After I saw Harriet Harris portray Eleanor Roosevelt onstage last month in the Berkshires, I got to musing about how great it would have been if Bebe, the hilariously scheming talent agent Harris played on “Frasier,’’ had gotten a spinoff series of her own.
Couldn’t you just see Bebe lording it over her stable of hapless and insecure clients, manipulating and bamboozling them each week as she negotiated deals that expanded her own power? I’d definitely have been there for a show titled “Bebe,’’ or, better, “Bebe!’’
The history of television contains no shortage of shows built on supporting characters from successful series. “Frasier” itself was a spinoff from “Cheers,’’ and a very successful one at that. “The Mary Tyler Moore Show’' launched fully three spinoffs: “Rhoda,’’ “Phyllis,’’ and “Lou Grant,’’ the latter of which pulled off the neat trick of constructing a drama from the seedbed of a beloved comedy.
“The Good Wife’' led to “The Good Fight,’’ while “black-ish’' has given rise to two spinoffs that have made it to air so far: “grown-ish’' and “mixed-ish.’’ And of course “Better Call Saul’' has worked wonders by transplanting Saul Goodman from “Breaking Bad’' into a prequel, where he is still Jimmy McGill.
However, some spinoffs live on in infamy as cautionary tales.
One dud that comes immediately to mind is NBC’s “Joey,’’ starring Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, the lovable lunkhead from “Friends,’’ relocated to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career. (LeBlanc eventually got his mojo back by playing an ego-saturated version of himself in the excellent “Episodes.’’) Other dismal spinoffs that deservedly flopped include “Joanie Loves Chachi’' (from “Happy Days’') and “AfterMASH’' (from “M*A*S*H.’’)
Still, I can’t help mulling a few supporting characters who, like Bebe, could have made an indelible impact as the leads in their own series. A few tantalizing what-ifs are:
-- The endearingly oblivious Richard Splett from “Veep,’’ played by Sam Richardson. Hey, the storyline is already in place, given that Richard ends up with a, shall we say, significant career upgrade in a flash-forward scene in the series finale.
-- Egocentric Jenna Maroney from “30 Rock,’’ portrayed by Jane Krakowski. A spinoff would give obtuse Emmy voters a chance to finally give Krakowski the award she should have won several times over by now.
-- Glum but reliable Chloe O’Brian of “24,’’ played by Mary Lynn Rajskub. Maybe if she didn’t have to deal with constant phone calls from that nuisance Jack Bauer, Chloe would have a little time for herself and could turn that fabled frown upside down?
-- Dwight Schrute from “The Office,’’ played by Rainn Wilson. There actually was an attempt to create a Dwight-centric spinoff, but NBC passed on it. Time for a second chance. Forget the old tug-of-war between Dwight and Michael Scott over whether he was assistant regional manager or assistant to the regional manager. Dwight — and the wanna-be’s for whom he stands — deserves to try on a new title for size: top dog.