Thursday, February 9, 2017

Spin-offs: Characters Who Leave Us Wanting More


In Tuesday’s post celebrating the publication of Deborah Crombie’s newest book, THE GARDEN OF LAMENTATIONS, I asked her if she had ever considered spinning off one of her supporting characters into a separate book.  It doesn’t sound like that’s on the horizon for Debs’ London cast of characters, but it got me thinking:  Are there characters who deserve their own spin-off?  In books and on the smaller screen?

I did a little digging to refresh my memory about successful spin-offs, both on TV and in literature.  Some were obvious including “Frasier” from “Cheers” and the many iterations of “Law and Order” that were spawned from the original series, which first aired in 1990.  But did you know that “Mork and Mindy” was a spin-off from “Happy Days”?  Or that “Torchwood” came from “Dr. Who?”

In literature, I found examples of authors being inspired by earlier works, as opposed to spin-offs created by the original writers.  WIDE SARGASSO SEA, a wonderful book by Jean Rhys, was inspired by Charlotte Bront
ë’s JANE EYRE.  It tells the tale of the first Mrs. Rochester, the one who went mad in the attic.  AHAB’S WIFE gets her due in the book of the same name by Sena Jeter Naslund.
   
These riffs on earlier works are compelling, but there are some supporting characters who deserve to star in their own stories.  The first who comes to mind is Winston Nkata, the detective sergeant who works alongside DI Thomas Lynley and DS Barbara Havers in Elizabeth George’s English detective series.  DS Nkata’s Caribbean roots are mentioned in some of the books, but never explored in depth.  Nor is much information given about the knife scar that traces a jagged line across his cheek.  There is always the sense that a deep chasm separates Winston’s youth from his current role as a police officer.  As a reader, I’d like to know more.

Aren’t all readers of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series just a little bit in love with octogenarian Henry Pitts?  A retired commercial baker, Henry provides Kinsey Millhone with advice and cinnamon rolls, but it’s his roster of elderly siblings that piques my curiosity.  Now fit and well into their nineties, what must it have been like in the Pitts’ household during Henry’s youth?  And what of Henry’s romantic history?  I’d love to peek into his life when he was a younger man, say 70-years-old.

George Fayne.  Bonus points if you know who this character is without the context of her two BFFs.  Nancy, George, and Bess solve crimes and find themselves knee-deep in trouble on a regular basis.  Of course, I love Nancy Drew, but I’d really like to know more about George.  How did she get that name?  Is it short for Georgina or Georgia?  Always described as a “tomboy,” what exactly warrants that description?  Does she skydive when not teaming up with the girls?  Does she join the guys for pick-up football games?  At a time when Nancy Drew was breaking the mold, I wonder how much George might have pushed the boundaries even further.
  

What are your favorite spin-offs, and which ones have been utter failures?  “The Love Boat: The Next Wave,” perhaps?  Any spin-offs you’re dying to see on the page or the screen?  Any die hard “The Love Boat: The New Wave” fans out there?





45 comments:

  1. “NCIS,” a spin-off of “JAG,” is perhaps one of the most enduring spin-offs; several incarnations of “Star Trek” followed the original series.

    As for spinning supporting characters in books into their own story, that’s an intriguing idea but then I’d suppose readers would miss them from their place beside the main characters in the stories they currently inhabit. I think I’d be more inclined to consider giving them more focus within the series . . . .

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  2. Spin-off characters! Yes, I'd love to see Henry get a series. Stephanie Plum's Grandma Mazur. Remember Rhoda, spun off from the Mary Tyler Moore show? Valeria Harper was sublime.

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  3. What a great concept, Ingrid. Notice how there is already a theme of giving the older sidekicks their own series?

    The first thing that jumped into my mind was what they call fanfic, not that I've read any. But it's apparently big in the Star Trek world, where fans and others write whole series continuing story lines they liked or start new ones with the standard cast of characters. Or maybe that's a different animal entirely than what you proposed.

    I have read a couple of books, not that I remember the names, where a secondary character in a long-running series is given the main POV in a book, so it's not quite a spinoff, since the series continues. One I am thinking of didn't quite pull it off, which was a disappointment.

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  4. Spin-offs can be fun. I'd love reading a series that explores the backstory or history of the Marauders from Harry Potter. Younger James, Sirius, Remus, Peter, and Lily. Some fan put a movie together and it was pretty awesome.

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  5. Oh, I never read Wide Sargasso Sea… I didn't know that!
    And that's exactly why there are so many "new takes" on beloved characters, right? What happened to Mr. Darcy,--what happened to so many Bronte characters, I guess. And Meg and Sharon's future Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, so great! There must be a Nick and Nora spin off, right? Tracy Kiely, I think.
    I have thought about spinning off Peter Hardesty from my book Truth Be Told-- amazingly, I have gotten letters from readers about doing that! Very tempting.
    Speaking of characters disappearing… I was at an event last night with the incredibly fabulous in Rankin, who told us that the first Rebus book was supposed to be a standalone … And then after a few non-Rebus books, his editor said to him "whatever happened to that police guy? " and Ian thought "yeah, he's still there." Now he's on book 21 or something… He also talked about spinning off characters from that series-- and says he really wants to.

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  6. And a sidenote, I never liked that Nancy called Bess "plump. " I always felt like they created Bess and George to make 'Nancy be even more fabulous. Poor things… I always pictured George as Rosalind Russell. You know, a George spin off is a great idea… Ingrid, go for it!

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  7. Yes Ingrid and Hank, I'd love to hear about George too. do you think she was gay? Although Hank's theory about choosing characteristics for her friends that made Nancy stand out make total sense.

    I'm reading Kristan Higgins latest book now--she writes women's fiction and romance. She does this all the time--has a cast of characters in a series and moves the focus to a new character in each book. So there's enough familiarity for the seasoned reader, with lots of new material too.

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  8. AfterMash and Trapper John, M.D., from MASH. Lewis, a spin-off from Inspector Morse.

    Mostly, TV spin-offs fail to hold my attention. As for minor characters in a book being given their own series? That depends on the writer and the reason for the spin-off. If the story is compelling, then I'd say it would be worth exploring. If it's some author's/publisher's idea of extending a series on the wane, then probably not worth it.

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  9. I completely forgot Lewis! Love that show more than Morse. I'd watch a series with the "dishy" DS (now DI) Hathaway in a heartbeat.

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  10. Oh, Hank, you must make time to read Wide Sargasso Sea at some point, it's quite wonderful. I know there was a movie made, but I can't remember a thing about that, so I assume that is a bad sign. ;)

    Spinning off Paul Hardesty is a brilliant idea.

    In talking with Louise Penny, I've told her that I would love to see the history of Ruth Zardo someday - whether as a spin-off or a plot for the main series. I would also love to see a collection of Ruth's poetry (most of which is actually the work of Margaret Atwood), so that will likely never happen. (It already exists elsewhere in Morning in the Burned House).

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  11. Ann in Rochester, persistantFebruary 9, 2017 at 9:00 AM

    I'm not much on spin-offs, mostly because I find these disappoint me. I do like it when the writer focuses on one character, then another in the course of the plot. That keeps it interesting. Deb, you are a master at this. I have a picture of each character, and while Id like to see your books on TV, I'm not sure I want my images changed.

    TV spin-offs are another thing altogether. I have a confession. I am devoted to "Mama's Family," a spin-off from The Carol Burnett show of course. I've seen every episode multiple times, and I think Vicki Lawrence and Beverly Archer are two of the funniest and most entertaining actors ever.

    TV spin-offs don't always work, but I think they happen because the original cast gets a better offer and off they go, leaving the opportunity for whomever stays. This is not the case in books. These characters can live forever, although I've never forgiven Agatha Christie for killing off Poirot. He could have retired. Pftt.

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  12. Some of you might be too young to remember the 70's spinoff of Knot's Landing from Dallas. Gary, the star of KL, was JR's California brother, and there was a little bit of crossover between the two shows over the years. I watched both of them when they aired, the only shows I watched other than Love Boat with my then-small daughter.

    And I'm sure there was at least one daytime soap spun off from another one, but my memory is fuzzy about which ones.

    Of course, Huckleberry Finn could be seen as a spinoff from the three Tom Sawyer books, even though it was after the first one.

    Even as a kid I wondered if George liked other girls. I didn't know the word "lesbian", but that was my intuition about her.

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  13. Would you consider Tana French's books spin offs? She takes a less important detective from each book and makes him/her the lead in the next book.

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  14. Great question, Ingrid! George was always my favorite (tomboy!) and I always wanted to know her story. Someone should really write it...ahem. I've never done a spin off, but in my new endeavor writing romantic comedies, the books are connected so the BFF in the first book becomes the heroine in the second, etc. So far I am loving that the world is already created much like writing a mystery series which gives me a chance to focus on character development and shenanigans!

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  15. Ann in Rochester, persistantFebruary 9, 2017 at 10:11 AM

    Good question Triss. I see Tana French's books more as standalones but they could fit the definition of spin-offs. And very good ones, too. However

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  16. Does anybody around my age remember the fifties sitcom December Bride, and the spinoff Pete and Gladys?

    Karen, your mention of Dallas and Knot's Landing reminded me of the great question "who shot JR?" In the summer after that cliffhanger, I went to a barbecue at my aunt and uncle's home, and my aunt's mother-in-law was wearing a tee shirt proclaiming "I shot JR!"

    One of my favorite TV spinoffs is Major Crimes, which spun off from The Closer. I've got all of them on DVD.

    I LOVE the idea of a prequel about Sue Grafton's Henry and his siblings! They would have lived through the Depression, through World War II, etc.

    Deb Romano

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  17. I'm only up to book 6, but I am on board with your spin off for Henry. Sue Grafton needs to get on that after she finishes the alphabet.

    My problem with spin offs on TV is that the characters leave the mother show. Like Angel leaving Buffy or Rhoda leaving Mary. I loved them on the mother show, and the mother show lost something without the characters. I get why it happens on a TV show. Fortunately, that's not something that has to happen in a book series since there are no actors who have to be scheduled.

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  18. The first Morse prequel was great, remember? Endeavour… Loved it!

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  19. Debs may not want to write a spin-off series, but I always wanted to see a book with Detective Chief Inspector Alun Ross, the Scottish detective in Now May You Weep. He was grumpy, suspicious, and surly, but he loved to garden, and his wife had just run off with a fertilizer salesman. I wanted to know more. I also think it would be a hoot to have Ronnie Babcock and his great aunt, Margaret--from Water Like a Stone--team up to solve cold cases up in Nantwich.

    Like the rest of you, I remember George Fain well, and loved her in the Nancy Drew books. I'll also remind you that Lou Grant was a spinoff from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and went on to win Emmys in its own right. I think, if writers take time to make their characters interesting, well-rounded people instead of just place holders, stories could spin off in all directions. The only trouble is, it takes so much longer to write a book than it does for us to read it.

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  20. Hank - I never liked that Bess' main characteristic was her plumpness, and yes, Lucy, I always thought there was a strong possibility that George was gay.

    Fchurch - I totally forgot about "Lewis," which I enjoyed just as much as "Morse." I think it ended though, right?

    Mary, I am so onboard with the idea of a "Hathaway" spin-off. Dishy is right!

    Karen, I grew up watching "Dallas," and remember that Gary Ewing was the brother who left the oil fields for CA. There were occasional crossovers, but KL was never quite as satisfying to me as "Dallas!"

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  21. No, Knots Landing was so different from Dallas. And it was never quite as popular, despite having Michele Lee, Joan Van Ark, and Julie Harris, Donna Mills, William Devane, and Alec Baldwin! (I'd forgotten he was on that show.) But it aired for 14 years, believe it or not. A year longer than Dallas.

    Thinking of old radio shows, The Great Gildersleeve was a successful spinoff from the long-running Fibber McGee and Molly show (24 years!). Our local public radio station ran both shows for ages, up until a few years ago.

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  22. Aw, you guys beat me to Endeavor, which I love and which is coming back for a new season soon. And Mark got Angel from Buffy, although in that case I think Buffy was the better show.

    Torchwood was one of my favorite spin-offs (if anyone wonders why the kittens are named Captain Jack and Rose in Garden of Lamentations...)

    I did not remember that Knot's Landing was a spin-off of Dallas, but I never watched it, and I hated Dallas. I couldn't stand that it made people think Dallas was really like that.

    I'm going to have to get out my original Nancy Drews and think about the George question. I suspect that "tomboy" was the forerunner of "old maid". Women who never married because they were "different."

    And I agree that George and Bess were both meant to make Nancy more perfect.

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  23. I almost forgot: I like the way J A Jance has characters from her various series occasionally cross over into one of the other series.

    Deb Romano

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  24. Gigi, yes, I'd still like to write an Alun Ross, and I did my best to at least give Ronnie Babcock a scene in Garden of Lamentations.

    But I also thought about writing a spin-off featuring Winnie Catesby Montfort, the wonderful Anglican vicar who appears in several books.

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    1. Oh Winnie is such an interesting character. I think that she would make s great main character.

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  25. The Jeffersons and then Maude were both spin offs from All in the Family.
    I think both Endeavor and Lewis have worked well.
    There are interesting supporting characters in Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks series who could merit their own books.
    And interesting about Ian Rankin. Im already finding that people are writing to me snout my new stand alone, In Farleigh Field, and asking if it's going to be a series. I can see tat readers love characters to follow

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  26. Well FChurch beat me to the punch, but my very first thought was of Lewis and what a wonderful heir it was to Inspector Morse. I keep hoping they'll reconvene for another round some time.

    Hallie, thanks for the reminder of Rhoda from Mary Tyler Moore. And Gigi Norwood, for the reminder of Lou Grant. (I had almost forgotten that wonderful series altogether!)

    Oddly, I was just thinking within the past few days that since Margaret Maron has ended the Judge Deborah Knott series as least in part because she couldn't bear to write the death of her father, yet it strained credulity to keep him alive much longer, I'd love to see her start a spin-off that focused on budding electrician Annie Sue. It could be set in a time after her grandfather's passing (so poor Margaret didn't have to write it and none of us had to live through it) and focus on the lives of the next generation of the Knott family. I always found her the most interesting one of the new generation, and it seems like there would be lots of interesting new opportunities there.

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    1. She finished the series... Oh no:) . I loved The Judge and her family.

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  27. I have to say Lewis I like even better than Morse or Endevour, but in my opinion it is because Morse is gone. I love Henry as well as Doug and Melody from Debs series, but it would have to be so well crafted to keep the relationships with the main characters in the right perspecive. And would you make them lesser characters in the original series, for both of these I think they would be lost. I feel like both these authors create such rich characters, but their richness is enhanced by who they are in the original format. That being said I am someone who hates change !! Don't do it either if you.. just put out more books if the original series. Just my thoughts !

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  28. I like Endeavor better than Morse, which isn't saying much since Morse was such a curmudgeon. Husband really likes Endeavor's boss. We both like Hathaway and Lewis, and we'd watch a Hathaway spinoff cheerfully. As for Nancy and her chums. . . I saw a cute movie on TV called The Duff. This smart funny high school girl figures out that the popular girls like her to hang out with them because they look better in comparison. So are plump Bess and tomboyish George duffs? I haven't read Nancy Drew in years so don't remember any specifics. What made George a tomboy? If it was a general disdain for so-called ladylike behavior and an interest for doing things that were considered for boys only I can relate. I don't know how many times I was told that boys can do that, not girls!

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  29. I think a Nancy Drew spin-off featuring Bess and George would be wonderful! Imagine them all grown up, with Nancy still perfect and her chums struggling with real life...

    I had no idea there had been a spin-off from The Love Boat, Ingrid. Sounds like I didn't miss much.

    There's a solid convention in YA and Romance to have a group of characters (friends or relations or coworkers) who are introduced in one book and then get to be the lead in a later story. It's not something we do in mystery, though, is it? (Except for Tana French?) I wonder if it would be possible, given that it would require every member of the group to run into a murder. Maybe something like one of the long-running crime series on TV, where every one of the police squad/law firm has his or her own big story line at some point.

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  30. Oh, and spin-offs I'd like to see? I was going to say Lady Georgie's mother, but a book with her front and center the whole time could be exhausting!

    Kent Krueger has shown us glimpses of his protagonist's father, a lawman who died in his late thirties/early forties. I'd love to read a story about him as a young man, struggling with being half Anishanaabe back in the forties and fifties.

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  31. Oops! My bad. It was Cork O'Connor's mother who was half Anishinaabe. HER father arrived as a teacher at the reservation and wound up marrying an Indian girl during the Great Depression. Honestly, the whole backstory would make a good series, wouldn't it?

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  32. Rhys, I'd completely forgotten that Maude and The Jeffersons spun off from All In the Family!

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  33. I loved "Rhoda." And Julia, I never saw the "Love Boat" spinoff, although I was a huge fan of the original. My sisters and I used to do a Saturday night double feature of "the Love Boat" followed by "Fantasy Island." I also remember "Founder of Lost Loves" being part of the line-up!

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  34. That comment was me, again. One of these days I'll figure it out!

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  35. We guessed that it was you, Ingrid. But of course, we're mystery fans:-)

    Deb Romano

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  36. Such an interesting topic. I'm enjoying this one a lot.

    Yes, Gigi, Lou Grant was an amazing spinoff; a successful 1 hour drama spun off a half hour comedy. Not only my favourite spinoff, but one of my favourite programs ever.

    And sure, Deb R, I remember December Bride and Pete & Gladys (I think we never met Gladys until she had her own show, right?) I was very very very young then, but I liked that guy who played Pete: Harry Morgan.

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  37. Wow! Never occurred to me that Georgie, short for Georgianna, would be gay. Reading Nancy Drew now, after the women's movement, I thought that Georgie was ahead of her times. When Nancy Drew was created, it was between the first world war and the second world war.

    Regarding spinoffs, I like the first year of Endeavour. Also liked the Lewis series.

    Thought spin-offs applied to TV shows, not books? I was in the bookstore the other day and I was surprised to see a mystery book about Ravi, the Indian policeman from Dalziel and Pascoe TV series, because his character died near the end of the television series.

    Ingrid, this is an interesting topic.

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  38. Susan D, yes, I remember that Gladys was spoken of only, until the Pete and Gladys program. When MASH came to TV I was delighted that the actor I remembered as Pete would be one of the regulars!

    Deb Romano

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  39. Ingrid, this is about me spinning INTO your series. Thank you for writing Loyalty - I'm halfway through and don't want to put it down. And since I am nearly bedridden from my knee replacement surgery a week ago, I don't have to! Fina is fabulous, as is the story. I'm glad there are a couple more in the wings for me.

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  40. Such a great discussion about spin-offs, Ingrid. I need to read Wide Sargasso Sea. My son, who had to read Jane Eyre in high school, went on to read Wide Sargasso Sea and sang its praises over Jane Eyre. Oh, and I'd love to see Henry from the Kinsey Milhone series have a book with more about him and his siblings in their younger days. And, Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund is one of my favorite books. I love all of Naslund's books, and she is such a nice person, too.

    Debs, I was happy with your inclusion of Ronnie in Garden of Lamentations and his new connection to Duncan. With more of Melody's father in this book, I kept thinking that he probably has some great stories connected to the newspaper.

    The spin-offs from All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Maude, were favorites of mine to watch, and, although it wasn't a spin-off, I loved that Bea Arthur went on to do The Golden Girls. I enjoy the spin-off of NCIS:New Orleans, especially since I've now been there, although there are some changes taking place that I'm not sure about yet. The Walking Dead spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, is horrible, and I didn't last many episodes with it. I was actually cheering for the zombies in that one.

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  41. What about "The Facts of Life," "Laverne & Shirley," and "The Colbert Report?" Spin-offs one and all!

    Edith, I'm so sorry you had to have surgery, but I'm so glad that Fina is proving to be a good distraction! Thanks so much for your kind words!

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  42. All in The Family also had the short lived "Gloria" and "Archie Bunker's Place" in its spinoff line. And technically, the also short lived "704 Howser Street" in which the Bunker home was now lived in by a black family and they essentially reversed the situation from the original show. They even had the now adult aged character of Archie's grandson Joey show up in one episode.

    As for Doctor Who, Torchwood was the "adult" version of the mothership. Doctor Who was the "family" show and "The Sarah Jane Adventures" spun off Sarah Jane Smith into a kid friendly show.

    M*A*S*H* also had a failed pilot featuring Radar becoming a police officer, you can find that on Youtube.

    The Golden Girls spawned Empty Nest and Golden Palace (basically the GG after Bea Arthur left the show)

    Spenser: For Hire had "A Man Called Hawk". And that is one book spinoff I would love. To see all the more hardcore Hawk adventures that he has when he's not helping Spenser.

    Same goes for Ranger from Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels.

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  43. Another vote for Lou Grant, here. One thing that show learned from MTM was the importance of having a strong ensemble cast, rather than just one star -- which I like in both books and TV shows. I only wish it was possible to buy the Lou Grant episodes on DVD.

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