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August 24, 2019 9:02 pm  #1

Instant Replay Pt. 2: TV Flops & Stars That Should Have Known Better

Last week, we looked at some infamous and not-so-famous TV shows you never heard of and the stars that lived to work another day. This installment has more of these disastrous shows, some of them featuring names you know starring in roles you never will.
King Lear Fails
All’s Fair, CBS, 1976 

 In the 70s, it seemed like veteran producer Norman Lear could do no wrong, with All In The Family, Maude, The Jeffersons and Good Times getting great ratings. But even the king of controversial shows didn’t have the Midas Touch every time. In “All’s Fair,” a pair of veteran performers played two people who hate each other’s politics but manage to fall in love. The audience didn’t return the ardour and there was nothing Fair about its swift cancellation.

See All’s Fair on YouTube
In The Beginning, CBS, 1978
“Fair” wasn’t Norman Lear’s only failure. He went after religion in 1978, and could only beg the network for forgiveness when yet another highly anticipated show wound up with low ratings that were beyond belief.

See “In The Beginning on YouTube
 The Stars Are Not Aligned
Sometimes big stars take on high profile shows trying to take advantage of their popularity or begin a comeback only to see those efforts go down in flames. Here are some well known names that didn’t exactly shine down in TV Heaven.
Bronk, CBS, 1975
Jack Palance was a huge star when he tried to take on a detective role in the mid-70s. His first case should have been to find out where his audience disappeared to in this quickly cancelled starring role.

See Bronk on YouTube
Diana, NBC 1973
She was red hot after appearing as Emma Peel in The Avengers and her Game of Thrones role was still years away. So it seemed like a sure thing when Diana Rigg took on an eponymous role in her own TV show. But a stupid concept and some witless scripts may have made the veteran actress find someone to Avenge Her.

See Diana on YouTube
Nichols, NBC, 1971
How many times could James Garner play essentially the same character – the spineless but charming coward who helped others? He tried it again in 1971 and it wasn’t worth a plug Nichols in the ratings. However he’d be back again years later with “The Rockford Files,” playing, you guessed it, the same kind of character.

See Nichols on YouTube
Matt Lincoln, ABC, 1970
Every doctor you can imagine has been featured on TV over the years, from caring family physician Marcus Welby to the surgeons on M*A*S*H. So why not put a former television doc like Ben Casey back in a white coat – this time as a psychiatrist? Whoever decided this was a good idea should have had their head examined by Dr. Lincoln.

See Matt Lincoln on YouTube
The Tim Conway Comedy Hour, CBS, 1970
The Young Rebels, ABC, 1970
The late Tim Conway was great on the Carol Burnett Show. On his own, he never had a hit. From a western comedy called “Rango” to this would-be variety effort, Conway was doomed to never be a lead star in his own show.
See The Tim Conway Comedy Hour on YouTube
Over on ABC, Lou Gossett Jr. co-starred in his first ever starring TV role, a show called “The Young Rebels.” In the end, it was the audience that rebelled.

See The Young Rebels on YouTube
Daddy Dearest, NBC 1993
On the surface it sounds like a great idea. Comedian Richard Lewis and veteran insult comic Don Rickles playing father and son on a sitcom. But outside of “CPO Sharkey,” Rickles simply never found much success in a regular TV program and this one was no different.

See Daddy Dearest on YouTube

Lewis and Clark, NBC, 1981
It wasn’t exactly a Welcome Back to Kotter when Gabe Kaplan decided to try one last show. And what could be more realistic than a styrofoam lawn ornament salesman dropping everything to start his own country music bar. Even the Sweathogs wouldn’t buy that one. The audience didn’t, either. It was gone after 8 episodes and Kaplan never made another sitcom.

See Lewis & Clark on YouTube
Working Stiffs, CBS, 1979
Michael Keaton & Jim Belushi playing idiot janitors in a giant office building. As bad as it sounds and cancelled after four episodes. Which was probably three episodes too many.

See Working Stiffs on YouTube
What Were They Thinking?
Music and TV have gone together since the first cathode ray tube lit up. But somehow, it rarely works when paired with situation comedy or drama. So you may have to admit the following three shows were somewhat out of tune before they even hit air. But someone gave them the green light.
That’s Life, ABC, 1969
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Put a Broadway-bound actor and one of Jackie Gleason’s old producers together, add in some songs in the middle of the show and you have a big hit. Although in this case, the letter “s” is missing from the front of that word. The concept may have sounded good, but it turned out it wasn’t music to the audience’s ears.

See That’s Life on YouTube
Getting Together, ABC, 1971
This one seemed like a no-brainer. Bobby Sherman was not only an actor who’d made his mark on a hit show called “Here Come The Brides,” but he was also a teen-idol hit maker whose songs like “Little Woman” were constantly in the Top 10. Put him in a show about songwriters who drive around in a hearse and what could go wrong? Turns out, plenty.
By the way, for those who don’t know, Sherman eventually left music and show biz and became a paramedic and a cop in Los Angeles.

See the pilot for “Getting Together” on The Partridge Family over YouTube
Cop Rock, ABC, 1990
One of the most high profile flops in TV history, it came from none other than uber-producer Steven Bochco, who created such classics as “Hill St. Blues,” and “L.A. Law.” But this show hit some wrong notes in more ways than one. It was a traditional cop drama and the writing was up to Bochco’s usual standards. The problem? At anytime in any scene, the cast might break into a song about the case or the crime.
Critics howled and the audience fled in droves. It barely finished the season and on the last episode ever broadcast, the writers acknowledged the failure. In the very final scene, a meta moment if ever there was one, the Chief of Police is sitting in his office and says, “I can’t believe they cancelled us!” After some lamentations, they all break into one final tune: Roy Rogers’ signature song, “Happy Trails To You, Until We Meet Again.”

See Cop Rock on YouTube

Stop Monkeying Around
Mr. Smith, NBC, 1983
What is it with TV execs that they seem to be infatuated with shows about monkeys? (Never mind the singing group of the same name.) Over the existence of the boob tube, there have been way too many shows that centered on our nearest animal cousins.
In the 60’s, there was “The Hathaways,” a show about parents raising monkeys as their kids.
In the 70s, actor Ted Bessell was in demand after his performance on “That Girl,” and signed onto a Garry Marshall show called “Me & The Chimp.” It was about a normal American family who took in the title animal after it was rejected by the U.S. space program. The show destroyed his career and it was never the same after that.
Even the TV version of Planet of the Apes failed to excite viewers in 1974.
But perhaps the worst of all of them was a crime committed on NBC in the fall of 1983, when the chimp from Clint Eastwood’s classic flick, “Every Which Way But Loose” became the star of his own show. It was called “Mr. Smith,” and you have to wonder how anyone thought this primetime primate was even a remotely good idea.

See Mr. Smith on YouTube
Ridiculous Concepts
The Good Life, NBC, 1971
Larry Hagman gave up a good life playing Maj. Tony Nelson in the hit “I Dream Of Jeannie.” He would one day become the sinister J.R. in “Dallas.” In between, he decided to take on this show with one of the most ridiculous plotlines in TV history – a couple decides to give up their upper middle class existence to work as servants for a millionaire. This “Life” was taken very quickly by the audience, who declared it D.O.A.

See The Good Life on YouTube
American Chronicles, Fox, 1990
He made the movie “Blue Velvet.” He turned TV on its ear with “Twin Peaks.” And he was one of the strangest directors to ever get behind a camera. So what could be a better idea than giving David Lynch carte blanche to capture the real America? Turns out, almost anything. Despite his twisted viewpoint and an emphasis on sexuality and violence, the show was cancelled after just three months, consistently coming in dead last in the ratings.
Sierra NBC, 1974
Over the course of a very long career, Jack Webb created Dragnet, Adam-12 and Emergency. What was left to exploit after taking on cops, paramedics, lawyers and more? How about park rangers? Yes, the exciting world of park rangers. Not many made the journey and in a show so obscure it’s not even listed in Webb’s Wikipedia entry, this park was closed after three months.

See Sierra on YouTube
The People Next Door, CBS, 1989
A psychotherapist marries a cartoonist, whose imaginary characters have an unfortunate tendency to come to life. In other words, a show based on reality. The reality, though, is that – despite being created by horror master Wes Craven – this horror was scared off TV after just five shows.

See The People Next Door on YouTube
Deserved A Better Fate
The Chicago Teddy Bears, CBS, 1971
Probably no one remembers this Friday night CBS show fondly besides me. The comedy, about a speakeasy, took place in the Al Capone era and – to the memory of a young kid – had great scripts and often boasted surprise endings. But it was the cast that really should have made this show work. In addition to Disney staple Dean Jones, it also boasted John Banner, (formerly Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes” fame) and a very young Jamie Farr, (one day to enlist in M*A*S*H.)
But to me its real claim to fame came from one of the bit players who appeared every week. It was none other than Huntz Hall, who rarely showed up on TV. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you might know him by another character name – Sach in the Bowery Boys films.
The people involved were great but the audience didn’t see it that way. It was gone before all 13 episodes finished airing.

See The Chicago Teddy Bears intro on YouTube
The Good Guys, CBS, 1968
This was a rare flop in that it lasted two seasons. But it was a lot better than the ratings indicated. It starred an old dependable – Bob Denver – and a classic character actor named Herb Edelman, one of those you’d-know-him-if-you-saw-him kind of guys. It was also a rare show in that TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory – who seemed to hate almost everything – actually gave it a rave review.
But that didn’t change the eventual outcome and “Bert’s Place,” the fictional diner run by Edelman, closed its doors in the second season.

See The Good Guys on YouTube
He & She, 1967
Possibly the greatest one season wonder in TV history. This was a huge critical darling and it won rave reviews. But this sophisticated, witty comedy died after only one season. But it could be said it was resurrected a few years later in the form of a monster hit – The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
This workplace/home sitcom was created and written by the same people who would go on to work on Moore’s classic, and Jack Cassidy’s Oscar North character bears a very strong resemblance to a future Ted Baxter. It aired in the middle of CBS’s cornpone country comedies, like Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies, and that audience tuned it out in droves, a classic case of terrible scheduling.
It was ahead of its time and CBS knew it. In a memo sent to its producers after it wasn’t renewed, one network executive unintentionally but hilariously wrote: “This is the best show we’ve ever cancelled.”

See “He & She” on YouTube
Finally, a few more shows you might not want to consider.
Leif Garrett before he tried to sing

See Three For The Road on YouTube
Kurt Russell without Disney

Hear the John Denver theme song from The New Land on YouTube
A M*A*S*H spinoff that didn’t M*E*S*H

See Roll Out on YouTube
Cast out by TV viewers

See The Outcasts on YouTube

Instant Replay Bonus: TV Shows About Radio

Next week: The Battle Over Cancon Goes Farther Back Than You Think