Appearing on Fridays, This Was Television Asked & Answered is a chance for the writers of TWTV to answer questions about TV history. Questions can range from the personal to the critical about historical television. Asked & Answered has been on hiatus for a while, but we thought we’d bring it back for the warm summer Fridays.
While we came up the question for this installment, we’d love for you, our readers, to submit questions for us to answer in the future. Feel free to leave them in the comments, tweet them to us, ask on Facebook, or email them to us.
The question this week is: Inspired by this month’s Hall of Fame race, what past television character do you think could have sustained his/her own spinoff?
Myc: I’ll have to go with the obvious here: George Costanza. Maybe George only worked in the context of the other characters on Seinfeld, maybe not—but I really feel like there was enough to that character for Jason Alexander to be able to make a strong spinoff. If Larry David would have been involved, and if they would’ve brought in George’s parents as supporting characters, that could have had potential. Jason Alexander has had a few shows of his own since Seinfeld went off the air, leading people have say he can’t sustain a show on his own, but in fairness he hasn’t really had anything great to work with. I really think that it has to be George.
Andrew: I am going to give a somewhat broad answer to this question. In my opinion, no show better displayed the inner workings of the White House as The West Wing, but many shows have done similar things. No show that I can recall, however, has shown what comes next after working at the White House, which is theoretically the pinnacle of a career in politics. We know that, as The West Wing ends, Josh, Sam, Donna, Annabeth, and Amy among others end up working in the Santos White House, while Will is elected to Congress and Charlie goes off to law school. So my spinoff would be taking one of the other characters—the most likely would be Allison Janney’s C.J. Cregg, but perhaps Kate Harper or even President Bartlet, and seeing what would become of someone who used to work in 1600 Penn, but must return to a more “normal” life.
Anthony: Les’s pick for this month’s Hall of Fame, The Jeffersons, made me think about the sad fate of the main couple’s son Lionel. As played by Mike Evans, he was one of the best things about the early seasons of All in the Family. He was introduced in the show’s pilot (before Weezie, and years before George) as Mike and Gloria’s playful, charming, wise-cracking best friend. He spent a lot of time messing with Archie’s head, playing up negative stereotypes just to amuse himself. He got a great showcase in one of the show’s best episodes, “Lionel Steps Out,” in which he dates Archie’s niece. Young, charismatic, handsome, hilarious—Lionel seems like a natural to star in his own spinoff. It’s easy to imagine a show where Lionel moves to a new city and gets a job working for some pompous middle-aged man whom he can regularly cut down to size. The rest of the show could expand the character by focusing on his personal life.
But his parents got a series instead. And while Lionel was a presence on the show, everything fun about him was stripped away, leaving a bland character who did little but shake his head at his father. Mike Evans, frustrated at the material, left after the first season and was replaced by an unmemorable dullard named Damon Evans (he eventually returned). I enjoy The Jeffersons a great deal, but I’ll always be bugged by its treatment of Lionel. He deserved so much better.
Julie: Emma and I have pseudo-written some pretty in depth fanfic TV spin-offs involving Rayanne and Sharon from My So-Called Life (They’re roommates and best friends. Get your heads out of the gutter); but that’s old news. This is really a tough question, because generally the spin-offs based on a big personalty, breakout character tend to really, really suck (witness Joey and The Tortellis). So you need a straight man with enough mystery behind him (or her) to sustain a whole new show (I’m thinking a Fraiser Crane type here, naturally). So, when you consider all of that, the obvious answer to this question is Kimmy Gibbler from Full House.
Sorry. I’ll be serious. As someone who makes it a point to watch any new show featuring a former cast member of The Wire, I’d love for some network (CBS, probably) to just cut out the middle man and base a procedural around one or more of the cops from that show. Maybe Bunk turns Michael straight and the two of them work together to fight crime down in Miami or something. I don’t care. Just put those people on my TV again.
Whitney: It took me a while to think of an answer for this one that would last for more than one season. My first inclination was to go with Liza Weil’s Paris from Gilmore Girls , but something tells me despite ASP putting the perfect words in her mouth and Weil regurgitating them beautifully there just wouldn’t be enough there for a successful spinoff. Although if Weil and Danny Strong wanted to come back and show what Paris and Doyle were up to these days I would not complain.
Instead, I’ll have to go with a pretty random one from a show that has been sort of forgotten; Darryl from Charmed. Throughout his seven seasons on the show, Darryl was always a mix of comic relief and a voice of reason. Tasked with being one of the few (if only?) mortals who knew the sister’s secret and abilities, “exasperated Darryl” was the show’s secret weapon whenever they needed to get the San Francisco PD involved. At the end of Season 7, budget cuts forced the show to have Darryl’s wife move them to the East Coast to start fresh and raise their family in peace. The procedural parts of Charmed were always better executed than they should have been and it would have been fun to see Darryl being an actual cop in Boston, Atlanta, or New York with his only connection to the sisters being passing references of that West Coast craziness.
Emma: As Julie has mentioned we have a long running desire to make a Rayanne and Sharon My So-Called Life spinoff (it also involves a castle). My actual answer is more recent and involves a show that I could barely stand by the time it signed off late last year and that is Gossip Girl. The one character who saved this last season is Georgina Sparks and I would gladly watch a show that had her scheming across the globe. Georgina is also a mother and a wife and as we have seen that her husband Phil is little more than a live in nanny; it’s a weird family set up and one that could be rather entertaining. This show would be ridiculous and over the top, but thanks to Georgina’s constant desire to mess with people it could have the feeling of a spy show but without the global peril. Georgina also likes to dress the part so from a costuming perspective it would be terrific. Plus there is plenty of flashback opportunity including Georgina’s brief Bible Camp phase. Prior to Michelle Trachtenberg’s appearance on Gossip Girl I had pretty negative Dawn related feelings towards her, but thanks to this diabolical character I’d like to see more of her.
Eric: I only just finished watching Veronica Mars (I know), but my biggest “what-if” isn’t from a hypothetical fourth season. Instead, I really wish that Keith hadn’t fired Weevil from Mars Investigations at the end of the third season’s “Wichita Linebacker.” Even if Veronica Mars had been canceled, I would have watched the hell out of a spin-off focused on Weevil trying to stay on the straight and narrow after his gang days while learning the PI business with Keith. Francis Capra and Enrico Colantoni’s chemistry in “Wichita Linebacker” is surprisingly good, considering they two hadn’t spent much time together during the rest of the show. It’s so easy to imagine that show (Mars & Navarro?) it almost hurts: Weevil would use his criminal skill set as a natural PI (one of the great jokes of Veronica Mars is that at a certain point the two professions are indistinguishable), Keith would get to be disapproving but slightly more aggressive and distrusting than he is with Veronica, and there’d be ample opportunity to introduce or ignore past Veronica Mars characters by expanding more to the seedier side of Neptune, which got the short end of the stick in the main run of the show. Everyone’s a winner (except Veronica Mars).
Sabienna: This is kind of a cop out considering how long Joss Whedon toyed with the idea, but I always thought the long rumored Giles spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer would have been amazing. There was enough mystery in Giles’ past to sustain a series for several seasons, but a prequel exploring his Ripper days wasn’t the only option. I would have been just as happy with a series set post-BTVS, perhaps with Giles rebuilding the council.
Anthony Stewart Head has a terrific, quiet energy as an actor that lends itself well to a leading man role and since we’ve seen Whedon’s take on high school and growing up, it would be interesting to see what he would do with the theme of proper adulthood. Giles struggled to stay relevant as his slayer outgrew the need for a surrogate father figure in the later seasons, but there was a lot of life left in the character—just not in the context of BTVS. Take him out of that and put him in the middle of a series where magic and monsters suddenly become metaphors for aging and second acts instead of teen angst and growing up and you’ve got yourself another classic Whedon show. (In a perfect world, Andrew would ride shotgun in this spinoff scenario as Giles’ assistant who gives our favorite ex-Watcher lots of reasons to clean his glasses because honestly, who wouldn’t want to see that?)
Cory: I considered noting that I would have enjoyed spinoff with Smallville‘s Chloe Sullivan solving crimes, but that’s basically Veronica Mars and you can’t tell me any different. More seriously, I think spinoffs tend to work when the characters who move over to the second series aren’t so fundamental to the original. Something like Private Practice works better than Joey. Thus, I could definitely get into a Hill and Renko-centric Hill Street Blues spinoff. The show’s innovative balancing of so many characters allowed Hill and Renko plenty of time in the spotlight where they served as both comic relief and emotional anchor depending on the story. Most of the time, it felt like they were experiencing their own buddy cop show amid a series of other concurrent events and stories, so it could have been relatively easy to transfer them to another police station and keep the same dynamics in place.
Cameron: I’m going to take the same base as Sabienna but in a different direction. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had many options for spin-offs crop up over the years, all of which eventually fell by the wayside (save Angel, of course). Sabienna nods toward the Giles spin-off Ripper, which was a possibility for the BBC at one point, but my interest lies in another character: Faith.
Faith’s arc of redemption is one of the great subplots of the combined story of Buffy and Angel. She was carried to her logical extreme in the former, then brought to the latter and told that she could be redeemed, that she could live a good life despite what society told her. And in Buffy’s final season, she and Spike strike up an unusual dynamic that might well have worked in the spin-off if James Marsters was up to it. I could see a Faith spin-off going in one of two directions. Either she takes a personal odyssey and becomes a meandering hero (something like what the Winchesters did in the early years of Supernatural, before the Demon Wars… before the Empi– wait, there was no empire), or she settles into Cleveland atop that city’s Hellmouth and we get sort of a dark side version of Buffy, but with more Slayers (because of the whole world-changing thing at the end of Buffy).
Either way, I think Eliza Dushku would have been great for that show; she shared a lot of intense moments with that character, and she (Faith) was built to last long after Buffy’s story came to a close-ish.