Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Spinoffs and Television 'Universes'

One of the main features of television programming through the 1990's was that of the spinoff - where a character from one show would get his own show as the star. Some of the most famous shows were in fact, spinoffs - such as Laverne and Shirley (from Happy Days) and Frasier (from Cheers). Contrary to the opinion of some, even the flimsiest of reasons can be given to spinoff a show - Family Matters was spun off with the Harriette Winslow character; she had been the elevator operator for the newspaper building in Perfect Strangers. Sometimes even the spunoff character doesn't last, as in A Different World when Denise Huxtable goes right on back to New York in The Cosby Show.

Universes, on the other hand, are a little trickier, but it works like this: if there are any crossover episodes, or perhaps when even a character goes to another show, it becomes part of the 'universe'. Spinoffs are automatically included in any universe as well. The character of Steve Urkel, despite being in Family Matters, made appearances on Step By Step and Full House. Thus, those shows become part of the Family Matters universe, which itself is in the Perfect Strangers universe. Some crossovers are ridiculous, but still constitute a universe. Modern day television universes include Law and Order, which has six titled shows plus Homicide: Life on the Street, Convicted, and In Plain Sight. Another universe is CSI, which has three titled shows plus Cold Case, Without A Trace, and even Two and a Half Men.

It is a strange development within television, to be sure, but it also provides a lot of useless fun for its fans to figure out and provides fodder for arguments, which ended up being the cause of this very post. Wikipedia has a list (albeit incomplete) of spinoffs here, just for your own enjoyment.

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