Greenlighting a TV show takes many steps and invovles many people. First, there are the people who come up with the premise and create the characters and the pilot script. Then there are the studio folk who agree to produce it, and the networks who agree to distribute it. That’s a lot of people. There are so many steps, it’s hard to believe that terrible ideas actually make it to your living room.
These 10 bizarre shows were all flops, but they’re still kind of amazing.
1. My Mother the Car (1965-66)
The title kind of says it all. Kind of. The premise was that the main character (Jerry Van Dyke)’s deceased mother was reincarnated (see what I did there?) as an automobile. And…that was pretty much it. Even with such a bizarre concept, it’s possible the show could have been successful if placed into the right hands. But it wasn’t, and the show was cancelled quickly. However, both Simpsons executive producer James L. Brooks and Mary Tyler Moore co-creator Allen Burns have this show on their resumes.
2. The Second Hundred Years (1967-68)
There was actually a lot going on here. First, the main premise is that in 1900, a gold miner was trapped in an avalanche and preserved in a state of suspended animation for 67 years, after which he’s thawed out and resumes living in 1960s California as your standard time-traveling fish out of water. To make things more complicated, he moves in with his son, who is now 67 and physically older than his own father. To make things even more complicated, his 67-year-old son also has a son, who is the same physical age as his grandfather (33), and played by the same actor. Did you get all that? Neither did audiences, and the show was cancelled.
3. Me and the Chimp (1972)
Even star Ted Bessell (a regular on That Girl) hated this one, and it’s easy to see why. The premise here was that a NASA lab chimp is adopted by Bessell’s family and chimp-themed hilarity ensues. Jackie, the chimp, was apparently quite difficult to work with and CBS yanked it after one season. Maybe it was a decent lesson in what not to do, though, as producer Garry Marshall would go on to give us Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, and Bessell would win an Emmy for his work on The Tracey Ullman Show. The show itself lives on in infamy, and has been frequently invoked as the worst show of all time.
4. AfterMASH (1983-85)
The premise of this show is summed up in its quite literal (and perhaps unintentionally ominous) title: It takes place after the events of M*A*S*H, which ran for 11 seasons and, in that time, won 14 Emmy awards. Understandably, but not wisely, CBS was just unwilling to let go of such a popular franchise, and so it came up with this. AfterMASH follows the exploits of three of the original show’s characters (Potter, Klinger and Mulcahy) at a veterans’ hospital in Missouri, after the Korean War. Which sounds kind of…depressing. The show was a Top 10 hit in its first season, probably because audiences were already familiar with the characters and the success of the original show. But there was only so much steam to the spin-off, and halfway through season two, NBC’s The A-Team drove it off the air.
5. Mr. Smith (1983)
When a circus orangutan is separated from its trainer, it ends up drinking a top-secret substance that gives it an IQ of 256, which leads to it landing a position as an adviser to the president of the United States. We couldn’t make this up if we tried. The result is an ape in a suit voiced by executive producer Ed Weinberger, creator of Taxi and, later, The Cosby Show. This show was, one supposes, a lapse in judgment.
6. The Charmings (1987-88)
This one could have been good. Its culture-clash theme was that Snow White and Prince Charming move from the land of fairy tales to 1980s Burbank. The show could have flourished, but it was bogged down by bad scripting. Not only that, but it aired opposite of Family Ties in its second season. Unable to compete with that show, The Charmings folded.
7. Cop Rock (1990)
This was a musical crime drama. …that is pretty much all you need to know to understand why it failed. Police procedural Hill Street Blues creator Steven Boncho was behind this one. Randy Newman even provided the music…but it was doomed.
8. Homeboys in Outer Space (1996-97)
If the title doesn’t make you cringe, I don’t know what will. The premise was that two astronauts, played by Flex and Darryl Bell, traveled around in space in a car-shaped ship called the “Space Hoopty.” The car was controlled by a computer named Loquatia. The consensus was that while it might have worked as a sketch, it didn’t have enough substance to be a full-fledged sitcom. Despite that, it managed to hang on for 21 episodes.
9. The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (1998)
It’s very possible to derive humor from tragedy, but it has to be done carefully and with a considerable amount of intelligence. This was not the case here, where American slavery was the topic. The show follows the titular character leaving his native England and coming to Civil War-era America. Desmond, who is black, winds up working as Abraham Lincoln’s butler. A comedy touching on the painful subjects of slavery and racism could have been great, but this show’s gags were clumsy at best and offensive at worst, and the show only lasted a few episodes.
10. Cavemen (2007)
In a classic example of how certain things are best left in certain forms, someone attempted to turn the cavemen from the early 2000s Geico commercials into sitcom stars. While they could be passably amusing in 30-second format, the cavemen naturally weren’t cut out for 30-minute format. Audiences seemed to understand that from the get-go. The Writers Guild strike in November of the same year provided an opportunity for the show to be cancelled.