''Buffy the Vampire Slayer's'' David Boreanaz and ''Party of Five's'' Jennifer Love Hewitt get their own shows

In the beginning, there was All in the Family, which begat Maude (which begat Good Times), The Jeffersons (which begat Checking In), and Gloria. Then there was The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which led to Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant. Yes, the ’70s were the golden age of TV spin-offs — or should we say their Happy Days (which launched Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, Joanie Loves Chachi, and Out of the Blue)? Later, Dallas let loose Knots Landing, and Diff’rent Strokes birthed The Facts of Life, but spin-offs were fewer and farther between. In this decade, the trend has all but died, with rare exceptions like Frasier (a postmortem Cheers) and Melrose Place (Grant Show’s Jake first appeared briefly on Beverly Hills 90210).

But now the spin-off seems poised for a prime-time comeback. Plans have been announced to give Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s David Boreanaz and Party of Five’s Jennifer Love Hewitt their own shows next season. And rumors are flying that Lisa Kudrow could be leaving her Friends for a solo sitcom.

In today’s increasingly competitive TV environment, spin-offs make sense. It’s become nearly impossible for a new series to cut through the clutter, so building a program around a popular existing character seems a safer bet. But do Boreanaz, Hewitt, and Kudrow have what it takes to carry their own shows?

Boreanaz, for one, is a bit concerned. ”If it didn’t make me nervous, I wouldn’t want to do it,” says the actor, whose angsty vampire, Angel, will move to L.A. in an eponymous WB drama debuting next fall. ”There’s something to be said for tackling your fears.”

Buffy’s other cast members have their own fears, since creator Joss Whedon will have to split his time between the two shows. ”I’ve been giving Joss hell,” says Alyson Hannigan (Willow). ”If you take a kitten away from its mom too early, it continues to suck. I don’t want to be that kitten!” Not to worry: With Whedon’s prodigious talents there’s little chance Buffy — or Angel — will ever suck.

There’s also little chance Hewitt won’t be able to hold her own. She held the big screen in I Know What You Did Last Summer and Can’t Hardly Wait, so you can’t blame Party’s producers for wanting to showcase her (she’s now buried in the opening credits after Lacey Chabert). Her series will have an intriguing premise — adoptee Sarah searches for her birth father — and a different feel from the gloomy orphan drama: ”It’s a chance to experiment with a more comic tone,” says executive producer Chris Keyser. ”It won’t have the same dark premise that Party started with.”

Meanwhile, Friends’ creators and Kudrow deny that they’re developing a separate show, but with her recent Emmy victory, she’s emerging as a late-in-the-game breakout star. Last season, Kudrow’s Phoebe displayed a new maturity as a surrogate mom for her brother’s triplets. And in the recent art-house flick The Opposite of Sex, Kudrow proved she could play more than just a ditz, creating a complex portrait of an uptight unmarried woman. At first, the flighty Phoebe might not seem to be the Friend Most Likely to Spin Off, yet Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier wasn’t the most obvious Cheers choice either.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
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