Here's a new one: A spinoff of a once-successful series that's not labeled a spinoff and continues to bear the original's name even as its creator insists it is a spinoff.
Welcome to the ninth season of "Scrubs" (9 and 9:30 p.m. tomorrow, WTAE), which creator Bill Lawrence wanted to re-title "Scrubs Med" but ABC executives balked.
On a continuum of spinoffs that sinks to the depths of "AfterM• A• S• H" and to the creative heights of "Frasier," where does the new, un-retitled "Scrubs" land? Probably somewhere in the middle. It's not terrifically awful, but it's also not as reliably fun as "Scrubs" was in its prime. There's too much time spent with the old characters to get viewers invested in the newbies, giving the show a divvied up feel.
As the new season opens, J. D. (Zach Braff) explains to viewers in his typical voiceover narration that Sacred Heart Hospital has been torn down and rebuilt on the campus of Winston University.
"Part of me hates how familiar this seems. I hope I can find a way to make this all feel new," says J.D., now an instructor alongside Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) and Turk (Donald Faison).
Then his narration gives way to a female voice belonging to Lucy (Kerry Bishe), who narrates part of the episode. Although she's the show's new voice, her character isn't all that distinctive. She's an insecure doormat without much of a personality.
Far more interesting is last season's returning intern, unemotional tough-girl Denise (Eliza Coup), whose character is (unfortunately) somewhat softened in tomorrow night's second episode as she embarks on a relationship with former med school dropout Drew (Michael Mosley).
The most notable new character is cocky, lazy Cole (Dave Franco, James' little brother), whose character traits bear some resemblance to the intern played briefly by Aziz Ansari ("Parks and Recreation") at the start of last season. Jerky Cole makes a good foil for Denise and a thoughtless tormentor to Lucy.
Series creator Lawrence, who wrote the "Scrubs" season premiere, said he didn't want to ignore other old characters even if he doesn't have the budget to include them on a weekly basis.
"I hate when shows move forward as if all these characters have died. 'Frasier' was so smart. They just moved to Seattle so everybody still exists [back in Boston at Cheers]," Lawrence said this summer at the TV critics press tour in Pasadena, Calif. By moving the show to a medical campus and spending less time in the hospital, it becomes plausible that viewers see some of the show's original supporting characters less frequently.
Braff is in the first six episodes, and his J.D. is now married to Elliot (Sarah Chalke, who returns as a guest star in this week's season premiere), and they're expecting their first child. Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins) is in the first two episodes, and sex-obsessed Dr. Todd (Robert Maschio) also appears briefly. The only character not expected to appear at all this season is Turk's wife, Carla (Judy Reyes).
"Here's what's [expletive] up: 'Scrubs' is over. I wrote the finale. They told me it was over," Lawrence said. "And to be really candid, when they told me they wanted to do it again, there's no money in it for me."
Lawrence explained that while another season of "Scrubs" makes financial sense for ABC, the show hasn't been successful enough in reruns to bring the show's creative participants more money.
"Don't get me wrong, I hope it becomes this great new show that's a huge hit -- that will never happen -- and suddenly it's worth something," he said. "What it became about is, 'Do you want 110 people that you've worked with for the last eight years to work again?' And I talked to everybody and they're geared up to have a job."
Lawrence understands that some fans are wary of this new iteration of "Scrubs," and he's not going to feed them a line about it being the show's best year ever.
"It might [stink] but wait 'til you see it until you decide it [stinks], and if it does [stink], it wouldn't be a lame, pale imitation, it will [stink] in a giant, huge flameout of why-did-they-do-that? kind of way," Lawrence promised.
In addition to a revamped "Scrubs," this fall Lawrence also launched "Cougar Town," which has been doing pretty well in the ratings and earned a full first season pickup.
"The joke around the office is that 'Scrubs' is like my drug dealer," joked Lawrence, who has the writing staffs of his two series sharing the same building. "I'll be working on 'Cougar Town' and the guys writing 'Scrubs' over there will be like, 'Come over for a minute,' and I'll go in the 'Scrubs' writers' room and eight hours later I walk out."
Contact TV editor Rob Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.