The latest news to come out, based on today's Wall Street Journal article by Brooks Barnes (subscription required), is that Grey's Anatomy will try to launch a television extension spinoff that there have been few examples of, with the pilot appearing as one of the latter episodes this season, to launch a full spinoff next fall, if the show does well.
The pilot will be two hours, featuring the character of Dr. Addison Montgomery-Shepherd, played by actress Kate Walsh, who will be the star of the spinoff show.
The title hasn't been announced yet, nor has the plot been publicly solidified, only an announcement to build a series if the pilot does well as an episode of Grey's Anatomy.
Barnes writes, "No new show is a safe bet in the fast and fickle TV business, but a spinoff is a safer bet. Rather than launching cold, spinoffs come with a built-in audience already invested in the concept or character."
By launching the spinoff directly from the show, having the pilot air as an episode of Grey's Anatomy, ABC is attempting both to move back up the TV rankings after dropping behind due to the lack of success of some of their other shows. ANd they are having an organic spinoff by actually launching it directly from the text of Grey's Anatomy.
It harkens to the way that The Jeffersons launched from All in the Family in the 1970s, with the pilot episode airing in the fifth season of All in the Family, when the Jeffersons "moved on up to the East Side."
And, appropriately, the Journal got a comment from Norman Lear as part of the story. Barnes writes:
ABC is approaching the spinoff in a smart way, says Norman Lear, the TV producer who refined the art of the spinoff in the 1970s when his "All in the Family" spawned a record five new shows. Too often networks try to force audiences to embrace a character just because they have an actor amenable to a spinoff -- NBC's ill-fated "Friends" spinoff "Joey," starring Matt LeBlanc, for instance. Instead, networks should "see who's popping and try to build something" around them, he says.
Over at TV Envy, they call this the "run it up the flagpole approach," directly testing a show staring the Addison character to the main Grey's Anatomy audience in a special episode.
Reuters, through Hollywood Reporter, is reporting that Taye Diggs is slotted to star in the series along with Walsh. In that story, by Nellie Andreeva, they call the episode airing in May a "back-door pilot."
I don't know if this is a sure-fire recipe for success, as the most important piece of the puzzle is execution, but this seems to be a strong way to try and build out a spinoff, and part of the key will be in directly retaining the aspects of Anatomy that draws people in for this new spinoff show. It's going to be an interesting project to follow.
Thanks to Ivan Askwith here at C3 for alerting me to this developing news today.