10. “Good Times”
A spin-off of a spin-off, “Good Times” was born out of “Maude,” where Florida Evans (Esther Rolle) was the Findlays’ housekeeper. The character and show concept were re-worked, however, and “Good Times” was set in inner-city Chicago, where Florida and James (John Amos) Evans raised their children J.J., Thelma and Michael. Jimmie Walker, as J.J., immediately became the breakout character — complete with catchphrase “dy-no-mite!” Rolle and Amos were not happy about the cartoonish nature of the J.J. character, and Amos was fired, with his character even killed off. Rolle eventually left as well, but returned for one final season. But despite the behind-the-scenes drama, the show was nominated for a Humanitas Prize, and eventually recognized for the impact it had in showcasing an African American family on television.
9. “Mork and Mindy”
Perhaps the most unusual — and most successful — “planted” sitcoms of all time, “Mork and Mindy” began as an episode of “Happy Days,” in which Mork (Robin Williams) appears in Richie Cunningham’s alien abduction dream. (Or was it a dream?) Mork winds up in 1970s Boulder, Colorado — traveling via large egg — and winds up being taken in by Mindy (Pam Dawber), who learns his secret. “Mork and Mindy” started off as a farce, but also a commentary on human nature — each episode would end with Mork “calling” his superior Orson, on the home planet Ork, to report on what he learned that week about earthlings. The show was an immediate smash hit, but a time slot move and a tonal change in Season 2 impacted the ratings. Attempts to revive “Mork & Mindy” included a marriage between the two and the birth of their adult-sized child Mearth (Jonathan Winters). The show was eventually canceled after four seasons, but by that point Williams was a comedy superstar.
8. “The Jeffersons”
Moving on up! George (Sherman Helmsley) and Louise (Isabel Sanford) Jefferson moved from being the Bunkers’ neighbors to a deluxe apartment in the sky. Another Norman Lear spinoff from the “All in the Family” canon, “The Jeffersons” was a pretty straight-ahead sitcom but notable for its African-American cast (including Marla Gibbs as their maid, Florence) and the interracial couple that lived next door (Roxie Roker and Franklin Cover). The sitcom ended in 1985 after 253 episodes.
In the annals of TV, “Cheers” stands out (particularly in its impeccable first season) for combining the best elements of a workplace comedy and the ongoing exploits of an unlikely bar family. When Frasier Crane made his way onto a show of his own, the series effectively split those ideas back up again, but in an effective way. Trading in Boston for Seattle, the show also turned Niles, Daphne, Roz, and Martin into living room favorites. (Though, let’s be honest, they all paled in comparison to Eddie the Jack Russell Terrier.) “Frasier” may not have been a revolutionary sitcom, but it became one of the last revered multi-cam comedies of its generation. For the better part of a decade, it even made apolitical talk radio oddly relevant.
One of the most groundbreaking comedies of all time, “Maude” began as Norman Lear’s original “All in the Family” spinoff. Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) was Edith Bunker’s cousin, a firebrand and supporter of progressive politics (the exact opposite of Archie Bunker). Bill Macy played her fourth husband, Walter (the owner of an appliance store), while Conrad Bain and Rue McClanahan (Arthur’s eventual “Golden Girls” co-star) were the Findlays’ next door neighbors. Befitting a Norman Lear sitcom, “Maude” tackled serious subjects, including alcoholism, depression and Maude’s decision to get an abortion, and is still cited even now for storylines that might not make it on the air today. “Maude” was produced for 141 episodes between 1972 and 1978.