Many thanks to Kevin James for the transcript and the scans

Cult Times Special #11

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As several old favourite series vanish forever, we can rest easy that there are spin-offs to keep us happy. But how do you get from a successful solo outing to a stable of hits.

THE SPIN-OFF is a long-held and valuable tradition in the media world. In this country alone, newspapers have given birth to versions for younger readers, and successful magazines have resulted in others dealing with similar themes. You can find this trend in radio too. Popular comedy show I'm Sorry I'11 Read That Again, for instance, eventually became the much-loved institution we know today as I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, helpfully retaining the I'm Sorry... aspect for ease of finding an audience. Which, of course, brings us to television (no surprise there).

Spin-offs have been created over the years for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there's the idea of a format going stale, and after several years, it's interesting to move the characters into a different setting, a good example being Frasier, which when Cheers ended took one of its most popular characters and gave him a whole new lease of life, by introducing a facet of his existence that didn't involve drunken idiots and a stool. Then there's a chance for actors to stick together but take on new roles, in the hope of creating new magic and making their lives more interesting. Sadly, the only example that leaps to mind is You Rang M'Lord, which took many actors from the ever-popular Hi-de-Hi and made a series that everyone could loathe for varying reasons, then compounded the problem with the never-popular Oh Doctor Beeching.

For those of you wondering what this has to do with our staple of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, don't worry I'm getting there. The third type of spin-off is when an actor or actress is discovered who really deserves their own show and the show they guest in is doing well enough to warrant a companion. The best examples of this are The Six Million Dollar Man, which provided the world with The Bionic Woman (thanks guys), The Bionic Six, and a bunch of other things with Bionic in the title, and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, which spawned the arguably even more successful Xena: Warrior Princess. Weird Science's Vanessa Angel, who was originally cast as Xena but pulled out, must be kicking herself. Speaking of Angels, the Buffy spin-off also, of course, falls into this category.

Which brings us neatly to a fourth method: production companies. In these days of independent productions, certain companies like to remain in a genre in which they have proven themselves. Millennium was, to all intents and purposes, a spin-off of The X-Files, as without the success of Chris Carter's first show, it would never have been made, a fact proven by guest stars appearing in both series as various characters and the one actual crossover of Jose Chung. Likewise, Carter's newest series Harsh Realm knowingly uses Lance Henriksen as a General and Gillian Anderson's voice in its pilot episode.

Renaissance Pictures, Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert's company behind Hercules and Xena works on the same principle. Watching Channel 4's recently-aired Spy Game, you can see the same tongue-in-cheek action and fight sequences as in their current hits, a trend set to continue with the introduction of two new Renaissance shows in the US next season: Cleopatra 2525 and Jack of All Trades.

Fox's latest hit Futurama is an indirect spin off of The Simpsons. It's a new world and a different set-up, but the animation is the same style, it also satirizes our society, and it's had guest appearances from Dan 'Homer' Castellaneta and Leonard Nimoy as well as a pile of talking Bart Simpson dolls. Crusade follows a similar principle. It's the same universe with the same technology, but now we get a chance to explore it in greater depth. Or would have done if it had lasted more than five minutes.

Okay, so occasionally a spin-off extends an idea beyond its natural end (yes, K-9 and Company, I'm looking at you), but more often than not, it's a great opportunity to create something even better than its original inspiration. Here's to many more.

Paul Spragg

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