Five Primetime Characters Begging for Spin-offs, and Why They Shouldn’t Get Them

Dwight Schrute is getting his own show. Why not Ron Swanson?

by Ashley Sims

Networks are constantly struggling to come up with programming that will turn America’s collective attention away from reality shows like American Idol, X Factor, and The Voice (which is American Idol, but with swivel chairs, right?). Though primetime sitcoms currently boast some of the best ensemble casts ever, and thus several of the greatest supporting characters around, we as a television-obsessed community know something that the network brass seems to forget: a likeable character does not a good spin-off make. With NBC planning a Dwight Schrute spin-off for The Office, here's a list of five characters who steal the shows they're on but don't necessarily deserve their own.

1. Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation

Whether you know him as jazz saxophonist Duke Silver or the staunchly Libertarian director of the Pawnee Parks Department, the Parks & Rec character who comes closest to out-shining Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is Ron, played to perfection by Nick Offerman. With his sizable internet following, and the praise Offerman’s received from critics, it would seem like an easy choice for the higher-ups at NBC to want to produce a tidy half-hour companion piece to Parks. But Ron Swanson is the yang to Leslie’s yin (or is that the other way around?) — the pair need each other or their respective personalities become too cloying. Ron’s cynicism and anger is like like Snake Juice: too much and your throat starts to burn, you get angry, and eventually throw up in a wastebasket. If that’s how I wanted my night to end, I would have DVR’d Work It.

2. Victoria Grayson from Revenge

I’ll make you a deal: I will concede that Revenge is a little soapy if you will concede that sometimes, you just want a little fun. Why do you think Dallas was on so long? Even if Revenge isn’t your thing, it’s hard to deny that tormented, millionaire matriarch Victoria Grayson (played with venom by Madeleine Stowe) is a joy to watch. She’s such a complex character, you might wonder how she wormed her way to the top of the Hamptons’ food chain. But that’s the kind of thinking that gets the network honchos excited. A Victoria spin-off would most certainly mean an Upper East Side origin story. But the jumps in chronology would would require another actress to play Victoria, and Stowe is what makes this part work so effortlessly. It would be like taking Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City and making a show about her teen years — wait, they’re doing that?

3. Dennis Duffy from 30 Rock

Dennis Duffy has been many things: subway hero, Dateline predator, and Liz Lemon’s intermittent sex partner. And he's a classic buffoon, the butt of the joke, the clown. He remains a 30 Rock fan-favorite with his numerous guest appearances and callbacks. Wildly animated fan-favorites always make for great spin-offs right? Wrong. I’ll tell you why in one word: Joey. Joey Tribbiani was in many the archtypal sitcom buffoon — loveable, silly, and perfectly acted — but he still failed (and failed abjectly) to draw an audience on his own. Thankfully, Joey only lasted two seasons, but Friends fans still cringe when it’s brought up. Dennis is great in small doses on 30 Rock; that's where he should stay.

4. Santana Lopez from Glee

Glee is hit or miss for me. The one constant is Naya Rivera’s brutally intense cheerleader/human abuse machine, Santana Lopez. Her quick thinking and verbal attacks make her a welcome spice in a sometimes bland Glee-stew. Surely notoriously cultish Glee viewers would watch a show just for her! But even if they did, a show centered on Santana would be the televised equivalent of that one awkward Thanksgiving dinner when your grandparents said something racist and you couldn’t finish eating fast enough. A half-hour of Santana’s savage take-downs of her fellow characters’ weight or clothing would make even the sassiest Gleek want to sprint out of the room and take a nap with a teddy bear. 

5. Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother

Barney is a modern-day Don Draper. He wears suits, drinks scotch, and beds an impressive number of ladies. Combined with the fact that Neil Patrick Harris can basically do no wrong at this point, and it would seem that all the stars have aligned for a legendary spin-off called — wait for it — The Bro Code! But such a show would remove an essential part of Barney’s character: the mystery. Nobody knows what he does for a living. He doesn’t even know who his father is. He’s not as much a character as he is a force of nature and vehicle for absurdly masculine punch lines. To base a show on Barney would mean explaining Barney, and as everyone knows, what’s inside the box isn’t nearly as interesting as what we imagine is inside the box, unless it's Gwyneth Paltrow's head.

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Commentarium (14 Comments)

Feb 17 12 - 3:24am
M.

I think we've met Barney's dad. I'm not sure though. I just remember him getting drunk with a father figure, but said father figure was faking? I've got a great memory.

Feb 17 12 - 8:01am
jhug74

John Lithgow
I want Barney/NPH in any form forever because he is so amazing-character and actor

Feb 18 12 - 5:28pm
Bee

Is Barney Stinson a member of your shady dating site? If so I am TOTALLY clicking on your spam link. I will risk any virus for a night with that man.

Feb 17 12 - 12:20pm
Rj

Yes, he knows who his father is.

Feb 17 12 - 12:23pm
moops

How about Doctor Spaceman?

Feb 18 12 - 12:02am
LiquidCourage

"DR. SPACEMAN! IS IT TRUE THAT BREAD CAN ROT YOUR BRAIN!?"

"There's no way of knowing, Tracy...because the powerful bread lobbyists keep blocking funding for my research."

Feb 17 12 - 5:25pm
But

How I Met Your Mother pretty much IS a show based on Barney. The characters revolve around him. Viewers tune in just for him. Ted is just a blank stand-in for the audience.

Feb 17 12 - 6:49pm
sotocat Bagdad,

Networks are masters at taking a good thing and running it into the ground.

Feb 18 12 - 4:20am
fdsalkjf

Barney's pervy cad schtick in 'How I Met Your Mother' is all subconsciously tempered by the fact that the viewing audience knows that the actor playing him is actually gay. If he was straight, the politically-correct media would have denounced his creepy character and the show in general. Personally I don't like HIMYM for the same reason I didn't like Friends-- sick of seeing beautiful, hip, inexplicably wealthy people in New York and their comic exploits.

Feb 18 12 - 11:03am
moops

Of course everyone knows that Neil Patrick Harris did not come out of the closet until well after he was on How I Met Your Mother. So you are wrong.

Feb 18 12 - 11:38am
fdsalkjf

You mean he didn't make it official until well after he was on the show. Liberace never made it official at all.

Feb 18 12 - 3:34pm
Hampton

For what its worth, the Friends were mainly sharing apartments and only a couple of them had decent jobs. They were not "inexplicably wealthy."

Feb 18 12 - 6:46pm
oklund

I always thought Barney Stinson was a mildly tragic, unfunny clown. Kind of like if Joey of Friends was that much less puppy-adorable. It's fun to defy the new TV generation on the internet!

Feb 19 12 - 10:26pm
Injest

Another factor in the Glee argument is the 3D concert movie that came out a while ago which absolutely no one saw, despite everyone's certainty that Glee fans would flock to it.

It's funny, actually, how corporations think they can capture lightning in a bottle twice. Sure there are certain formulas more likely to work than others (hence the inventions of genres and loglines), but it's still mostly guesswork even in this late capitalist age. Look at Safe House tearing it up at the box office right now, and Paranormal Activity and Horrible Bosses in months past. Then look at The Green Lantern and Cowboys & Aliens bleeding money last year. You tell me: where's the pattern? There isn't one. Hell, Ryan Reynolds was in both The Green Lantern and Safe House, so you can't even make the movie star argument. It's just dumb luck. It can't be quantified. No one seems to get this, and that's why we're getting a Dwight Schrute spin-off.