News came in this week that NBC isn’t picking up The Farm, the spin-off of the network’s departing show The Office based around Rainn Wilson’s character Dwight Schrute and his wacky family’s wacky beet farm. While it seems odd that NBC cast and filmed a pilot for The Farm (that’ll be airing as a standalone episode of The Office later this season) and made it so into the process only to get cold feet, this is a fairly common occurrence in the comedy world. Some of the most successful shows of all-time have been spin-offs, but for every Frasier, there’s a show about Dr. Crane’s bar bros Norm and Cliff that never made it to your screen. Let’s take a look at 10 sitcom spin-offs that almost happened but didn’t and at what The Farm would have been.
1. Friends – Phoebe
When Friends began its final season in 2003, some of the cast and crew began working on a spin-off centered on Matt LeBlanc’s beloved meathead actor Joey Tribbiani, which famously turfed out after two seasons. Contact Music reports, though, that NBC was also developing a show around another Friends character: Phoebe. A show based around Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe didn’t make it past the discussion stage, but the plan was apparently for Phoebe to pair up with Aisha Tyler’s late period Friends character Charlie for the new series, with David Schwimmer also making occasional guest appearances.
2. Cheers - Norm & Cliff
In addition to developing a show around Frasier Crane when Cheers began to wind down, the network also pushed for a series centered on drinking buddies Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin, but the crew balked at the idea. Here’s Cheers writer/producer Ken Levine on the topic:
“Yes. NBC wanted to spin-off Norm & Cliff. They must have approached us five times about writing it. We always passed. One AfterMASH a career is enough. There was also some discussion of spinning-off Carla but that went nowhere. Remember, there was another spin-off of CHEERS (besides FRASIER) – THE TORTELLIS. Carla’s creepy ex-husband Nick (played to slimeball perfection by Dan Hedeya) and his new wife Loretta (the delightfully daft Jean Kasem) move to Las Vegas with one or two of her kids. It lasted maybe thirteen weeks. The Charles Brothers (who were just consulting it) asked David [Isaacs] and I to write one as a favor. We met with them all day trying to come up with a story and couldn’t do it. Finally, I said, “What episode is this we’re trying to break?” The answer was five. I said, ‘Five? Jesus. If stories are that hard to break by episode five you are in shit shape with this show!’ They were.Remember kids when creating a pilot: It’s not just about the funny characters and setting. Make your show ABOUT SOMETHING.”
3. The Simpsons – Krusty the Clown
In 1994, with The Simpsons at the top of its game, Matt Groening signed a deal with Fox to make a live-action sitcom that starred Dan Castellaneta as one of his many Simpsons characters, Krusty the Clown. Groening wrote a pilot about Krusty moving to L.A. with Michael Weithorn, who would go on to create King of Queens. Here’s Groening talking about some script problems:
“We had this running joke in the script that Krusty was living in a house on stilts and there were beavers gnawing their way through the stilts. But somebody at the network pointed out how expensive it was to hire trained beavers — and an equally prohibitive cost would be to get mechanical beavers — so I said, ‘If we animated this, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.’”
Groening and Fox began to work on an animated Krusty sitcom after this, but negotiations stalled and he made Futurama his next show instead.
4. M*A*S*H – W*A*L*T*E*R
CBS commissioned and filmed a pilot for a M*A*S*H spin-off based around Gary Burghoff’s character Walter “Radar” O’Reilly. The show follows Radar, who no longer calls himself Radar, in St. Louis as a police officer. CBS didn’t pick up the show but aired it once as a “special presentation” in 1984, only on the Eastern and Central time zones because the West Coast airing was bumped by the Democratic National Convention. You can watch the whole thing here.
5. Frasier – Another Show about Frasier
Frasier was one of the most successful spin-offs ever, and since it ended, Kelsey Grammer and the show’s writers have thought about making another show about Dr. Frasier Crane a couple of times. Immediately after Frasier finished its run in 2004, a new show was pitched that would have centered on Frasier and a new cast of characters. The spin-off of a spin-off didn’t end up happening and no plot details about the new show that was pitched have surfaced. At the end of Frasier, the central character rejected a TV job in San Francisco to follow a love interest to Chicago, so maybe the third Frasier Crane show would have taken place there.
After having his three post-Frasier series, Kelsey Grammer: Presents the Sketch Show, Back to You, and Hank, canceled in rapid succession, Grammer began tweeting about wanting to do another Frasier series in 2010. Grammer tweeted, “Maybe it is time for a Frasier reunion… very interesting to say the least… maybe a Frasier reunion on like a new show seriously thinking about that !!!…I’m now really thinking maybe a spin-off of Frasier? How would u feel about that with like my son and Niles’ sibling? Cameos by old cast?” Kelsey Grammer’s spokesperson was quick to shoot this story down, claiming that Grammer doesn’t do his own tweets.
6. Rhoda – Carlton Your Doorman
An animated spin-off from Rhoda, which itself was a spin-off of Mary Tyler Moore, Carlton Your Doorman centered on Rhoda’s unseen doorman (who was voiced by Lorenzo Music on the original show). The pilot aired once as a special but isn’t available anywhere currently. In the pilot, Carlton was revealed to be a blonde guy with a moustache.
7. Seinfeld – Jackie Chiles
You’d think Kramer, Elaine, or George would be the logical choices to base Seinfeld spin-offs around, but back in 1999, a year after the show finished its run, actor Phil Morris who played Johnny Cochran-esque lawyer Jackie Chiles on the show told the press he was working with Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld to develop a spin-off based around his character. Morris said David and Seinfeld would be executive producing the show about Chiles in a white law firm and that they were hoping for midseason 1999. NBC, however, was quick to make a statement saying they didn’t have any knowledge of such a show. Phil Morris, whose character Chiles only appeared on Seinfeld six times, might have been speaking too soon or making the thing up entirely. He has, however, continued to play Jackie Chiles outside of the show in a 1990s Honda commercial written/produced by the Coen Brothers and some Funny or Die videos.
8. Roseanne – Another Show about Roseanne
After Roseanne ended its nine-year run on ABC in 1997, Roseanne began working on a spin-off still centered on her character in a new setting. ABC passed on the show because the production company was asking for too much money. Roseanne and the production company then took the show to other networks, but none of them purchased the spin-off. No details have emerged about what the show would have been or if other Roseanne characters would have reprised their roles, but the bizarre Roseanne finale did leave things pretty open to go in any number of directions.
9. King of the Hill – Monsignor Martinez
Mike Judge, Greg Daniels, and Jim Dauterive all created Monsignor Martinez in 2001, based on a fake Spanish-language telenovela, Los Dias y Las Noches de Monsignor Martinez, in King of the Hill about a secret agent priest. A live-action pilot based around Martinez was filmed, with actor Ivo Cutzarida in the title role and Dave Herman (Michael Bolton from Office Space and a regular King of the Hill voice actor) as his American sidekick. Fox surprisingly passed on the show about a machine gun-toting Catholic priest.
10. Will & Grace – Karen + Jack
In 2008, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes were reported to be working on a Will & Grace spin-off based on their side characters Karen and Jack. Hayes was said to be wary of a spin-off in 2006 when Will & Grace first ended, hot on the heels of Joey’s cancellation and Mullally’s short-lived talk show also stood in the way of doing a new sitcom immediately after Will & Grace wrapped up. By 2008, however, the two were ready to work on a pilot together, but things didn’t move past the idea stage.