a previous show. Even if you don't agree with that standard, Champion was first either way, spinning off from Gene Autry in, as you pointed out, 1955. (And yes, folks, the first regular character to earn his own show was a horse.)
Now, if she wants to be a little more forgiving with the definition, the next two I'll mention starred occasional characters from older series. Wanted: Dead or Alive, which debuted in 1958, featured two bounty hunters (Steve McQueen, Wright King) who first appeared in an episode of Trackdown. And the pilot for Law of the Plainsman (the little lady really should've boned up on her Westerns before taking you on, eh?), which related the adventures of characters (Michael Ansara, Dayton Lummis) aired as as an episode of The Rifleman before becoming its own series in 1959.
Why should she be more forgiving? Because she'll have to be if she wants to count Andy Griffith as a spinoff (though to be fair, I did when I wrote about it last February). Sheriff Andy appeared in only one episode of The Danny Thomas Show before getting his own comedy in October 1960. (And if you'd like additional padding, Harry Morgan and Cara Williams's Pete and Gladys Porter were regular neighbors on December Bride before jumping into their own show, Pete and Gladys, in September 1960, a month before Andy did it.)