There’s no doubt that the vast majority of people reading this had absolutely no idea that there was a That 70’s Show spin-off… Probably because it was THAT unsuccessful. Of course, any spin-off to the 1998 – 2006 Fox sitcom was bound to be successful. After all, there are very, very, very… very few spin-offs that are successful, particularly when it comes to sitcoms. Additionally, That ’70s Show was so specific and so beloved that it probably should have been left alone. But thanks to the success that the show was bringing to the network (as well as the stars it created and made rich) during its run, there was a desire to expand upon the IP. Therefore, in 2002, That ’80s Show was created and aired as a mid-season replacement for the main series. But That ’80s Show only lasted for 13 episodes.
Not one of the 13 episodes of That ’80s Show had anything that the best episodes of That ’70s Show had. And that seems to be the main reason why nobody watched the spin-off and it was quickly axed by Fox. But is there a specific reason why That ’80s Show was so freaking unwatchable? Yes… as it turns out, many fans believe they know the answer as to why That ’80s Show was an unmitigated disaster, dumpster fire, Jackson Pollock painting of a sitcom.
That ’80s Show Wasn’t Really A That ’70s Show Spin-Off
While things certainly happened behind the scenes of That ’70s Show when it was canceled, there’s no doubt that it had a great run of some truly beloved episodes. Not only that, but the characters were just so specific, and so entertaining… even if they were played by some rather suspect individuals… Here’s looking at you, Danny Masterson, and all of the ongoing investigations into your allegations. Because of the success of the characters brought to life by Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner, and Mark Brazill, audiences were furious when they saw that the spin-off had no trace of them.
The only connection between That ’70s Show and That ’80s Show, beyond the similar title, was the fact that the main character (Glenn Howerton’s Corey Howard) was the first cousin to Topher Grace’s Eric Foreman. That’s it… end of story.
As pointed out in Nerdstalgic’s excellent video essay, this presented a big problem to the show’s viewership. After all, fans were being told by Fox’s marketing Death Star that this was a direct spin-off to the show that they knew and loved. And while it took place in a different decade, there would be much the same about it. Perhaps even characters carried over or a similar sense of heart and soul. But none of this ever happened with That ’80s Show…
Unlike Frasier, which is arguably the most successful sitcom spin-off series ever, That ’80s Show was nothing like That ’70s Show. Frasier was smart to deviate from Cheers almost entirely, aside from a few brief cameos and the fact that its main character was a main character on Cheers. But it never pretended to be a continuation of Cheers. It was a continuation of Frasier Crane’s life. But Fox marketed That ’80s Show as a continuation of That ’70s Show… it’s in the name after all.
So, all That ’80s Show did was give the fans a false sense of hope.
That ’80s Show Learned Nothing From What Made That ’70s Show So Great
Put aside the fact that That ’80s Show wasn’t really a spin-off series for a second and focus on the tropes it was trying to bring to life. It was supposed to harken back to the 1980s. But it did so in a way that felt cheap and forced… almost like how Fox and the creators were forcing the world to make That ’80s Show a hit.
Instead of carefully weaving in the stereotypes and the tropes from the 1980s in the way that That ’70s Show did so well, That ’80s Show threw them in the audience’s face. There was no great dissection of friendship and the coming of age story played against the stereotypes of the decade. There was no comedy based on authentic character relationships. There was simply no depth.
And the audiences didn’t buy into it.
While the premiere of That ’80s Show racked up massive viewership, the following weeks dropped dramatically. Critics absolutely loathed it and fans of the original series just weren’t turning up. They didn’t connect with the caricature that were the stars of That ’80s Show and they certainly didn’t see much in the way of the show that they originally fell in love with.