There’s a long history of the spin-off in American situation comedy, especially with the multi-camera live-audience set-up that ruled the roost for so many decades. Audiences would tune in every week to see the same characters tell the same jokes in the same way; a successful spin-off could either extend the lifespan of the product or (if broadcast while the original was still on the air) even potentially double that audience for the week.
With the huge success of NBC’s biggest hit sitcom Friends, you’d have thought that the network would have been giving the nod to pilots galore, both during the show’s run and after it ended at season ten. Instead, dumb-as-a-shoe actor Joey had a new show greenlit where he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career.
Despite airing in the old Friends timeslot, the new show was poorly conceived (why was Joey suddenly a lovelorn schlub who couldn’t get a date?) and poorly received (it had halved its viewership by episode sixteen) and was officially cancelled halfway through the second season. It was such a ratings disaster that NBC didn’t even bother airing the remaining eight episodes.
But Friends was a gargantuan hit for ten years, over well over two hundred episodes - were there no other characters that deserved their own spin-off? Sure there were, dozens of them: but here’s twenty to be getting on with, along with a brief description of what their show might have looked like, had it ever been pitched...
20. The One With The Submarine Guy
Appearing in a single episode in season two (‘The One With The Chicken Pox’), Phoebe’s on-off Navy officer Ryan might not be everyone’s immediate first choice for a spin-off… if they didn’t know that he was played by Charlie Sheen.
Hollywood royalty or not, by 1996 Sheen’s movie career had stalled. He wouldn’t find television success until he stepped into a going concern, taking the place of Michael J. Fox on ABC’s Spin City in 2000. That, of course, led onto even greater success with CBS and Two And A Half Men a few years later.
Sheen was television dynamite: he just needed someone to take a risk on him. What might have happened had NBC chosen to take that risk in 1996/1997?
They could have spun Ryan off onto something like… Sweet Home Alabama, a show about the wacky crew of the US Navy Ohio class nuclear submarine Alabama (who go down for two years at a time), and the straight-laced Lieutenant Commander with no choice but to keep them all together.