When is a Spinoff Not a Spinoff?

Nikki Finke takes time out from writing 973 posts about The Dark Knight‘s box-office (we get it, it’s going to make lots of money) to write about how The Office spinoff will not be a spinoff at all, and it’s largely due to Greg Daniels’ determination to create something similar but unconnected:

Daniels wants to do an unrelated series with an Office-like tone and vision. But NBC wants a directly related Office spin-off, again with the same tone and vision as the American version of the original British series. “What NBC keeps arguing is that they want to cast Steve Carell in the first episode of the new show debuting after The Office on Super Bowl Sunday, and why would he show up if it’s not related?” a source tells me. “But Daniels is a stubborn, stubborn guy. I bet Greg gets his way.”

And he did. The legendary “Office spinoff” now turns out to be a star vehicle for Amy Poehler; instead of taking an Office character and making him or her the star, it’ll be an Office-like show about a new character played by one of NBC’s most valuable performers.

Can it really be true that NBC executives don’t know how they could get Steve Carell into the pilot of this show? Have they not heard of the concept of The Crossover? There have been countless shows that weren’t spinoffs yet benefited from a visit from a character from an established hit. ABC’s TGIF shows routinely crossed over with each other. St. Elsewhere crossed over with Cheers even though St. Elsewhere only existed in a child’s fantasy. The Flintstones met Samantha and Darrin from Bewitched. Even NBC’s recent Knight Rider backdoor pilot crossed over with Las Vegas. All Michael Scott has to do is show up wherever the new show takes place, and say “I can’t wait to hear about all the exciting, sexy adventures you’re sure to have against this colorful backdrop.” It’s just not that complicated, guys.

Daniels is one of those producers who just seems to be really good at dealing with network executives. Maybe that’s because his wife, Susanne (sister of Paul Lieberstein, one of Daniels’ best writers) is herself a network executive, and he knows how their minds work. But people from both King of the Hill and The Office have talked about how Daniels is willing to take advice from network executives where it’s warranted, while saving the battles for the issues that matter, like this one. His rewrite of King of the Hill after Mike Judge’s first draft was an example of that; Fox brought him onto the project to address some of the issues they had with Judge’s concept, and his rewrite alleviated Fox’s concerns — by, among other things, creating Cotton Hill to make Hank look more enlightened by comparison — and yet the end result was a very quirky and unusual show that was about as far away from focus-grouped blandness as you can get.