Day 412: Spun-Off & Spun-Out (Part 2)

originally published February 15, 2013

Some topics are simply too large to be contained within a single article. A month ago I marveled at some of television’s more obscure spin-offs, but I only scratched the surface. Television networks have a habit of trying to stretch their audience’s limit of how much of a good thing is good enough.

We should be relieved The Sopranos didn’t drop a three-camera sitcom called It’s Janice! after it cut to black. Or that Lost wasn’t rebooted in more mystery-heaping confusion with After-Lost. And thankfully Seinfeld did not beget The Babu & Puddy Variety Hour. Actually, I might have watched that one.

Anyway, here are a few more from the pile:

Sure, maybe you have seen all 110 episodes of Charlie’s Angels. But did you ever see Toni’s Boys? Actually, yes. If you devoted 110 hours of your life to Charlie and his girls, then you saw the episode in which a lady named Toni employed a stable of strapping young hunks for essentially the same purpose as Charlie kept his Angels. This was a ‘backdoor pilot’, meaning it aired as an episode of its parent series, in hopes there would be enough interest for the network to order a few episodes.

It didn’t happen. They tried though, recruiting a seemingly unbeatable team: Bob, the former Olympian (Bob Seagren, who played Billy Crystal’s lover on Soap), Matt, the disguise master (Bruce Bauer, whom you won’t know from anything), and Cotton, the champion rodeo rider (Stephen Shortridge, who played Beau on Welcome Back Kotter). They did manage to recruit the luscious Barbara Stanwyck to play Toni, the she-Charlie of the show. It never got picked up though – an eye-candy formula doesn’t always adopt well to the other gender.

What can be said about M*A*S*H, one of the most successful and interesting shows to ever flicker into our culture’s collective cornea? The series lasted more than three times as long as the war in which it took place, it found comedy amid the most gruesome and unlikely premise, and it was the first time I’d ever heard “son-of-a-bitch” on TV. And it even managed to extend its cannon into other shows.

Trapper John M.D. ran for seven successful seasons as a medical drama featuring the modern-day grown-up version of Wayne Rogers’ character, who had left the 4077 after M*A*S*H’s third season. Legally, this show is a spin-off from the 1970 Robert Altman M*A*S*H movie though; that way the TV show people didn’t get any money out of it.

 AfterMASH, which took place at a state-side hospital right after the series wrapped and featured the three cast members who hadn’t wanted to call it quits after eleven years, is notoriously considered one of the worst TV series ever. Still, it lasted one and a half seasons, so that’s something.

Then you have W*A*L*T*E*R.  Aired only once, and pre-empted on the west coast by the 1984 Democratic National Convention, this pilot caught up with Walter ‘Radar’ O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) after the war. We learn his wife had left him, he’d sold the farm, and decided to kill himself.

No, I’m not making this up. Lovable Radar, whose teddy bear was committed to eternity in the time capsule in M*A*S*H’s penultimate episode, wanted to take his life. Then he met Victoria, the drug-store clerk from whom he was about to purchase his lethal dose of sleeping pills. They became friends and he was saved. Radar became a cop, and in the pilot he settled an argument between two strippers. Somehow this wasn’t a series.

As an aside, the drug-store clerk was played by a young, pre-right-wing-nutjob Victoria Jackson. Had Radar met present-day Victoria Jackson, he might have followed through with the suicide.

Mr. Rogers has a spin-off? Wow.

My kids are too old for this, so I completely missed it. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is a cartoon series set in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, complete with the same cast of puppets from Fred Rogers’ series. But in cartoon form, because puppets are so last-century. I won’t cast judgment on the show, but I think they could just keep showing Mr. Rogers reruns and the kids would be just as well-rounded. Plus, puppets!

Before there was such a thing as Mr. T., there was Mr. T. And Tina, a spin-off of Welcome Back Kotter. Pat Morita stars as Taro Takahashi, who appeared in one episode of Kotter. He moves to Chicago (he’s an inventor!) and lives with a wacky free-spirit named Tina. It’s like Dharma And Greg except I don’t think they’re married, and Mr. T. is Japanese. Also, no hippie parents. Actually, I don’t think this show was anything like Dharma And Greg.

Mr. T. And Tina achieved two things: first, it yanked Morita away from his secure gig on Happy Days and left him unemployed after only five episodes of this thing aired. Second, its quick cancellation freed up Ted Lange to go play Isaac the bartender on The Love Boat.

The show might have been more successful a few years later had they cast the actual Mr. T. and Tina Turner. Just a thought.

Sanford And Son did its best to prolong its presence on TV. First, Fred Sanford’s buddy Grady moved to Westwood for Grady, his own sitcom. Ten episodes – no one cared. Then things got weird.

Redd Foxx left the show in 1977 to star in his own variety series on another network. NBC wanted to keep Lamont (the eponymous Son), but actor Desmond Wilson wasn’t happy with the money being offered to anchor the series. He was gone. Rather than simply call it a good six years and end the series, they instead cast the guy who played Sweet Daddy Williams on Good Times to play Phil, who takes over Fred’s hotel. The show was called Sanford Arms, and it only aired four episodes. Seriously, Sanford And Son did not end with the departure of Sanford, nor Son.

The good news for NBC was that Redd Foxx’s variety show had tanked, and in 1980 he was ready to reprise his role and bring the sitcom back to life. Desmond Wilson, however, was not. I guess he was holding out for a role in that black re-boot of The Odd Couple, which totally happened two years later. Wilson played the part of Felix.

In March of 1980, Sanford debuted, with his son’s role filled by a portly white southerner who moved into Lamont’s old room. Sound like a bad idea? Maybe, but it survived for 26 episodes over two seasons, so someone was watching.

Now will someone please write a pilot for a spin-off of Community starring the departing Chevy Chase?

(OldWhiteGuySays… the show!)

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