TV Comedies And Dramas With The Exact Same Premise - But Drastically Different Execution
Photo: NBC / ABC

TV Comedies And Dramas With The Exact Same Premise - But Drastically Different Execution

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Voting Rules
Vote up the pairs of shows that successfully spin the same concept for laughs and drama.

Art is hardly ever wholly original, and that's okay. Artists commonly borrow ideas from each other, or coincidentally come up with similar ideas at the same time. As a result, it isn't uncommon to see two similar television shows pitted against one another, or to see programs forced to make drastic changes from their initial season in order to separate themselves from the pack of competitors.

Execution is everything, though, and it's amazing how a near-identical concept can be taken in vastly different directions. In that spirit, here are some TV comedies and their dramatic counterparts that shared the exact same premise, but managed to pull it off with wildly different - but successful - tones. 


  • 'Weeds' And 'Breaking Bad' Both Feature Parents Selling Drugs To Support Their Families
    Photo: Showtime / AMC

    Suburbanites who take deep-dives down the drug dealing rabbit hole? Check. Decent parents driven to do increasingly more morally dubious things in an effort to keep their illicit business afloat, all because they’re desperate to provide for their families? Double check. Weeds and Breaking Bad have a shockingly similar basis - similar enough that the debut of the former a few years earlier almost stopped Breaking Bad from getting made. Fortunately, the creators and network execs were confident that the two shows could milk that concept for opposite tones.

    Weeds is more comedic by far, balancing out some basic drama in the life of Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) by deriving humor in the uncomfortable situations she finds herself in while balancing her marijuana sales business with caring for her children. On the other hand, Breaking Bad takes an unlikely protagonist, terminally ill chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston), and puts him though all the darkest aspects of the New Mexico methamphetamine trade, examining his own darker impulses along the way.

    27 votes
  • 2
    16 VOTES

    'Barry' And 'Killing Eve' Are Both About Assassins Quiet-Quitting

    'Barry' And 'Killing Eve' Are Both About Assassins Quiet-Quitting
    Photo: HBO / BBC America

    If Bill Hader's masterpiece of a program, Barry, doesn't entirely stick to the sitcom formula suggested by its half-hour runtime, one still can't deny that it finds plenty of bleak humor even in its dark moments. As Barry Berkman (Hader) attempts to put his life as a hitman behind him, embracing acting under the tutelage of Gene Cousineau (Henry Winkler), he meets plenty of goofy criminals and bizarre non-sequitur situations that provide chuckles in between kills.

    Meanwhile, Killing Eve turns a very similar premise into an hour-long drama, centering another bored assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Much like Barry, Villanelle yearns for fulfillment and connection that her job as a killer can't provide, leading her to strike up a playful cat-and-mouse game - and eventually, an erotic, romantic rivalry - with MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh). 

    Oddly enough, Barry and Killing Eve aired their first episodes only two weeks apart from each other, on March 25 and April 8, 2018, respectively. This concurrent timing didn't hinder either show, though - both actors who play the central assassins won Emmys for their performances in 2019 (Hader for Lead Actor in a Comedy, and Comer for Lead Actress in a Drama). 

    16 votes
  • 'Gilligan's Island' And 'Lost' Both Follow Groups Trapped On A Mysterious Island
    Photo: CBS / ABC

    The 2004-2010 ABC hit Lost blew the minds of viewers everywhere upon its release, with its focus on “mystery box” storytelling style that unwound and rewound myriad plot threads in an existentially fraught grab-bag of science fiction and conspiracy thriller tropes. But most importantly, more than the cryptic string of numbers or the Smoke Monster, Lost is about the relationships between a group of disparate personalities, which is played for drama to great effect.

    Sound familiar? That's because the classic 1964-1967 sitcom Gilligan’s Island has the exact same premise, but played for laughs rather than drama. The ensemble cast frequently attempted to escape the island, with those attempts failing very often due to the involvement of Gilligan (Bob Denver). What could be a bleak situation - and would be, in reality - is made hilarious by taking it to a goofy extreme, as the castaways never lose their spirit to keep trying to get off the island. Just as Lost had a major impact on dramas that came after it, Gilligan's Island influenced many sitcoms that followed, thanks to its smart mix of slapstick and character-centric humor. 

    24 votes
  • 'Crossbones' And 'Our Flag Means Death' Take Different Approaches To The Story Of Infamous Pirate Blackbeard
    Photo: NBC / Max

    It seems unlikely that the pirate mythology could inspire both a TV drama and comedy, but much less unlikely that both should feature pirate legend Edward Teach AKA Blackbeard as a central character. Crossbones, the first and more dramatically inclined of the two, unfortunately only managed to eke out a single season on NBC (possibly due to competition from another pirate drama, Black Sails). Still, John Malkovich gives a great turn as Blackbeard in this gritty historic take.

    The 2022 comedy Our Flag Means Death takes on a light-hearted fictionalization of the life of Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), an idealistic and gentle pirate captain who crosses paths with Blackbeard (here played by Taika Waititi). Not only is Our Flag filled with levity as the pirate crew grow close like a family, it also features a delightful romantic arc between Bonnet and Blackbeard that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Though pirates and rom-coms might not seem like a natural pair, this show blends them in the best way.

    13 votes
  • 'Arrested Development' And 'Succession' Both Feature Rich Siblings Fighting Over Who Inherits The Family Business
    Photo: Fox / HBO

    Arrested Development was a cult hit of a sitcom, under-appreciated during its original 2003-2005 run, but with a retroactive fanbase that had it revived on Netflix 10 years later. The documentary-style filming features rapid-fire jokes while centering on Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) and his siblings Gob (Will Arnett), Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), and Buster (Tony Hale), as they attempt to salvage their family real estate company - and fight over who gets control of the company finances - after their father, George Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) ends up in jail. 

    A near-identical premise kicks off Succession, one of the defining dramas of the early 2020s. Though there's a decent dose of comedy in the Roy siblings' vicious verbal takedowns of each other, the endless fight between Kendall (Jeremy Strong), Roman (Kieran Culkin), and Shiv (Sarah Snook) over who will take over as CEO from their father Logan (Brian Cox) certainly has far more tragedy in the end. The sociopathy of the mega-wealthy is on full display in Succession, and the characters certainly make much colder and less humorous choices than those of Arrested Development do.

    15 votes
  • 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip' And '30 Rock' Go Behind The Scenes Of 'SNL'
    Photo: NBC / NBC

    30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip took on similar targets in their subject matter, with both shows operating as clear behind-the-scenes analogues for the real-life sketch comedy juggernaut Saturday Night Live. 30 Rock takes a sitcom angle, featuring series creator (and former SNL head writer) Tina Fey playing a fictionalized version of herself named Liz Lemon, wrangling unruly star Tracy Jordan (SNL alum Tracy Morgan) and combating notes from heartless exec Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin).

    That being said, Studio 60, while shorter lived, has plenty of bona fides to justify it as a dramatic companion, with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin at its helm. In fact, given Sorkin's credentials (with megahit The West Wing to his name), along with the powerful leading duo of Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford, many expected that Studio 60 would overshadow 30 Rock when both debuted in 2006; in the end, the reverse happened, with Sorkin's show ending after its first season, and Fey's take going on to a total of seven seasons. Perhaps viewers preferred the faster pace and zanier feel of 30 Rock versus Studio 60's hour-long runtime and comparatively dramatic tone - it's a shame that both shows couldn't continue on. 

    14 votes