1. Airwolf season one
Based on a 1984 TV movie about a "renegade pilot" who uses his advanced battle-helicopter to search for his brother, Airwolf was essentially Knight Rider (which debuted in 1982) with a helicopter. The show had a three-season run before getting canceled by CBS (after numerous storyline and character changes) and picked up by a company associated with the USA Network. They killed off the remaining original cast members, filmed it on a bare-bones budget in Canada, and recycled footage from the first three seasons whenever they needed a shot of the copter in action.
2. The Brady Bunch Variety Hour
In an episode called "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase," The Simpsons previewed three possible spin-offs, including The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour, inspired by this Brady forebear. The unbelievably awful variety show featured the Brady cast (minus Eve Plumb, a.k.a. Jan, who producers replaced with Geri Reischl) doing lame song-and-dance numbers and painfully unfunny sketches. Apparently nine episodes aired in 1977 before the network ax fell, but the DVD only includes two–which is still two too many. That episode of The Simpsons says it all: "And now, a family that doesn't know the meaning of the word 'canceled,' the Simpsons!"
3. Dinosaurs seasons one and two
The surprising success of The Simpsons spawned countless imitators, and Dinosaurs was one of the first. Muppet pastor Jim Henson conceived of the show, which revolved around a working-class family of dinosaurs, "living the good life in 60,000,003 B.C.!" In spite of Henson's input, the show reeked of ABC's committee thinking: "Picture The Simpsons mixed with The Flintstones–but with dinosaurs!" See if you can notice the subtle parallels in the character roundup, which included a blustery, blue-collar father; his even-keeled wife; a petulant grandmother; two kids (a rebellious boy and his younger sister), and a baby, creatively named Baby. The show debuted in '91 and actually lasted until '94, when the Ice Age killed off all the characters. Whoa.
4. Father Murphy seasons one and two
Although it technically wasn't a Little House On The Prairie spin-off, Father Murphy felt like one. It was set in roughly the same time period, starred Little House cast member Merlin Olsen, was produced by Michael Landon, and had all Little House's family-friendly themes. Here, Olsen plays a drifter who poses as a priest to take care of orphans. Creepy? Yes, but Olsen's intentions were purely altruistic. Each week, the cast learned new lessons and warmed hearts. The show aired on NBC from '81 to '83, just before Landon returned to NBC with Little House castmate Victor French for Highway To Heaven.
5. T.J. Hooker seasons one and two
Starring William Shatner as a plainclothes cop lured back to the beat after the death of his partner, T.J. Hooker debuted in 1982 and ended three years later. It belonged to the same genre as Starsky & Hutch, Simon & Simon, and others that helped entrench cop-show clichés: the odd couple of a grizzled veteran cop (Shatner) and a brash rookie partner (Adrian Zmed); the irritable station captain who thinks Shatner is a loose cannon, but still respects him (Richard Herd); the ex-wife who still cares for her married-to-the-job former spouse (Lee Bryant), etc. Sure, the cops drove their cars through stacks of boxes during high-speed chases as well. But in this age of Law & Order and NYPD Blue, T.J. Hooker is downright silly in its attempts at grittiness (and Shatner's frequent proselytizing to offenders). Can a big-screen adaptation starring one of the Wilson brothers, Ben Stiller, and Vince Vaughn be far off?