Last month we took a look at 15 shows that never existed that were cancelled too soon, and with today’s news that a Married With…Children spin-off focusing on Grandmaster B Bud Bundy is a (germ of an idea of a plea of a) reality, it seems right to shift perspective and now look at some forgotten spin-offs from television history. There are some dramas, some comedies, some animated series; some won several awards, some were roundly ignored; some were praised by critics, and some just adored by fans. But these spin-offs all have one thing in common: they never got the chance they deserved (because they never existed).
Ioki’s Place (FOX, 1990): After misfiring with Booker Fox attempted another 21 Jump Street spin-off, this time with Sergeant Harry Truman Ioki leaving the force to open a neighborhood bar and banh mi shop. But Ioki gets more than he bargains for when his father/head chef (the legendary Pat Morita) can’t help but meddle with his leadership style, and sparks begin to fly with his new manager, Samantha (Ellen DeGeneres). Most notable for featuring a pre-teen Seth Rogen as neighborhood kid and prankster Billy Goldstein. Peter DeLuise appears uncredited in every episode.
AIDS (TNBC, 1992-1993): An obvious ploy to capitalize on the success of Saved by the Bell, AIDS focused on a group of hall monitors and office assistants at Manhattan Beach Preparatory High School. Despite much fanfare, a plum time-slot, a young Michelle Rodriguez and a sweeps week visit from Screech and Mr. Belding, the show inexplicably failed to catch on with viewers and was soon replaced by a second helping of California Dreams.
Knight Rider Knights (Syndicated, 1986-1987): When Glen A. Larson and NBC agreed that 44 minutes of David Hasselhoff per week was not sufficient, they expanded the franchise with this short-lived look at how Michael Knight and his sentient car-best friend KITT spend their nights when they’re not fighting crime and chasing bad guys. Loosely based on the provocative 1980 Al Pacino thriller Cruising, the majority of episodes featured Knight and KITT hopping from drive-in movie theaters to Dairy Queens to mall parking lots to drug-fueled sex parties. The rambling, ramshackle nature of the show – there was clearly no script and some scenes were obviously just Hasselhoff’s home movies shot on a cheap VHS camera – quickly turned off loyal fans of the brand, and even a cross-over event with the original series, dubbed “The KITT Stays in the Picture” failed to bring viewers back. Delved into the supernatural towards the end of its run, and most remembered for the penultimate episode in which a jealous Wiccan transforms KITT into a 60-year-old man, portrayed by KITT voice William Daniels, sporting the same wardrobe and mannerisms he’d later incorporate into his iconic role of Mr. Feeny. Not to be confused with the animated series Knight Rider Knights (1988), in which a lightning storm sends KITT back in time to Camelot where he serves in King Arthur’s Court, or Team Knight Rider (1997-1998), which was a real show.
The Urkels (ABC, 1993): With the white-hot heat emanating from Family Matters resident nerd-in-love Steve Urkel, ABC quickly green-lit this spin-off – a drama focused on Steve’s parents and his autistic brother Stewart – for the fall ’93 slate. Unfortunately, even with an advantageous TGIF slot following Full House and a gushing review from Entertainment Weekly‘s Ken Tucker, the series struggled in the ratings and ended with an unresolved cliff-hanger in which Mrs. Urkel (Wanda Sykes) files for divorce. Young son Stewart was initially played by an aging Emmanuel Lewis, but was replaced with Wild & Crazy Kids‘ Omar Gooding after the pilot.
The Cosby Mysteries: Sex Files (NBC, 1996): An ill-advised attempt by Bill Cosby and then-NBC head of programming Warren Littlefield to revive the Cosby Mysteries, this time moving away from the wholesome, family-friendly storylines of the original series towards the more graphic and explicit fare that has become the hallmark of NBC’s later primetime hit Law & Order: SVU. The six produced episodes were never aired and quickly destroyed, and all cast and crew involved were paid off to never talk about it.
Mail Bonding (NBC, 1989): Quietly falling between The Tortellis and Frasier, this short-lived and quickly forgotten Cheers spin-off swapped out the bar for the post office. Unfortunately, Cheers producers Glen & Les Charles forgot to bring over the sharp wit and clever writing of its progenitor, and the talented cast – which featured Gordon Jump, Brian-Doyle Murray, Ellen DeGeneres, former NFL great Bubba Smith, a young Marc Maron and Tom Bosley as Postmaster General Charlie O’Flaherty – never quite found the chemistry that was the trademark of Sam, Norm, Woody and the gang. By the time Cliff Clavin stopped by the Beacon Hill Post Office in episode nine, the bad news of cancellation had already been delivered.
Designing Men (CBS, 1991-1992): After leaving Sugarbaker Designs, Anthony Bouvier (the late Meshach Taylor), heads to New York to open up his own interior design firm and get a taste of the big city. Partnering with his former prison cellmate, Fuzzy Mendez (Luis Guzman), and moving in with old college friends Eli and Paris (David Paymer and Harvey Firestein), Anthony is ready to bring a little southern peach to the Big Apple. The series’ final episode, “Bullies Over Broadway” was heralded for its brave depiction of ageism in theatre, winning an AARP award and snaring Firestein a BAFTA nomination for his performance. Despite lasting only one season, the show was a phenomenon in Germany, where it was titled Girly Männer and can still be found in reruns on the country’s RTL II network.
Private Boner (ABC, 1990): After a vocal (and sometimes openly hostile) write-in campaign persuaded ABC brass to bring back Growing Pains‘ Richard “Boner” Stabone (the late Andrew Koenig), this short-lived midseason replacement found Mike Seaver’s best buddy on the ground in Kuwait, trying to mine laughs from minefields. Hoping to combine the pedantic and sanctimonious tone of Growing Pains with the poignant authenticity of M*A*S*H, the series was, ironically, preempted for a special report on Operation Desert Shield and never returned to air. A later effort to return Boner to Growing Pains was, in fact, aborted by the now Born-Again Kirk Cameron, who objected to Koenig’s staunch belief in the right to choose.
MonsterMASH (CBS, 1987): A poorly conceived collaboration between M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbhart and the Brady Bunch’s Sherwood Schwartz, this variety show was the first (and only) program to blend elements of comedy, drama, musical numbers, and the Korean War. Adam Arkin stepped into Alan Alda’s boots as Hawkeye Pierce, reimagined now as an exceedingly neurotic and easily frightened Brooklyn Jew, and Jamie Farr reprised his role as cross-dresser Max Klinger. The pilot aired as a Halloween special, but, like many pilots in Korea, it crashed and burned, as some viewers were offended by the portrayal of Koreans as werewolves, vampires, Yetis, Frankensteins and other figures of the occult. Airing up against ABC’s Mr. Belvedere, the series never really had a shot, and was DOA.
Just Close Enough for Comfort (Syndicated, 1987): After retooling Too Close for Comfort into The Ted Knight Show to middling returns, executive producer Earl Barret decided to take the opposite tack, dropping the show’s star, the eponymous Knight, and bringing back original cast members Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lydia Cornell, and Audrey Meadows, along with new additions Robert Hegyes, Anson Williams and third Quaid brother, Barry (in his only credited role). The series picks up with Knight’s character Henry Rush inexplicably absent and shifts the focus to Jim J. Bullock’s Monroe Ficus, whose opens a handmade sofa and loveseat gallery to immediate success (later episodes would reveal that Rush left Marin County to pursue his dream of writing political cartoons for The New York Post). Early reviews were not kind, noting, accurately, that “nothing ever really happens in this show,” “the characters just basically get along really well and pay each other compliments. I counted seventeen hugs in the first episode alone, which I guess is fine, but super, super boring,” and “one episode is devoted entirely to the characters offering excessive praise of Ficus’ new chaise lounge. Granted, it was a very nice lounge, but the whole 22-minutes were completely devoid of any conflict – or charm – whatsoever.” Said chaise lounge is now on display at the Paley Center for Media (Los Angeles).
Mona’s Place (ABC, 1992-1993): When Angela Bower sells her Connecticut home to move to Manhattan with new husband Tony Miceli, her vivacious and hyper-sexually-active mother Mona stays behind in the guest-house and proves that 70 is the new 20. Originally titled The Cougar Den, this Who’s the Boss? spin-off failed to appeal to young TGIF viewers, but was applauded for its frank discussions of sex, ageism and menopause. Despite lasting just thirteen episodes, Katherine Helmond earned a Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice award for her performance in “A Round of Appalled” in which she learns she has contracted the Clap, an episode that continues to be shown in many high school Health Education classes today. An interesting footnote: following cancellation, Mona’s bedroom/sex den was repurposed into Cory and Eric Matthews’ room on Boy Meets World, which debuted the following fall.
Saved by the Bell: The Early Years (TNBC, 1994-1995): Ever wonder what Bayside High was like when sixteen-year-old Richie “the Big Bopper” Belding was spinning records for KKTY? Neither did anyone else.
Just the Nine of Us (ABC, 1991): In a last-ditch effort to capture viewers, Just the Ten of Us producers Guntzelman-Sullivan-Marshall retooled the series as a season-long kidnapping mystery. Unfortunately, due to abysmal ratings, production was quickly halted and we never learned which of the Lubbock children had been abducted. Series star Bill Kirchenbauer later called it “the single worst professional experience of my life. No one knew why we were there and all of our lawyers were combing through our contracts desperately trying to find a way out. To say that cancellation came as sweet relief is a massive understatement.” An extremely short blooper reel can be found on the Growing Pains Season 7 DVD.
UnsDuck in Time: The Lost Tales of Launchpad McQuack (Syndicated, 1993-1994): Unlicensed and dangerously incompetent pilot Launchpad McQuack, second banana to Scrooge McDuck and sidekick to Darkwing Duck, finally takes center stage in this rare collaboration between Disney Television Animation and the Children’s Television Workshop. Thanks to a temperamental and possibly demonic time machine invented by Gyro Gearloose, McQuack is sent backwards through the ages to important events in history, from the Revolutionary War to the JFK Assassination. Designed as way to teach children about world history while keeping them entertained, the program failed at both aims, and ended with a controversial finale in which a Launchpad McQuack from the year 2020 is sent back from the future to kill his present day self in order to prevent a nuclear holocaust. That finale, ironically, netted the show its largest audience by a wide-margin, but talks to revive the series were abandoned following the runaway success of the newest Disney Afternoon sensation Bonkers, as well as the rampant drug use by the show’s animators. However, the story did continue in a spin-off comic book series published by Malibu Comics, which ran for seven years, and featured the writing debut of future Spider-Man scribe and Eisner Award winner Brian Michael Bendis.
Heidi’s Head (FOX, 1992): Encouraged by the mild success of Herman’s Head, FOX executives fast-tracked this spin-off that followed the same blueprint. Joan Cusack starred as the titular Heidi, an aspiring designer at a hip fashion label, with Soliel Moon Frye representing her sensitivity, Sandra Berhardt her lust, a young Jeremy Piven standing in as her anxiety and Robert Guillaume as her intellect, with occasional appearances from Marsha Warfield as Anger. A back-door pilot in which Herman’s Head star William Ragsdale sleeps with Heidi (after Hank Azaria’s womanizing scoundrel Jay drugs her at bar) was shelved in favor of a Married with Children clip-show. Was later ripped off by Pixar.