Endeavour (and the 10 best TV spin-offs)
Based on the novels by Colin Dexter, ITV’s Inspector Morse starring the late John Thaw was one of the most popular shows in the channel’s history, running for thirteen years and reportedly being watched by over 1bn people worldwide since its first episode aired in 1987. The show’s popularity has already spawned one spin-off, Lewis, focusing on the exploits of Morse’s faithful sidekick and picking up pretty much where Inspector Morse left off.
Next week the sophomore series of the second spin-off, Endeavour, arrives on DVD in the UK. For newcomers to the series, Endeavour is essentially a prequel to the original Inspector Morse series, starring Shaun Evans as the young Oxford-based Detective Constable (this was before he became ‘Inspector’, obviously) and charting his early career with CID. Set in the mid-1960s, Season 2 sees the young Morse investigating a series of murders which his superiors don’t believed to be linked, but Morse suspects a Masonic connection. And yes, he’s still driving the Jag…
Unlike many spin-offs, Endeavour has earned itself much critical praise and become a great show in its own right and the viewing figures endorse this. That’s not an easy thing to do; consider the fate of some of the other spin-offs to emerge in recent years (Joey, anyone?) and you soon realise that, in the majority of cases, you can’t reheat a soufflé.
There are, however, some notable exceptions. Here’s our Top 10 TV spin-offs that have gone on to be just as successful as their parent series, or even more so...
10. A Different World
(spin-off from The Cosby Show)
Ask anybody what they remember about this show and they’re almost certainly going to say ‘the kid with the flip-up shades’, but what they may not know is that A Different World was a Cosby Show spin-off that starred Lisa Bonet reprising her role as Lisa Huxtable. That might be because she only appeared in the first season, or it might just be that the kid with the flip-up shades was the most memorable thing about it. Like a Cosby Show for younger audiences, it ran for six seasons from 1987 until 1993, when wraparounds came into fashion…
9. Count Duckula
(spin-off from Danger Mouse)
Originally appearing as one of the recurring villains in Cosgrove Hall’s much-loved animated series Danger Mouse, Count Duckula is exactly what he sounds like: a vampire duck. Such was the popularity of Danger Mouse and its characters they gave the Count his own show, which, like its parent series, featured the voice of David Jason. Billed as a ‘comedy-drama horror’, this Dracula parody ran for four seasons until the studio called it a day in 1993 after a run of 65 episodes.
(spin-off from Doctor Who)
This well-received spin-off from one of the BBC’s flagship shows takes its name from the fictional organisation known as the Torchwood Institute, tasked with handling all matters extraterrestrial. Starring John Barrowman in a reprisal of his role as captain Jack Hartness, the show’s central character, it ran for four series until producer Russell T. Davies put the show on indefinite hiatus. We may not have seen the last of this one yet…
7.The Colbert Report
(spin-off from The Daily Show)
Now one of America’s most popular shows in its own right, Stephen Colbert had already written for and performed in shows like Exit 57 and The Dana Carvey Show before appearing as a faux reporter on Jon Stewart’s comedic political bulletin The Daily Show, but by 2005 Colbert’s role in the show had spawned its own series, a satire on shows like Fox News’ The O’Reily Factor, The Colbert Report has become one of America’s most vital shows to offer an alternative view on current affairs.
(spin-off from Cheers)
Frasier has been such a long-running success story that many people forget Kelsey Grammar’s radio psychologist began life as one of the barflies in the equally long-running and successful Cheers. Frasier took the character out of the bar and into work, added a family that includes the pompous and neurotic brother Niles and created a show that ran for more than 260 episodes over 10 years. Not bad for a daytime drunk…
5. Phoenix Nights
(spin-off from That Peter Kay Thing)
Phoenix Nights is one of a few spin-off examples that has become better known in itself than the show which originally spawned its main character. Peter Kay’s first show for the BBC, That Peter Kay Thing, was a series with 6 half-hour episodes, each being a spoof documentary featuring a different character from a list that included the grumpy ice-cream vendor Mr. Softy Top and Leonard, the world’s oldest paperboy. By far the most popular of these was the wheelchair-bound Brian Potter, whose antics as the owner and proprietor of a Bolton working men’s club struck a chord with many. The show ran for two seasons before Peter Kay called it a day to focus on new projects and his stand-up career, but not before he’d introduced a nation to garlic bread. It’s the future, he’s tasted it…
4. Ashes to Ashes
(spin-off from Life on Mars)
Life on Mars was something of a surprise hit for the BBC and while John Sim was top of the bill for this show, starring as the modern-day copper transported back in time to an ITV4 world of sheepskin coats and moustaches, the unexpected star of the show was Philip Glenister in the role of the irrepressible DCI Gene Hunt. This presented a dilemma for the Beeb; without wanting to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t seen the show, its ending necessitated the departure of its central character, Sam. However, with a public hungry for more Gene, a second series was commissioned, this time set in the 1980s and starring Keeley Hawes. Will Gene have evolved into the modern, cosmopolitan man to match his surroundings? Well, no.
3. Absolutely Fabulous
(spin-off from French & Saunders)
What began as a sketch on the hugely popular French & Saunders show took on a life of its own when Jennifer Saunders decided there was a lot more mileage in the characters of Eddie and Patsy. Throw in June Whitfield’s ditzy grandmother, Julia Sawahlia’s bookish daughter and Jane Horrocks as the downright air-headed personal assistant, Bubbles, and you’ve got another runaway hit on your hands. The real star of the show is Joanna Lumley as the awful but awfully funny Patsy, the snarling and perpetually inebriated fashion editor with the immovable bouffant.
2. Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge
(spin-off from The Day Today)
Surely one of the most successful spin-offs ever, having spawned no fewer than three different series and even a feature film, Norfolk DJ Alan Partidge began life as the inept sports reporter on Chris Morris’ satirical take on shows like Newsnight, The Day Today. From his weekly bulletins featuring his clueless sports commentary (“that goalie has got football pie all over his shirt”), his unique ‘talent’ soon saw him appearing in his own series as host of the world’s most awkward chat show.
1. The Simpsons
(spin-off from The Tracey Ullman Show)
Yep. Such is the enormous success of Matt Groening’s animated creation that many people forget The Simpsons actually started life as a rather poorly drawn sketch on The Tracey Ullman Show. The show has since become one of the most watched shows in television history and is credited as being the catalyst for a host of animated shows aimed at adult audiences that includes family Guy, South Park, King of the Hill and countless others, running for an incredible 26 years and still going. More than that though, this is the show that produced a national American icon in Homer Simpson, whose antics have been making us laugh for over two decades and have provided inspiration for lazy, feckless men everywhere. Homer, we salute you…