The Worst Thing I Ever Saw (Part 2):
The Nightmare Continues
by Cary O'Dell
Though, god knows, I love me some TV (and have watched A LOT OF IT) some years ago—for a different website—I composed a list of some of the worst programs I have ever seen in my long viewing life. Oh, the dregs I recounted: “The New Monkees,” “Aliens in the Family,” “Leo & Liz.” Ugh!
I didn’t include some of the more legendary “WTF’s” like “My Mother, the Car” and “Manimal,” etc. because, despite their super weird premises and reputations, if you watch them today, those shows are not nearly as bad as people like to dis-remember them; in fact, they weren’t necessarily any better or worse than a lot of other things on TV at that time.
Besides—sad to say—there has been plenty of other dreck out there that really does deserve the label of “worst.” Here’s a few that I have had the misfortune to witness…
“The Girl from UNCLE” (1966-1967)
It pains me a bit to lead this list off with this title which I still have something of a soft spot for but, alas, if I’m being honest…. I do admire this one-season wonder for what it was: network TV’s first hour-long program centered on a woman and I admit the influence “Girl” might have had in inspiring young women and for how it might have paved the TV path for “Wonder Woman” and “The Bionic Woman,” etc. But, boy, are some of these episodes atrocious. A spin-off of course of “The Man from UNCLE,” etc. but…“Girl” in its single season on the air found itself far too often unsuccessfully trying to be both action-adventure and high camp and then failing in both. No wonder that its star, Stefanie Powers, almost never talks about the show and devotes only two pages to it in her autobiography.
“Life with Bonnie” (2002-2004)
Make no mistake, Bonnie Hunt is a national treasure—funny, smart, and charming; was there ever a better Letterman guest? Unfortunately, she’s never been able to gel in any of her (so far) three sitcom tries. And his one—preceded by “The Building” in 1993 and “Bonnie” in 1995—didn’t change anything. Hunt is a master at improv and, hence, every episode of this series contained an improvisational segment in which Hunt shined though sometimes it did seem like she and her fellow cast members were far too pleased with themselves for going all WITHOUT A NET during this short interlude. Unfortunately as well, the improv segments were only a few minutes long leaving a deadly dragged out, unfunny amount of so-called sitcom around it. Was too much energy put into the improv parts at the expense of the rest of this overly subdued show?
“Cassie & Company” (1982)
Another one that also wounds me to include because I do like Angie Dickinson. This was Dickinson’s follow-up to her iconic “Police Woman” series. Though not playing “Pepper” again, on “Cassie,” she had been sort of “promoted,” from cop to PI. This show only aired a handful of episodes on NBC because, despite the great charisma of its star, the show was a badly-paced throwback to the more talk heavy detective dramas of the early 1970s and that style was distinctly out of sync with where TV was in the early 1980s.
“Checkin’ In” (1981)
You know, sometimes supporting characters should just stay supporting characters. As if no one learned a lesson when “The Ropers” was dismally spun off from “Three’s Company,” “AfterMASH” would later do its best to tarnish the legacy of “MASH” in the early 1980s. And don’t even get me started on “Joanie Love Chachi”! One spinoff you might have forgot—and, if so, count yourself as lucky--was when Marla Gibbs’s wonderful Florence the maid from “The Jeffersons” became the head of housekeeping for a NY hotel in this sitcom. The show only aired for one month in 1981. That was plenty as Gibbs’s Florence, so funny on “Jeffersons,” got stripped of all her wit in this sad excuse of a sitcom which also starred Larry Linville. For everyone’s sake, after “Checkin’s” demise, Gibbs/Florence returned to the Jefferson’s deluxe apartment in the sky and all was right with the world once more.
“John and Leeza from Hollywood” (1993-1994)
John and Leeza were John Tesh and Leeza Gibbons, respectively. Both had come to prominence on the syndicated “Entertainment Tonight” and then they got paired up for this daily, daytime talk show. In many ways, “J and L” was like the daytime equivalent of ABC’s 1989 “Primetime Live” where that network teamed up Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson, thinking that witty banter would be the automatic result. It wasn’t. And neither was Tesh and Gibbons who, despite both being seemingly quite likeable, didn’t have that great of chemistry nor did their producers give them anything to do or talk about other than, I guess, “Whatever.” The result was a dull, formless bore. The show essentially ended after seven months when Tesh left it and Leeza went it alone with a more “Oprah”-like approach to daytime talk. That show was a success and ran until 1999.
Not to be confused with the wonderful, charming and very high energy Gale Storm series “My Little Margie” from the early 1950s, this “Margie” was a sitcom from the early 1960s starring Cynthia Pepper as a teenager coming of age during the roaring 1920s. Or, at least, I think it was as I really couldn’t stay awake long enough to find out. Based on the 1946 feature film that starred Jeanne Crain, “Margie” was just too twee for its own good, especially with its silent film-like title cards that announced such directions as “Please pay attention” and “The Plot Thickens.” While the cast of the show seemed to be enjoying themselves in their contrived recreation of the 1920s, 1960s audiences were just left to think, What a ham-handed and dull decade that must have been!
Quite possibility the definition of “high concept,” this series allowed us to wonder what if, before they went all extinct, dinosaurs had been just like us! Not surprisingly, this was a Disney product with an assist from Jim Henson Productions who crafted the anthropomorphic costumes worn by the actors who portrayed a typical sitcom family who just happened to be dinosaurs. The costumes were cute and the color-palate of the show was memorable but, sadly, they didn’t have anything funny or inventive to say. Maybe all the good prehistoric jokes got used up by “The Flintstones”? Or maybe all the energy just went into the product tie-ins for the show—of which there seemed to be thousands, most living on long after this show died out.
“Dance Moms” (2011- )
Sometimes bad shows are so bad they’re good. And sometimes they’re just bad. And sad. Certainly that is the case with this pitiful Lifetime reality series about convicted felon Abby Miller and her Pittsburgh-based dance school where mothers with poor judgement brought their children to be insulted and ridiculed by the bitter, petty, vile Ms. Miller. In fact, the treatment of the kids on the air on this show alarmed so many viewers that, according to various reports, local child protective agencies often got calls about it! Word to Lifetime: regardless of the ratings, if your program is resulting in repeated accusations of child abuse, PULL THE PLUG!