Spinoff Stories: Married With Children (Article IV)

Written Asking Was FOX Smoking When They Wrote These Shows by Bridger Cunningham (former TVRG Writer)

FOX' landmark sitcom holds the mantle with American Idol as the shows which pushed the network onto viewers' radars.  While American Idol brought acclaim, Married... With Children's method of notice was its crass, envelope-pushing antics.  Starring Ed O'Neill, Katey Sagal, Amanda Bearse, David Garrison, Christina Applegate, David Faustino (and later Ted McGinley), MWC ran for 11 successful seasons.  FOX, eyeing expansion and movement, opted to farm out successful spinoffs.  The only problem?  They delivered a hill of horse droppings to boot with each one. 

The Original (S)Hit Machine 
Married... With Children (1987-97) 

Launched as one of FOX's first Sunday sitcom offerings, Married... With Children took the antithesis route to the Cosby's (even going as far as the pilot was titled "Not the Cosby's").  Their crass antics went unnoticed until an infamous 1989 episode, "Her Cups Runneth Over" as principle Al Bundy (O'Neill) and his neighboring foil, Steve Rhodes (Garrison) cruise a boutique in an attempt to get his wife Peggy a new bra.  The episode offended Michigan housewife Terry Rakolta (presidential candidate Mitt Romney's sister-in-law), who vocalized a movement via news outlets to have the show cancelled.  Her efforts paid off greatly.  For FOX that is, as each scathing newscast regarding the show brought greater visibility for the 4th network, with markets scrambling for affiliates to showcase the show everyone was buzzing about.  The ratings doubled in the 1988-89 season, with the series peaking in 28th place in the 1991-92 season (then the network's first entry into the top 30).  The network to this date remains so grateful, they send a fruit basket to Rakolta's residence, as her voice made their network come to life. 

Spinoff One
Top of the Heap (1991) 

Two minor characters, Charlie Verducci (Joseph Bologna) and his son Vinnie (Matt Le Blanc, pre-Friends), spin off into their own series.  The premise?  Charlie opts to have his son marry into money in an attempt to raise their societal status.  His resolve entails Vinnie working/networking at a country club featuring manager Alixandra (Rita Moreno) and security guard Emmet (Leslie Jordan).  Also rounding out the cast was neighbor Mona (Joey Lauren Adams).  After a faltering spring run (with ratings so poor, they never made the 1990-91 season Nielsen list), Top of the Heap was cancelled inside the season. 

Spinoff Two
Vinnie & Bobby (1992) 

FOX attempted to retool Top of the Heap with only LeBlanc and Adams remaining, as Vinnie's father has moved away and he now shares his apartment with Bobby Grazzo (Robert Torti).  New cast members include Ron Taylor, Fred Stoller, John Pinette and Sharyn Leavitt.  Like Top of the Heap, Vinnie & Bobby failed to catalyze respectable numbers for even FOX's then-standards and was pulled in the Summer of 1992. 

Spinoff Three
Free Radio Trumaine (1995) 

Once again, MWC resorted to a backdoor pilot, centered on former cast member Steve Rhodes (David Garrison), now a dean at Trumaine University.  The action centered on the campus' radio station, WHIP and its faltering DJ's, Oliver Cole (Eric Dane of Grey's Anatomy fame) and Mark Campbell (Andrew Kavovit).  After a failed interview with the dean divulged his less-than-flattering past, Steve expels the two students.  Enter ex-wife Marcy (Bearse), who fires off a less-than sensational protest out of spite.  The drama boils over on air as Bud (Faustino) is attempting to romance April (Keri Russell, Felicity), and their love triangle gets broadcast on air, the segment becomes popular and Mark and Oliver brand the new skit "Hot Talk With April" with April saving the radio station.  FOX decided to pass on this well-founded sitcom. 

Spinoff Four
Enemies (1996) 

A fourth, failed attempt via backdoor pilot sought to spoof then-popular Friends, centered on four biting roommates sharing a rundown flat.  Given Katey Sagal was on maternity leave for her third pregnancy, deviating from the core cast was welcome to fill the roster as the episode focused on Kelly (Applegate) in one of her less-spacey episodes as she is in love with NBC's hit sitcom friends.  Enter delivery man Tom (Matt Borlenghi), in a spat with his oft-girlfriend Shannon (Nicole Eggert), and he asks Kelly out on a date to spite her.  A spurned Shannon asks out middle-aged millionaire Henry (Alan Thicke of Growing Pains fame) out on a date in the same greasy diner, as Tom and Shannon attempt to simulate racy, impulsive sex in adjacent bathrooms.  The only laugh had in this shameless exchange was Kelly asking if she could use the bathroom, as she really had to go.  Also rounding out the roster for "Not Friends" was Terri Ivens as Tom's stepsister, Maria and Chris Young as Jackson.  FOX passed on this lackluster spoof. 

Discussions have run rampant since the fall of 2014 to have a continuation series based on the life of Bud (Faustino).  No pilots have been filmed, though this spinoff could hold the key to being one viewers may actually enjoy. 

The only series which showcased crossovers from MWC was Top of the Heap, which featured Faustino, Applegate and O'Neill.  Adams, LeBlanc and Bologna all made a handful of appearances on the parent series. 

Why These Spinoffs Failed 

The greatest failure denominator for all referenced spinoffs was poorly developed characters.  Bologna and LeBlanc made a scant two appearances before launching into their own series and could have benefited if the network would have given the characters more familiarity with fans.  Free Radio Trumaine held the best premise and was era-relevant, even featuring former regular Garrison.  However, MWC had already peaked, and interests at the network geared toward its brash soaps.  And lest forget horrible plotting?  Save for Free Radio Trumaine, all of these plots were awful!  MWC's characters were haughty, yet had rooting qualities these spinoff characters lacked. 

Share this

Related Posts

Next Post »