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Like this show? Then Spin It, Yeah! (Sorry Pixies, That One Was Too Easy!) May 11, 2007

Posted by doctorolove in Pop Culture Rants, TV.
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The spin-off. It’s the child born of gluttony. We gobble a show so much that its’ creators say, “Hey, they love our recipe…let’s see what happens when we put pork in it…” but the pork is usually Tim Daly or John Laroquette. There have, like with any pop culture phenomenon, been hits and misses with the spin-off. For every Jeffersons that moves on up, there’s a Fanellis that sinks faster than the fad of wearing your sunglasses at night. SO they can, so they can keep putting them out, however. Why? Because we are a gluttonous culture. We want more of the things that make us feel good. Heck, companies even use our gluttonous nature as ad slogans. You think “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One?” would fly in any other country but our own? Heck, in other countries, Lays’ slogan is “Betcha can eat one..if you can afford it after making shoes all day for 12 cents an hour which coincidentally is the price of one, so, um, here’s your chip…Yay, Lays.”

Now the spin-off has its’ different genres. There’s the ‘easy’ one where you take a character that America just can’t enough of and give him his or her own stage to shine. Maybe it’s the ensemble character who didn’t quite make the transition to movie stardom (Cough, Ed, Lost in Space, cough.)but America still wants to know, Hey, How’s he doin? It could even be the second banana who lit up every scene they were in and took Emmy’s home by the Hummer load. Now however, the spotlights on them and the second banana for them is even wackier than they were (and usually played by Andy Dick.)

There’s the ‘bit of a stretch’ spin-off. Let’s say you have a great idea for a show but think that on its own, it may not survive. It may get lost among all the other television ideas that resemble almost completely. How do you get it noticed without a meager budget, lesbian love scene or loathing by the spiritual leader/moral politician of recent note? You take an episode of a well-established show and introduce the characters on a very special episode. Maybe the popular sitcom family winds up in a backwoods town and we meet the loving, cantankerous family who runs the local garage. Maybe the two young professionals meet a man in a bar who lives with his psychiatrist mother, war veteran grandfather and a cute, pituitary gland inhibited black child. Not only do you hit the ground running, there’s always the chance of that sweeps week crossover guest star appearance. (This genre is called, in certain circles, the Ridgely/Oates spin-off, though only by bitter Britpop fans and men with cheesy porn moustaches)

The rarest type of spin-off is the ‘Survivor Spin-off’ It’s not about being voted off the island; its’ about those unlucky enough to get off. When a sitcom’s major star decides that the 28-inch box can no longer contain them, they leave. They leave writers with families, actors with drug habits and a key grip that just dreams of someday being a dancer, but his student loans are coming in and this is the ONLY JOB HE CAN GET, MOM! (Sorry, vicariously wrote that for a friend.) So what do you do? You package the show, shake it like a bunch of Yahtzee dice and toss whatever you have left and hope you don’t get garbage. You usually do though. Major bankable stars are like the free space.always there to save you if your concepts try too hard to be five sixes.

The question is this however. What makes some spin-offs into monster hits and others whimper out like a cuckolded husband? Why is Maude everywhere and Joey currently detailing cars at the Pic and Pay on Crenshaw? (Well to Maude’s defense, she was calculating, innovating, exasperating, whole lot of other gerunds…right on Maude!) How can Frasier go on for eight years winning Emmy’s simply by showing up to the ceremony? Is it the writing? Is it the characters? Maybe spin-offs need cute Jack Russell terriers? I don’t have the answers to that. If I did, my mantle would be filled with Emmys and not Precious Moments figurines arranged in suggestive positions. I do however now how to create a bomb. And Grey’s Anatomy recently ran the playbook step by step.

They tried to take one of their main characters and have her drive to another location, meet a whole new bunch of people and deal with their problems as well as her own. And it starred Tim Daly, Taye Diggs and Amy Brenneman, which is like getting every television actor who had one hit show amongst fifty thousand failures and put them all together. It was sort of like Live Aid without a neat little feel good tinge when you’re done watching it. It was as if they tried to cover all the spin-off success bases (The easy spin-off taking a liked character, making a bit of a stretch by having her sudden best friend that we’ve never heard of , and a reverse survivor.) And what’s worse they premiered right in the middle of a pulse pounding story line people actually cared about. What did America think? Probably, Wait, these are not my friends. I don’t care about their problems. Show me the Sex and The City meets ER philandering I love so well. Give me my doctors that all have McMonikers. And please, send Taye Diggs back to Broadway. They can light your candle.

The show will probably make loads of money and give Tim Daly one more chance to be as big as his sister (Fame wise, I mean…unless he eats a house and a small goat, he’ll never catch up). But it will not succeed. Simplicity wins the spin-off race, I believe. But as we continue on, we are all gluttons. We want more, bigger, better. More washed up stars, more plotlines, more tertiary characters. And though it pains me to say it, more Andy. Because as much as we stuff ourselves, when it comes down to it, we all still just love some Dick.

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