Great spin-offs: “Rhoda,” “Maude” and … “90210”?


When I was a kid, I watched
a lot of Saturday morning television — Hong Kong Phooey, Underdog,

Krofft Superstars, etc. But even though I’ve outgrown (most) children’s
TV, I never fully broke the weekend morning TV habit. My guilty pleasure
of late has been watching Beverly Hills
on SOAPnet
on weekend mornings.

(Right now they’re in the college
years, and I keep enjoying little nuggets inspired by the year that
Darren Star and I overlapped at UCLA.)

So you’d think I’d be excited
about the news I heard the other day — a spin-off of 90210 is reportedly in the
. But, you
know, I wasn’t so much. In fact, I thought it sounded like a pretty
stupid idea. (As said, “9021-NOOOOOO!!!!”) The show ended eight years ago.
(And it should have ended at least 10 years ago.) There’s no word yet
on which cast members will return, and Darren Starr isn’t even attached
to the project. Additionally, the original audience is all grown up,
and I don’t know that they would really be interested in much more than
a reunion show. So, I don’t really get it. But apparently, it’s not
for me; it’s for the Gossip Girl crowd, and is intended to be
essentially a West Coast companion piece. Which still doesn’t explain
to me why it’s going to be a spin-off of a long-dead show.

Of course, 90210 has already
spawned one uber-successful spin-off, Melrose Place.

Melrose was one of those crazily
successful spin-offs that has probably spawned all sorts of spin-off envy
in development executives. It wasn’t a particular favorite of mine,
but I did like it in the relatively tame first season, before Michael
Mancini became Dr. Evil and when the main drama was the will-they-or-won’t-they
tension between Billy and Allison.

But rather than just puzzle
over the 90210 spin-off, I’d rather reminisce about spin-offs I recall
fondly. Here are a few of my favorites:

Rhoda (1974 —
The Mary Tyler Moore Show)

Rhoda was the first,
and best, of the three Mary Tyler Moore

spin-offs. (Phyllis and Lou Grant were the other two.)
Mary and Rhoda were a great iconic pair (remember Romy and Michelle fighting over who was the Mary and
who was the Rhoda in their relationship?), but Rhoda was a strong character
in her own right. She had great scarfs, an on-again-off-again marriage
and the most realistic New York Jewish family I’ve ever seen on television.

Maude (1972 —
All in the Family)

All in the Family spawned
so many spin-offs that even its spin-offs had spin-offs (Good Times
was a spin-off of Maude, and Checking In
was a spin-off of The Jeffersons.) Maude was the best. With Bea Arthur, Adrienne Barbeau and Mr.
Drummond, how could they go wrong? Not only was the show smart and irreverent, but
it was also daring — it featured a pre–Roe vs. Wade
. And the
show had a catch-phrase that is still rattling around in my head: “God’ll
get you for that, Walter.”

(1979 — Soap)

In all fairness, part of why
I liked Benson so much was because I loved Soap, which
was one of the best TV shows ever. As he was on Soap, Benson was the
smartest member of the household/staff. Which, I guess, explains how
he eventually ascended from butler to Lieutenant Governor. (I also had
a crush on Caroline McWilliams, who played the Governor’s secretary,
Marcy. A few years later, she played a lesbian on St. Elsewhere

and I was so happy. Even though I wasn’t fully out to myself.)

Mork and Mindy (1978
Happy Days)

A lot of people forget that
Mork and Mindy
was a spin-off of Happy Days, but there was that bizarre
episode where Mork battled Fonzie and the character proved popular,
and so the spin-off was born. Although the show lost its way once they married
and had the baby, Mearth, the early seasons were brilliant. And I used
to have a bit of a crush on Pam Dawber.

(1997 — Beavis and Butthead)

I didn’t only watch Daria
because I had a crush on her best friend, Jane. I also identified with Daria, and
loved the character development and wit of the show. My favorite moment
was when Daria and Jane were babysitting and reinventing fairy tales
and nursery rhymes for the kids. Jane popped off with, “And the dish ran away with
the spoon. But Hawaii was the only state that would recognize the marriage
as legal."

Facts of Life
(1979 — Diff’rent Strokes)

This is my favorite spin-off.
Period. Diff’rent Strokes‘ loss of Mrs. Garrett (and it
was a big loss) was Facts of Life‘s (and my) gain. Yes, it was
stupid that the school nutritionist was responsible for things such
as counting election ballots, and it was beyond contrived that the girls
lived in a room together for so many years.

Here’s a clip of the second
major contrivance keeping them together:

But, contrivances aside, I
loved that show then and I love it now. I suppose part of it was the
tension between Blair and Jo, but I also liked that in early seasons
they really hit some tough subjects — rape, suicide and teen pregnancy,
to name a few. And, to this day, I still know that “AU” is the symbol
for gold because of the episode in Season 4 when they were studying
for finals.

I guess we’ll see whether the
new 90210 becomes anyone’s new favorite spin-off. Will you be
watching? And what are your favorite spin-offs?

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