Have you ever watched a show and been more fascinated with a supporting character than the protagonist? Sometimes an actor’s performance, in a limited role, or the mystery surrounding the character’s background and motivations create a demand for a greater role. In other situations, a character happens to just have a great popularity or following in an already successful show. Either way, the result is the creation of a show based around the former supporting character as a leading man or woman.
10. Better Call Saul
While not formally introduced into the Breaking Bad world until the second season, Saul Goodman becomes an indispensable and charismatic character who helps push the story forward with his shrewd and sometimes dirty legal tactics. Not only does he help Walter and Jesse Pinkman out of difficult situations, but he sets up a meeting with Gus Fring – the biggest meth distributor in the Southwest. Saul Goodman’s character is played by Bob Odenkirk, who uses his comedic background to create a funny, well-rounded character.
Like many of the shows’ fans, Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, loved the character and pitched the idea of Better Call Saul. The show is set six years before Saul introduced to Walter White, when the up and coming lawyer is trying to make a name for himself by defending his clients and doing anything to not end up in court. The show has been met with critical acclaim, and the highly anticipated second season premiered last night.
9. Colbert Report
Before he had his own show, Stephen Colbert was capturing the audience’s attention and their laughs on The Daily Show. Colbert started on the show in 1997 and actually pre-dated Jon Stewart, who took over hosting duties in 1999. Over the course of his time at The Daily Show, Colbert developed different characters for his pieces, describing one of them as “a fool who has spent a lot of his life playing not the fool – one who is able to cover it at least well enough to deal with the subjects that he deals with.” The character he developed on The Daily Show spawned the creation of his own television show The Colbert Report.
On the show, Stephen Colbert satirizes conservative Cable Television pundits, showing the absurdity of their views and stances. The show ran from October 2005 to December 2014 and had tremendous success, winning many awards and the hearts of millions of American viewers. Colbert’s great success led to his succession of David Letterman on CBS.
8. The Cleveland Show
Unarguably, one of the most successful animated shows of all time is Family Guy, and its great success led to a spin-off called The Cleveland Show. Cleveland Brown is one of Peter Griffin’s friends and one of the few black characters on Family Guy. His calm and peaceful personality despite all the madness around him made him a particularly beloved character for many viewers.
The spin-off was created by first showing Cleveland getting a divorce in Family Guy, which led him to go off on his own way with new family. The Cleveland Show aired from September 2009 to May 2013; its cancellation led to Cleveland returning again as a staple character in Family Guy.
7. Good Times
One of the most famous shows on our list is Good Times, which was a spin-off of the highly successful show Maude. The character of Florida, played by Esther Rolle, was extremely popular in her role as housekeeper to Maude. On the show, Florida quits her job after her husband receives a raise which allows her to be a full-time mother. The origin of Good Times revolves around this decision and the family’s struggle living in low-income Chicago neighborhood.
While the show was initially supposed to deal with more serious issues, things changed thanks largely to the great popularity of the J.J. character, played by Jimmie Walker. The phrase “dy-no-mite” became a catchphrase that Esther Rolle and John Amos, her co-star, said consumed the show. Both alleged that the writers transitioned away from creating a meaningful show to heightening the ridiculous of the J.J. character. Nevertheless, Good Times lasted for six seasons with over 130 episodes. As you’ll see with another entry on our list coming up shortly, side characters with catchphrases can consume shows, for better or worse.
6. The Jeffersons
A theme of our list is certainly that iconic shows seem to breed or provide the environment for supporting characters to get their own opportunities in leading roles. The trend continues with The Jeffersons with several of the show’s characters appearing in All in the Family until 1975 when they were given their own show. In similar fashion, Edith Bunker of All in the Family gave a tearful goodbye to her neighbors which signified their final appearance on the show.
A precursor to the Cosby Show, the Jeffersons were an affluent couple living in New York City. The show lasted for eleven seasons, producing more than 250 episodes. Despite its great success, the show ended in controversy. Network executives cancelled the show without filming a series finale, leaving many actors to learn the news of the show’s cancellation in the tabloids. Even with this abrupt ending, the show’s legacy includes a spin-off show in its own liking.
5. Family Matters
If you couldn’t figure it out, this is the show we were referring to with regard to J.J. on Good Times, with a colorful side character spewing catchphrases derailing the original intent of a show. A show that is probably universally known amongst our readers, if the title is not immediately familiar, its iconic character Steve Urkel surely should ring a bell. Henriette and Carl Winslow, the main characters on Family Matters, were introduced on a show called Perfect Strangers. It was the popularity of Henriette’s character that led to a spin-off series.
Somewhat similar to The Jeffersons, the introduction of Steve Urkel soon changed the course of the show as his great popularity led to the series being based around him. Family Matters would go on to become more successful than its parent show, lasting for nine season and producing more than 200 episodes.
One of the wealthiest television actors in recent memory, Kelsey Grammar, rode the great success of the show Cheers to another popular sitcom in Frasier. Frasier Crane was a regular on Cheers, and stayed as a recurring cast member until the show’s cancellation. Afterwards, Frasier Crane, a psychiatrist, gives up custody of his son and moves to Seattle, the setting for the show.
The premise of the show is that the newly single Frasier is going to try life anew, but is forced to take in his father – a police officer who needs a caregiver after being shot while on duty. Frasier is seen as one of the most successful spin-off shows of all time, winning a total of thirty-seven Primetime Emmy Awards during its eleven year run.
3. Boston Legal
Another actor that has a long standing role on major network television is James Spader. The growing popularity of legal dramas led to this spin-off of The Practice and the creation of a show based around Spader’s character, Alan Shore. A compelling character because of his dubious ethical standards and checkered past; Shore was an ideal character to use in a spin-off. Boston Legal also featured the likes of William Shatner and lasted for five seasons, airing just over 100 episodes.
In its final season, Boston Legal was nominated for seven Emmys, including Best Drama Series. And while Boston Legal has been gone for awhile, James Spader has managed to find his way back on network television in a starring role once more, in The Blacklist.
2. Private Practice
One of the many hit television shows that Shonda Rhimes created includes Private Practice that followed the life of Dr. Addison Montgomery, played by Kate Walsh, as she leaves Seattle Grace Hospital so she can join a private practice that is located in Los Angeles. One of the most polarizing characters on Grey’s Anatomy, Kate Walsh’s character is a neurosurgeon that many of the shows fans loved to hate. As she moves to a new hospital, the show chronicles the difficulties adjusting to a new environment and staff.
Playing off the popularity of its parent show, Rhimes and the executives used crossover episodes to garner viewership, but ultimately the show would not come close to matching the success of Grey’s Anatomy. However, Private Practice did last for six seasons, producing more than 100 episodes.
Who would have guessed that a spin-off of the sitcom of all sitcoms would turn out so poorly? Friends was one of the most popular television shows of all time and is the last sitcom to reach the number one spot on television. The series finale was watched by 52.5 million Americans. You’d think that the American public that was so sad to see it go, would be excited for a spin-off with arguably the show’s most popular character.
Despite being heavily promoted and being given the Friends timeslot, Joey had decreasing viewership until it was cancelled after the second season. The character of Joey, played by Matt LeBlanc, continued his womanizing character from Friends, but the stiff competition from the likes of American Idol resulted in the show being the worst rated primetime program.