US TV channel CBS is officially making a prequel spinoff to its hugely successful, highly rated TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory.
The new half-hour comedy, called Young Sheldon, will be a prequel revolving around, you guessed it, everyone’s favorite theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper, aged nine and annoying everyone at school in rural Texas. It’s slated to premiere in the 2017-2018 network TV season, according to Variety.
The US TV network is following a long tradition of trying to extend the fanbase of a popular sitcoms by spinning off characters from one series into another. One of the earliest US TV sitcoms, The Honeymooners, was based on a sketch from the variety show The Jackie Gleason Show. (The Honeymooners remains a classic today—a marathon of the episodes airs every New Years Day in the US.)
And there are many beloved shows, from Laverne & Shirley to Saved By the Bell, that have characters who originated on other series. But it’s not easy to reconfigure the formula that makes a show a hit with audiences. It takes more than nostalgia to keep viewers coming back week after week, and season after season.
For every hit, there are as many epic misses.
The 1990s sitcom Frasier, about a psychiatrist who hosts a call-in radio show, is probably the most successful sitcom spinoff out there.
The main character, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), first appeared in the TV show Cheers, which was based in a Boston bar that Crane frequented. In Frasier, Crane returns to his hometown of Seattle for a fresh start after his marriage ends. The show ran from 1993 to 2004, matching Cheers‘ 11-year run. And it won 37 Emmy awards, a record that was only broken by Game of Thrones.
The show was heralded during its time for being both smart and funny—and is still in syndication today, although it has lost steam with modern viewers.
The Jeffersons was a spinoff of All in the Family, which centers on the blue-collar Bunker family in Queens, New York.
George (Sherman Hemsley) and Louise “Weezy” Jefferson (Isabel Sanford) lived next door to the Bunkers during the early seasons. And the couple was later given their own show that saw them move to the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
With 253 episodes, The Jeffersons is the second longest-running TV show to star an African-American cast, after Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. The show was cancelled in 1985, in part, because ratings had fallen and it was expensive for CBS to air—but it held on for more than a decade in rerun syndication.
The sitcom Family Matters, starring the Winslow family and their memorable neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), also got its start on earlier TV show. The character of Harriette Winslow (Jo Marie Payton)—the matriarch of the Winslow family in Family Matters—was first introduced as an elevator operator in the comedy Perfect Strangers.
Family Matters ran for nine seasons from 1989 to 1998, surpassing the eight-year run of Perfect Strangers. And it resurfaced on syndication for a period during the 2000s.
After the meteoric run of Friends, NBC tried to extend the show’s longevity with Joey, a half-hour comedy about the lovable Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) as the underwhelming actor tried to make it in Hollywood.
The show received decent TV ratings during its first season, mostly on the backs of nostalgic Friends fans. But those viewers didn’t stick around and Joey was cancelled after its second season.
We talked about the successful Cheers spinoff. Now, let’s talk about the one that pretty much no one watched—The Tortellis.
The short-lived 1987 sitcom was NBC’s first attempt at creating a Cheers spinoff. It focused on waitress Carla Tortelli’s good-for-nothing ex-husband, Nick Tortelli, and his ludicrous wife, Loretta, as they moved to Las Vegas and started a TV-repair business. As riveting as that jaw-dropping premise sounds, the show was shuttered after one 13-episode season.
Joanie Loves Chachi was another sad attempt to capture the audience for a long-running TV favorite. In 1982, near the end of Happy Days‘ 11-season run, which concluded in 1984, ABC splintered off two of the show’s main characters, Joanie Cunningham and Chachi Arcola—played by Erin Moran and former heartthrob and now prominent Trump supporter Scott Baio, respectively—into their own sitcom.
It followed the young couple as they moved to Chicago to get their music career off the ground. After 19 episodes, and too many tortuous duets, the show was cancelled.
Where will Young Sheldon fall when it’s looked back upon in history?