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The Big Bang Theory/Facebook

11 TV Spinoffs You Might Not Have Known Existed

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The Big Bang Theory/Facebook

The greatest testament to a television series’ endearing popularity is the inability of viewers to let its characters say goodbye. Which is why every time a popular show announces its series finale date, rumors begin swirling about the people, places, and things that might provide strong fodder for an entirely new series.

Some of these spinoff ideas go the way of Dwight Schrute and The Farm (read: nowhere). Others buck the spinoff moniker altogether and end up being as successful as the original incarnation (see: Frasier). And then there are those shows that make it to the small screen… only to find the sound of crickets chirping in place of a laugh track.

Though we won't know the fate of Young SheldonThe Big Bang Theory prequel that CBS recently confirmed will premiere in the fall—let’s take a moment to (desperately try and) remember a few spinoffs you might not have known existed.

1. THE GOLDEN PALACE (1992-1993)

Spun off of The Golden Girls (1985-1992)

Bea Arthur was the only main actress from The Golden Girls to not appear in this series, which sees Blanche, Rose, and Sophia becoming hoteliers after purchasing an Art Deco gem known as The Golden Palace Hotel. Despite Don Cheadle and Cheech Marin in supporting roles, The Golden Palace was booking at about 10 percent capacity.


Spun off of The X-Files (1993-2002; 2016-)

Agent Fox Mulder’s favorite trio of conspiracy theorists, better known as The Lone Gunmen, went from recurring characters to leading men in 2001. While the show­—which was co-created by Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan (along with Chris Carter, John Shiban, and Frank Spotnitz)—was met with critical praise, audiences simply weren’t tuning in. It was cancelled after just 13 episodes, but had the unusual opportunity to address its (unintentional) finale’s cliffhanger in the ninth season of The X-Files.


Spun off of The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)

Originally created as a television movie called The Brady Girls Get Married, some brilliant television executive somewhere decided that what 1981 really needed was more Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. So they turned the movie into a four-part miniseries, with the final episode serving as the pilot for a new series that sees the sisters fall in love, get married in a joint ceremony, then buy a house and all move in together. Because that’s a totally relatable storyline. NBC divorced the series 10 episodes later.

4. TABITHA (1977-1978)

Spun off of Bewitched (1964-1972)

Little Tabitha Stephens—daughter of Samantha and Darrin—is all grown up. And, like mom, she only needs to wiggle her nose in order to make magical things happen. Sound familiar? Viewers thought so. Not even witchcraft could help Tabitha get renewed for a second season.


Spun off of Cheers (1982-1993)

While Nick Tortelli—the gross-but-lovable ex-husband of foul-mouthed barmaid Carla in Cheers—was arguably one of that series’ favorite recurring characters (who was not an official bar regular), The Tortellis proved that Nick and his very blonde and very ditzy new wife, Loretta (a.k.a. Lor-ET-ta), worked better in small doses. They continued to make guest appearances on Cheers following their own cancellation.

6. DEADLINE (2000-2001)

Spun off of Law & Order (1990-2010)

Yes, even Law & Order has produced a clunker of a spinoff on occasion, including this one, in which Oliver Platt plays a tabloid journalist for the New York Ledger (a fictional newspaper often used as a prop in the Law & Order series). Despite an impressive cast, including Bebe Neuwirth, Lili Taylor, and Hope Davis, the series’ storyline was killed after 13 episodes.


Spun off of Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003)

Trying to take yet another bite out of the young beautiful people genre, Young Americans began its life on Dawson’s Creek. Lead character Will Krudski was introduced as an old friend of the gang in Dawson’s third season, when he visits during a break from Rawley Summer Academy, a prep school where he hangs out with Kate Bosworth and Ian Somerhalder. Summer lasted for a fleeting eight episodes.


Spun off of Designing Women (1986-1993)

Call it “Designing Women Goes to Washington.” Delta Burke reprised her role as Suzanne Sugarbaker (surprising, given her very public battles with the original show’s producers), this time as a widow who decides to fill her husband’s congressional seat following his passing. She is surrounded, of course, by a group of sitcom stereotypes who weren’t nearly well-developed enough to get a greenlight for season two.

9. MODELS INC. (1994-1995)

Spun off of Melrose Place (1992-1999)

Models Inc. is technically a spinoff-squared, as it’s a spinoff of Melrose Place, which is a spinoff of Beverly Hills, 90210. The show’s only real purpose was to capitalize on the fact that supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell were taking over the world in the mid-1990s. But Models Inc.’s only real contribution to the pop culture conversation was that it introduced the woman who would become Trinity—Carrie-Anne Moss—to the world.

10. A MAN CALLED HAWK (1989)

Spun off of Spenser: For Hire (1985-1988)

Poor Avery Brooks. After playing the badass sidekick to Spenser for three seasons, he headed off to Washington D.C. to be a hero to those in need. But he couldn’t hack it as top banana and his show was cancelled after its first season. Still, that didn’t stop Brooks from reprising his role in four made-for-television Spenser movies between 1993 and 1995.

11. AFTERMASH (1983-1984)

Spun off of M*A*S*H (1972-1983)

To be fair, attempting to replicate even a modicum of the success of M*A*S*H—one of the most beloved television shows of all time—would be akin to creating a show around The Drake following Seinfeld’s finale. It’s not that it couldn’t be entertaining; it’s just too soon (and unnecessary). Which is exactly what audiences thought of AfterMASH, which chronicles the lives of Colonel Potter, Klinger, and Father Mulcahy after the Korean War. Though AfterMASH did make it to a second season, it was cancelled nine episodes in and later called one of the 10 worst television shows of all time by TV Guide.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.