The show (not the spinoff) featured (did not STAR... featured, in most episodes) a ventriloquist who was so good that it caused a technical screw-up during production. Seems the sound guy would point the mike at the dummy, not the ventriloquist, whenever the dummy had a line.
The show featured the first black actor to win an Emmy as best supporting actor in a comedy series. He went on to star in the spinoff, which was named for his character.
According to imdb trivia, my memory may have failed me on my original clue. So I MAY be right, but I may be wrong. If I'm wrong, here's what REALLY happened:
One of the main characters in this series appears to be shot to death in the cliffhanger finale. We find out in a spinoff series that the character actually is in a coma, but shows up as an apparition who needs to do a good deed to get into heaven. So, if I'm wrong, she was only mostly dead, which is not the same as all dead.
The actor known for that last joke had his big break in the original series.