11 Obscure Television Spin-Offs
The off-shoots that time forgot.
Pardon The Expression (1965-66)
A rare example of a sitcom spin-off of a non-sitcom parent, Pardon The Expression, was a vehicle for Arthur Lowe's Coronation Street character, pompous fussbot Leonard Swindley. Lowe had left the Street in 1965 and was swiftly transported over to this show, where Swindley became the deputy manager of a department store. The last episode had Swindley and his boss Wally Hunt (Robert Dorning) sacked from the store, which in turn created another spin-off, Turn Out The Lights, which reinvented Swindley as an unlikely ghost hunter.
Civvy Street (1988)
EastEnders has had its share of one-shot spin-offs, but this remains the most unique. Aired on 22 December 1988, it was set between the years 1939 and 1945 and featured teenage and twentysomething versions of then regular characters, Lou Beale and Ethel Skinner as well as Albert Beale, the father of Pauline and Pete. Interesting as it was to see those familiar sets like the Beale household and the Queen Vic redressed, some dodgy casting choices (Grange Hill's Alison Bettles as Ethel?) meant this missed more than it hit.
The Tortellis (1987)
Before Frasier, there was The Tortellis. In 1987, with Cheers a ratings juggernaut for NBC, the network decided to spin-off Carla's neanderthal ex husband, Nick (Dan Hedaya), and his vacuum-headed wife, Loretta (Jean Kasem), and their delinquent kids. The Tortelli clan usually popped in for an episode per series of Cheers, but moving them to Las Vegas for their show wasn't the commercial hit NBC were hoping for. Despite the occasional Cheers link-up (Norm and Cliff guest in one), the series was canned after 13 episodes.
Mrs Columbo (1979)
A spin-off in name only, Peter Falk and the Columbo writers disowned this NBC-fathered detective series. Mrs Columbo debuted in 1979, after Falk had decided to call time on the original Columbo run. The only connection to Columbo beyond the title seemed to be the presence of the Lieutenant's beat-up old car in the title sequence. Kate Mulgrew, then a peachy-faced 24 years of age, was Kate Columbo, solving crime in her role as a newspaper reporter. As well as Mulgrew not resembling in any way the Mrs Columbo talked about in the other series, there were so many other continuity inconsistencies that NBC eventually changed the series' name to Kate Columbo, then Kate The Detective and finally Kate Loves A Mystery and after a few episodes the character's name was quietly changed to Kate Callaghan and Peter Falk breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Don't Drink The Water (1974-75)
When On The Buses ran out of petrol on ITV in 1973, its writers Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe retired its most popular character, Blakey (Stephen Lewis, still only 38 at the time) and emigrated him to Spain to live with his sister (Pat Coombs). A paltry budget meant Spain was only represented in grainy stock footage, with the rest being recorded, unconvincingly, in an ITV studio. Despite its wretchedness, it limped on to a second series before cancellation and obscurity.
The final M*A*S*H nabbed one of the biggest ratings triumphs in American television history (125 million viewers!) but its follow-on/spin-off AfterMASH (no asterix's here) struggled to find an audience, and was canned nine episodes into its second season. The series followed M*A*S*H faves Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan), Klinger (Jamie Farr) and Father Mulcahy (William Christopher) now working at a veteran's hospital. But as its makers soon realised, taking the drama away from the first-hand horror of war made for less arresting stories. The second series ratings were so bad, the last episode remains untransmitted.
Even though it was axed mid-way through its second series, even AfterMASH doesn't have quite the aura of failure that W*A*L*T*E*R has. Undeterred by the lack of audience love for AfterMASH, CBS okayed another M*A*S*H off-shoot, this time starring one of the more cherished characters, the simple-headed Radar (Gary Burghoff), and having him move to Missouri to become a police officer. Only a pilot was made, CBS passing on the series, and since its broadcast in 1984, it's never been repeated or released on video or DVD.
First Of The Summer Wine (1988-89)
Back in the late 1980s, Last Of The Summer Wine was a proud jewel in BBC One's Sunday crown, so it was a no-brainer when writer Roy Clarke proposed a prequel series. Less broad and cartoonish than Last..., it was made entirely on film and featured mostly unknown actors as the teenage versions of Clegg, Compo and co. Peter Sallis was a regular as his own character's father.
Swiss Toni grabbed the most headlines when it was spun-off from The Fast Show in 2003, but buried deep in the BBC Three schedules was this superior off-shoot, featuring Simon Day's Billy Bleach character. The series had the curly-topped pub bore relocating to rural England under a witness protection program after he sees a gangland killing. Sharing a set-up with the similarly spun-off The Green Green Grass, this laugh-track free series was a dark-edged slow-burner and lasted only eight episodes before ascending to sitcom heaven.
The Girl From UNCLE (1966-67)
Unlike the series it was spun off from,The Girl From UNCLE lasted only one season on NBC. Starring Stephanie Powers as agent April Dancer and Noel (son of Rex) Harrison as her English partner, Mark Slate and Man From UNCLE regular Leo G. Carroll carrying on his role as agency bigwig Alexander Waverly. Despite various crossover episodes with The Man From UNCLE, this spin-off seemed more influenced by ABC's camptastic Batman show than the telly budget Bondisms of its brother show and it died, unloved, after 29 episodes.
Going Straight (1978)
A year after Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais called time on Porridge, they revived Norman Stanley Fletcher for this misconceived sequel series, following Fletch's life after Slade Prison. Richard Beckinsale returned, now living in sin with Fletcher's daughter Ingrid, but the series lost much of that salty Porridge goodness. Inside HM Slade, Fletch was the lad who survived on his wits and his prison savvy. In the outside world, he was a disappointingly at-sea figure, struggling to survive in a world he didn't know his way around. "At least while I was doing porridge I had a goal, It was called 'getting out,' " Fletcher says in one episode. "But now I am out, well, it's a bit of a let down." Too true, Fletch.
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