List of television series considered the worst

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Television series notable for negative reception, from around the world, either by published critics, by network executives or by audience response, can be judged based on poor quality, the lack of a budget, rapid cancellation, very low viewership, offensive content, and/or negative impact on other series on the same channel. In some cases, a show that is acceptable on its own merits can be put in a position where it does not belong and be judged "worst ever." In many cases, "worst television series ever" lists are slanted toward more contemporary shows.

Animated shows[edit]

  • The Adventures of Paddy the Pelican – Created and directed by Sam Singer who is known for low budget cartoons.[1] Six animated episodes of this series were produced, all bearing the date 1954, making it one of the first ever efforts at a made-for-television cartoon (which would not become commonplace until the late 1950s); the characters were originally from a local TV puppet show on Chicago's WENR-TV that began airing in 1950. It is exceedingly rare, but has gained some fame for appearing on Jerry Beck's "Worst Cartoons Ever." On the DVD, he states that he has not found any evidence that it was aired on TV. The show is infamous for its shoddy pencil-sketch artwork, reused animation, rambling voiceovers, muffled soundtrack, and general low-budget problems.[1]
  • The Brothers Flub – Critical reception for the show was largely negative. Joanne Weintraub of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel described the show as "a rare clinker with all the noisy hyperactivity of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters and little of the cockeyed charm."[2] The Hollywood Reporter called it "a somewhat vacuous effort that lacks the charm and substance of much of Nick's other programming" but added "now and again [the creators] hit on some clever high jinks."[3] Writing for the Lakeland Ledger, Evan Levine said that the show had a promising premise, but thought that its humor was mean-spirited.[4]
  • Brothers Grunt – This 1994 series had a short run on MTV and was met with generally negative reception from critics. Kenneth R. Clark of the Chicago Tribune said that with the series, MTV "created the most repulsive creatures ever to show up on a television screen" and "accomplished the seemingly impossible."[5] Charles Solomon of the Los Angeles Times called the show "an effortful, sophomoric half-hour that leaves the viewer longing for the refined good taste of Alice Cooper."[6] In their book North of Everything: English-Canadian Cinema Since 1980, William Beard and Jerry White called the series a "failure".[7]
  • Bucky and Pepito – Two episodes appeared on a compilation DVD of the worst cartoons ever made,[1] and it was described by Harry McCracken as setting "a standard for awfulness that no contemporary TV cartoon has managed to surpass". Like Paddy the Pelican, Bucky and Pepito was produced by Sam Singer, a man notorious for his low-budget (but not stylized) animation.[8]
  • Clutch Cargo, Space Angel and Captain Fathom – These three Cambria Studios productions were infamous for their use of Syncro-Vox, a shortcut that superimposed the mouths of the voice actors onto still frames of the characters, resulting in a near total lack of actual animation. A Captain Fathom episode is included on a compilation DVD of the worst cartoons of all time.[1] Clutch Cargo gained a tiny boost in recognition when the man at the center of the infamous 1987 Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion hummed its theme song during one of his non-sequiturs, then made reference to one of its episodes by stating that he could "still see the X".
  • Family Dog – When the show had finally debuted after delays, it was roundly panned for its crude scripts and cheap production values, both of drastically lesser quality than the episode which had spawned the series.[9][10] Brad Bird didn't participate in making the show because he did not believe the show's premise would work as a television show.[11] The entire series was later released as a Laserdisc box-set, and various episodes of the show were released on VHS around the same time.
  • Father of the Pride – An American animated television series that revolved around a family of white lions, the patriarch of which stars in a Siegfried & Roy show in Las Vegas. The series was promoted heavily during NBC's coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece and garnered above average ratings for the network, but the show received a negative response from TV critics, who considered it to be little more than a gimmick and a shill for other NBC and DreamWorks properties (two early episodes extensively featured The Today Show's Matt Lauer and another featured Donkey – voiced by Eddie Murphy – from the DreamWorks movie Shrek and Shrek 2). Also, many TV critics noticed that the show's humor was very similar to South Park (one episode had a character say "Screw you guys, I'm going home!"). Siegfried and Roy's reaction was more positive: "They laughed. A lot. They kept asking us to create more contradiction. Literally, one's blond and one's dark, and every aspect of their life is as black and white as that. They are always playful with one another, always playing tricks on one another. They encouraged us to have fun with that," said Katzenberg.[12] The show's ratings began to decline, and by November 2004 it was pulled from NBC's sweeps line-up.[13] In early December 2004, the CEO of DreamWorks announced that the show was canceled, a few months after it was initially aired. A DVD version of the show has been made available, containing the original pilot, an alternate pilot (which draws heavily on the original), an un-aired episode, and one episode that was voice-recorded, but was not animated, and therefore remains at the storyboard stage.
  • Full EnglishFull English was almost universally panned by critics,[14] most pointing out the show's poor attempt to emulate American animated shows, notably the uncanny character resemblances to Family Guy, as well as the poor art designs of the characters in general. Ian Hyland of The Daily Mail wrote: "it's rather apt that they've called it Full English. Because Family Guy and American Dad! would have it for breakfast.",[15] while on the character designs, Harry Venning of The Stage wrote: "The animation is flat and uninteresting, while the characters' faces are ugly and unappealing."[16] More positive reviews came from Sam Wollaston of The Guardian, who wrote "I think it's hilarious."[17] and The Metro describing Full English as: "It's rough around the edges but it does have the requisite dysfunctional family at its filthy heart".[18]
  • Stressed EricStressed Eric was bought by NBC and adapted for American audiences. The BBC described it as "the first British animated sitcom to make it on to prime time US TV." Some episodes were shown in August 1998, but they were received poorly despite concessions such as replacing the lead character's voice with American voice actor Hank Azaria and changing the storyline to an American in London. Reviewers compared it unfavorably to The Simpsons and South Park such as Variety and USA Today.[19][20][21]

Live-action children's shows[edit]

  • Barney & Friends – Ranked fiftieth on TV Guide's list of the fifty worst TV shows of all time, Barney has been subject to a barrage of anti-Barney humor and ridicule since its debut. Quoth W. J. T. Mitchell: "Barney is on the receiving end of more hostility than just about any other popular cultural icon I can think of (…) no self-respecting second-grader will admit to liking Barney."[22]
  • Junior ShowtimeJeff Evans, the author of The Penguin TV Companion has identified it as being amongst the twenty worst shows of all time.[23]
  • Minipops – This Channel 4 show featured young children singing then-contemporary pop music. The children were usually dressed to look like the original performers, including the clothing and make-up. The show made many adult viewers uncomfortable because it often showed the child singers dressing and dancing in imitation of the provocative styles of the original adult performers. One performance by Joanna Fisher, in which she sang the Sheena Easton song "9 to 5", caused national outrage when five-year-old Fisher sang the lines, "Night time is the right time/ We make love". The show's creators and child cast were somewhat shocked at the response to the program and its misinterpretation. Despite the show's popularity, the resulting controversy caused Minipops to be cancelled shortly afterwards.[24] It was voted the second-worst UK show by TV critics.[25]

Dramas and soap operas[edit]

  • The Big Bow Wow – This Irish drama about a group of young people who gather at the titular nightclub was likened by pre-release publicity to Sex and the City and This Life.[26] However, when broadcast, The Big Bow Wow received a surfeit of negative reviews. Shane Hegarty in the Irish Times claimed the nightclub scenes had "all the atmosphere of a parish fete" and complained that the characters "are narcissistic, shallow and humourless. The trick will be in knowing when it is deliberate and when it is down to an inarticulate script".[26] Claire McKeown in the Irish Sunday Mirror said "The camera work was as shaky as it gets...and the acting was not convincing".[27] In her overview of television for the year 2004, Olivia Doyle in the Sunday Tribune criticised "the dog's dinner stab at "yoof culture" that was The Big Bow Wow".[28]
  • The Borgias (1981) – What was intended to be a gripping historical melodrama in the same vein as the earlier BBC series, I, Claudius, was not a critical success, despite the locations and excellent cinematography. Reviewer Clive James dismissed the series as "a ramshackle vehicle".[29] The BBC screened the series at the same time as ITV's lavish Brideshead Revisited with critics contrasting the high production values and stellar cast of Brideshead with The Borgias.
  • The Colbys – Although much hyped in 1985, garnering high ratings for its premiere episode, and also the winner of a 1986 People's Choice Award for New Dramatic TV Program,[30] The Colbys was ultimately a ratings disappointment. The first season finished in 35th place, in part due to competition with NBC's Cheers and Night Court on Thursday nights[31] (by comparison, Dynasty finished in 7th place the same season). The series was renewed for a second season but fared much worse. Now not only being scheduled opposite NBC's Cheers and Night Court, but also rival soap Knots Landing on CBS, and later in the season, having to compete with The Cosby Show, The Colbys finished a dismal 76th for the year prompting the network to cancel the show.[32] The series did not fare well among critics either, with one of its main criticisms being that it was simply a copy of Dynasty. The L.A. Times stated "It's not a spinoff, it's a clone—as close a replica as ABC and the Dynasty producers could concoct, right down to the credits."[33] The Pittsburgh Press compared the scripts to Dick and Jane books for children.[34] In their Directory To Primetime TV Shows, television historians Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh stated that the series likely failed because it was "too close a copy" of Dynasty.[35] Even some castmembers were vocal about their dissatisfaction with the series. In 1986, Barbara Stanwyck opted to end her contract and leave the series after its first season, reportedly calling it "a turkey"[36] and telling co-creator Esther Shapiro "This is the biggest pile of garbage I ever did" and that "It's one thing to know you're making a lot of money off vulgarity, but when you don't know it's vulgar - it's plain stupid."[37] On the contrary, Charlton Heston always had supported the show and stated its cancellation "was premature" as "we were coming closer to being a creative production team that could make the kind of show we'd planned on from the beginning." [38] Dynasty star Joan Collins categorically refused to make any appearances in it herself, believing it would have caused "massive confusion between the two shows",[39] and urged her fellow Dynasty castmates not to involve themselves with it either.
  • Cop Rock – This musical police procedural, which aired on ABC in 1990, has been cited as one of the worst television series, ranking #8 on TV Guide's 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time list in 2002.[40] The show was a critical and commercial failure from the beginning and was canceled by the network after 11 episodes.[41] Owing to the combination of its bizarre nature and its high-powered production talent, it became infamous as one of the biggest television failures of the 1990s.[42][43] The final episode concludes with the cast breaking character and joining crew members in performing a closing song.
  • Crossroads – The ITV soap opera was badly received by TV critics throughout its 1964–88 run, with writer Hilary Kingsley stating "Some of the acting would have disgraced the humblest of village halls; many of the plots were so farcical they could have been written in a bad dream, and much of the dialogue was pathetic."[25][44] The series was revived briefly in 2001 but ended two years later.
  • Eldorado – This BBC soap opera from 1992 was, despite heavy advertising, a notorious flop. Many of the cast were inexperienced actors whose limitations were clearly exposed on such a new and ambitious project; the acting was derided as amateurish, while the attempt to appear more 'European' by having people speaking other languages without subtitles or bizarre/unconvincing accents was met by viewers with incomprehension and ridicule.[45] Eldorado is remembered as an embarrassing failure for the BBC, and is sometimes used as a byword for any unsuccessful, poorly received or overhyped television programme.[46] It ranks #36 on the Daily Mail's list of the 50 worst TV shows of all time.[25]
  • Ironside – This 2013 NBC remake of Raymond Burr's crime drama has received negative reviews. It currently holds a 14% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 4.3 out of 10 and the summary. Brian Tallerico of HollywoodChicago called it the "Worst New Drama of 2013" and awarded it 1 star out of 5, saying: "[Ironside is] the most cliched, least believable, least fun, and just awful new drama of the year. It is aggressively bad. Avoid at all costs. Blair Underwood... deserves better than the horrendous, uninteresting writing here. [Ironside] should be a way to explore how our physical well-being is only one part of our lives and how we approach our work, even crimefighting. It's not. It's just manipulative drama that hopes to make you stand up and cheer by reminding you over and over again how tough its title character remains." Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times called the title character "an unpleasant combination of macho and brusque" and their handling of his disability "thuddingly didactic" and "one that is not doing real people with disabilities any favors". He called the storylines "bland", the reason for Ironside's disability "predictable" and the writing "plodding". Robert Bianco of USA Today gave the show 1.5 stars out of 4. He called it an "atrociously clunky" remake that "jettison[ed] whatever wit and intelligence the original possessed". The show was cancelled after four episodes.
  • MyNetworkTV telenovelas – The inaugural programming of netlet MyNetworkTV, formed from the stations left out of the merger that created The CW, consisted of five-day-a-week American adaptations of telenovelas (a format similar to the soap opera that is popular in Spanish-speaking populations) that received widespread scorn. TV Guide's Matt Roush called one "something worse than nothing."[47] Robert P. Laurence of the San Diego Union-Tribune complained of "amateurish acting, cheap sets and tedious scripts."[48] Robert Bianco of USA Today remarked, "Think of the most incompetent soap opera you've ever seen, imagine something even worse, and there you have MyNetworkTV."[49]
  • Skins – This 2011 series generated controversy in the United States over its sexual content, in which several advertisers withdrew and there were some accusations of child pornography since many of the actors were under the age of 18. On June 9, 2011, MTV announced that they would not renew Skins for a second season, with a statement that "Skins is a global television phenomenon that, unfortunately, didn't connect with a US audience as much as we had hoped".[50][51] In the wake of a mounting scandal over a possible child pornography investigation of MTV as a result of the show's content, Yum! Brands (Taco Bell), Mars, Incorporated (Wrigley), General Motors, Doctor's Associates (Subway), Foot Locker, H&R Block, Schick, Guthy-Renker (Proactiv), L'Oréal, Reckitt Benckiser (Clearasil) and Kraft all opted to pull their advertising from the program.[52][53][54][55][56]
  • The SpikeThe Spike was featured on RTÉ's scandal series, Scannal[57][58] with the Irish Independent naming it as one of their "Top 10 Worst Irish TV Programmes".[59]
  • SupertrainSupertrain was the most expensive series ever aired in the United States at the time. The production was beset by problems including a model train that crashed.[60] While the series was heavily advertised during the 1978–79 season, it suffered from poor reviews and low ratings. Despite attempts to salvage the show by reworking the cast, it never took off and left the air after only three months. NBC, which had produced the show itself, with help from Dark Shadows producer Dan Curtis, was unable to recoup its losses. Combined with the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics the following season, which cost NBC millions in ad revenue, the series nearly bankrupted the network. For these reasons, Supertrain has been called one of the greatest television flops.[61] The A.V. Club noted that Supertrain has a reputation as "one of the worst television series ever was hugely expensive, little watched, and critically derided".[62]
  • Triangle – A soap opera about a British ferry which starred Kate O'Mara, Triangle is remembered as "some of the most mockable British television ever produced". The series is even humorously mentioned in passing in the BBC comedy series The Young Ones, quote "Even Triangle has better furniture than this!" [63] Triangle came third in a poll of worst UK shows ever.[25]
  • Viva LaughlinCBS's 2007 American adaptation of the British series Blackpool lasted only two episodes, one in Australia. Like the aforementioned Cop Rock, the series was an attempt to create a musical TV drama. The opening line of The New York Times review said, "Viva Laughlin on CBS may well be the worst new show of the season, but is it the worst show in the history of television?"[64] Newsday's review started with, "The stud is a dud. And that's only the first of a dozen problems with CBS' admirably ambitious but jaw-droppingly wrongheaded new musical/murder mystery/family drama Viva Laughlin. Let us count the ways it bombs..."[65]

Fantasy/science-fiction shows[edit]

  • The Amazing Spider-Man – The Amazing Spider-Man series had solid ratings throughout its run, but CBS was leery about being labeled the "superhero network" and fans were highly critical of the series[66] for the changes made to the comic book storyline and the lack of any real "supervillains". To add insult to injury, Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee disliked the show, and was vocal about his dissatisfaction with it; he once said in an interview that he felt the series was "too juvenile" – a controversial statement given his credit as script consultant on each episode. Despite criticism of the series as far removed from the source material, the show featured the only live-action appearance of Peter Parker's spider-tracer tracking devices to date, which are prominently featured in several episodes throughout the series.
  • Earthsea – Reviewing the miniseries, the book The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy claimed Legend of Earthsea "totally missed the point" of Le Guin's novels, "ripping out all the subtlety, nuance and beauty of the books and inserting boring cliches, painful stereotypes and a very unwelcome 'epic' war in their place."[67] The Moria website's review of Legend of Earthsea states, "Earthsea feels exactly like TV filler. In the books, Ursula Le Guin expended a great deal of time creating a world with a depth and culture, but nothing of this survives in the mini-series." The review also argues Legend of Earthsea "is shabbily and indifferently directed," and "The dialogue is dreadfully clunky and often excruciatingly bad."[68] The Moria review also criticised the decision to change the ethnicity of Ged and the other characters from brown and black in the novels, to white actors in the series.[68] Le Guin, author of the novels on which the miniseries is based, was not involved in the development of the material or the making of the production. She has written a number of responses to the handling of this adaptation of her works.[69][70] She noted, "When I sold the rights to Earthsea a few years ago, my contract gave me the standard status of "consultant"—which means whatever the producers want it to mean, almost always little or nothing,"[69] and that, "Mr. Lieberman, one of the producers, published a statement telling people what 'Ursula' (whom he has never met) 'intended' by the books. That changed the situation. They were taking advantage of my silence by sticking words in my mouth. I put a reply on my website."[70]
  • Galactica 1980 – During the autumn of 1979, ABC executives met with Battlestar Galactica's creator Glen A. Larson to consider restarting the series. A suitable concept was needed to draw viewers, and it was decided that the arrival of the Colonial Fleet at the contemporary Earth would be the storyline. A new TV movie called Galactica 1980 was produced. Again, it was decided this new version of Battlestar Galactica would be made into a weekly TV series. Despite the early success of the premiere, this program failed to achieve the popularity of the original series, and it was canceled after just ten episodes. In this 1980 sequel series, the Colonial fleet finds the Earth, and then it covertly protects it from the Cylons. Due to the relatively high budget of the original series, the main reason it had been canceled, the new series was only greenlighted by ABC after Larson agreed to a much lower budget (e.g., making use of a great deal of recycled footage, including some from the 1974 Universal Studios movie Earthquake during a Cylon attack sequence). Larson also was forced to adhere to strict content restrictions such as limiting the number of acts of violence and shoehorning educational content into the script and dialogue. These factors, as well as widely panned writing and an ill-chosen time slot (Sunday evenings, a time generally reserved for family-oriented programming and, more specifically, also for the 60 Minutes news magazine program), the resurrected series was widely criticized and unsuccessful. To cut costs, the show was set mostly on the contemporary Earth, to the great dismay of fans. Another factor for fan apathy was the near complete recasting of the original series: Of the original cast, Lorne Greene reprised his role as Adama (working unpaid), Herb Jefferson, Jr., played "Colonel" Boomer in about half of the episodes (with little screentime), and Dirk Benedict returned as Starbuck for only one episode (the final episode in which a marooned Starbuck reactivates a damaged Cylon Centurion and "teaches it the meaning of friendship"). The final episode, which abruptly ended Galactica 1980, relied heavily on unused footage from the original series. It was notable for a Cylon costume of very poor quality compared to the original series as well as a Cylon vocoder voice that was changed from the original voice to be less scary and more "family friendly" (provided by veteran TV & radio personality Gary Owens). Richard Hatch (Apollo in the original series) was sent a script for Galactica 1980, but he turned it down since he was not sure what his part in the series would be – now that all the characters had changed.[71]
  • ManimalManimal was scheduled opposite CBS's popular soap opera Dallas, and was canceled after eight episodes due to low ratings. However, Manimal was very popular in a number of other countries where it was broadcast.[citation needed] Manimal was a part of NBC's 1983 fall line-up which also featured eight other series that were cancelled before their first seasons ended (including Jennifer Slept Here, Bay City Blues, and We Got it Made).[72] John Javna's book The Best of Science Fiction TV included Manimal in its list of the "Worst Science Fiction Shows of All Time", along with Space: 1999, Lost in Space, Buck Rogers in the 25 Century, and The Starlost.[73] TV Guide ranked Manimal number 15 on their list of the 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time in 2002.
  • The Powers of Matthew Star – The 1982 NBC series was put on the list of TV Guide's 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time, ranked at #22.[74]

Game shows[edit]

  • Don't Scare the Hare – The first episode received overnight ratings of 1.93 million viewers, a 15% audience share.[75] Although hot weather was given as a possible reason for the low ratings, it was reported that many viewers were unimpressed with the show, assuming it was a one-off to tie in with Easter (since the tagline used to promote the show was "this year, the Easter bunny has competition"), and were surprised to learn that more episodes were scheduled to be broadcast. Justin Mason, critic for ATV, said, "I don't think I've quite seen anything like Don't Scare the Hare. I was wondering who on earth dreamt up the idea... it looked like a cheap, children's quiz-show that would be better placed on CBeebies than prime-time BBC One."[76] Jim Shelley of the Daily Mirror was equally critical, summing up his review as follows: "The idiots playing might have enjoyed themselves but even toddlers would have found the games dull and Jason creepy."[77] A review in The Stage observed: "The actual games are pretty feeble and uninspired, leaving the poor hare and his robotic novelty value to carry the show. Unfortunately, the hare is far from impressive either. Doctor Who's tin dog K9 managed more personality and manoeuvrability, and he was operating within the confines of seventies technology."[78] John Anson of the Lancashire Evening Post opined: "If you're going to have a gimmick in your game show at least make it entertaining. Surely this is a programme which would have been ideal for CBeebies. Make the questions simple, involve bunches of kids and hey, presto it works... But primetime Saturday night viewing it ain't."[79] Digital Spy's Alex Fletcher noted: "Not since the days of Mr Blobby and Ice Warriors have weekends been filled with such peculiar antics."[80] The second episode, aired on 30 April, achieved an audience of 1.39m (10.5%).[81] By the fourth episode, the viewing audience had declined to 900,000 viewers (a 5.9% audience share).[82] Because the show has been so poorly received, BBC One decided to reschedule it to an earlier timeslot, beginning on 14 May. Don't Scare the Hare was moved from 17:25 to 16:40,[82] while the second series of So You Think You Can Dance? – whose ratings have also struggled – was aired earlier. The schedule change was spurred on by the broadcast of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. which aired on 14 May.[83] On the previous day, 13 May, the BBC had announced that the series would be cancelled after only three episodes had been aired. Speaking about the programme on an edition of BBC Breakfast, the BBC's entertainment controller Mark Linsey said: "Obviously Hare is not going well. It was a huge risk we took – it's co-hosted by an animatronic hare – and while it's proved successful with children, we were hoping there would be enough knowingness within the show to draw in the adults. There wasn't enough of that, which is where it fell down."[84][85] The final three episodes which hadn't aired were rescheduled for October.
  • Naked Jungle – A UK game show on Channel 5 which revolved around naturists performing an assault course. Naked Jungle was savaged by critics, denounced by nudists for being exploitative[86] and even condemned in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.[87] A group of TV historians later voted it the worst British TV show ever.[88] Host Keith Chegwin later called presenting the show "the worst career move I made in my entire life".[89]
  • Our Little Genius – On January 7, 2010, one week before its scheduled premiere, the show's creator, Mark Burnett, announced that he'd asked Fox to postpone it due to concerns about its integrity. Burnett said that issues with how information was relayed to contestants were serious enough that he felt compelled to reshoot the episodes. Fox supported Burnett's decision, and added that all contestants would keep their winnings.[90] The New York Times reported that some contestants may have known what questions were going to be asked (though not the answers) rather than just the topics to be covered.[90] The Los Angeles Times reported that Burnett's main concern was that contestants somehow got more information than they should have prior to taping.[91] According to The New York Times, a member of the production team gave a prospective contestant and his parents specific answers to at least four questions.[92]
  • Shafted – A UK game show aired on ITV presented by Robert Kilroy Silk. It is most notorious for Kilroy-Silk's laughable actions on the show, which have since been frequently mocked on popular satirical show Have I Got News for You since late 2004. Particularly notable is his delivery of the show's tag-line, "Their fate will be in each other's hands as they decide whether to share or to shaft", and the associated hand actions. The show was dropped just four episodes after it started in 2001, and was listed as the worst British television show of the 2000s in the Penguin TV Companion (2006).[93] A 2012 postmortem of the show read: "Nothing seemed to work for Shafted from the start. It looked derivative, it sounded derivative, the format was pretty unfair, the host was bad, and it just wasn't that interesting. So basically nothing worked out."[94] In an article on ITV programmes, Stuart Heritage described Shafted as "Hamfisted" and stated it was "deservedly remembered as one of the worst television programmes ever made".[95]
  • Strike It Rich – The show was highly controversial during the 11 years it aired. While some applauded Strike It Rich for helping out some less fortunate people (as well as showcasing the sincere charity and goodwill of the viewers), others found it a sickening spectacle that exploited the less fortunate contestants for the vicarious thrills of the viewers and the selfish gain of the sponsors. A major part of the criticism was that it promised more than it could deliver. Though the show received between 3,000 and 5,000 letters per week from needy people wishing to win what would be (to them) life-changing sums of money, only a small fraction of those could be selected. Although this was partly due to the limits of television production (the series, although ambitious in its goals, could not reasonably assist every person needing help at the same time), critics stated that the show picked mostly those thought to have the most interesting tales of woe. Despite warnings by the show's producers, a number of people hoping to be contestants exhausted their money to travel to New York, only to be rejected and end up relying on charities such as the Salvation Army to help them return home. This led to complaints from charities and local government agencies. The New York City commissioner of welfare called Strike It Rich "a disgusting spectacle and a national disgrace" while the supervisor of the Travelers Aid Society said, "Putting human misery on display can hardly be called right." TV Guide later called it "a despicable travesty on the very nature of charity."[citation needed]
  • Three's a Crowd – A game show created and produced by Chuck Barris, and hosted by Jim Peck, which aired in syndication from 1979 to 1980. In it, a male contestant was asked pointed personal questions, which were then asked of both his wife and secretary, to find out which of the two knew him better. David Hofstede, author of What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History wrote that it "offered the chance to watch a marriage dissolve on camera years before Jerry Springer", and noted that it received backlash from United Auto Workers and National Organization for Women. By the time the controversy settled in 1980, both Three's a Crowd and The Gong Show (an unrelated show created and hosted by Barris) had been canceled and Barris had mostly left the television industry. Barris later blamed the controversy for the demise of no less than four different shows: Crowd and Gong, plus his later revivals of Treasure Hunt and Camouflage, neither of which lasted beyond one season; Barris would never again create a new game show and would stick to revivals of his previously existing shows for the rest of his career.[96]
  • Twenty One – Producer Dan Enright recalled that the early days of the quiz show featured contestants that were appallingly dumb and incapable of playing the game, prompting sponsor Geritol to demand changes to the show's formula in order to continue sponsorship. Enright, along with host and business partner Jack Barry, decided to turn the show from a genuine contest into a scripted drama with the façade of a genuine contest, a decision that brought massive ratings success but eventually brought its own set of problems. Such was the extent of the cover-up that no one suspected the show's events were falsified until a competing game show, Dotto, was discovered to have been rigged. Former Twenty One contestant Herb Stempel had tried, unsuccessfully, to blow the whistle on the game two years prior after he was coerced into losing to Charles Van Doren; after the Dotto fiasco, Stempel's accusations finally were treated seriously. The resulting quiz show scandals led to Twenty One's cancellation, the effective end of the 1950s quiz show boom, Barry and Enright being forced out of show business for over a decade, and congressional legislation forbidding the scripting or rigging of game shows. Twenty One was later the subject of the 1994 film Quiz Show.
  • You're Back in the Room - A poorly received game show broadcast by ITV in 2015 hosted by Phillip Schofield and Keith Barry. The show was panned for being fraudulent and exploiting vulnerable people after its release.[97]
  • You're in the Picture – A CBS game show starring Jackie Gleason, the premiere received such extremely hostile reviews that the following Friday, host Gleason appeared in the same time slot (but in a studio "stripped to the brick walls") to give what Time magazine called an "inspiring post-mortem", asking rhetorically "how it was possible for a group of trained people to put on so big a flop."[98] Time later cited You're in the Picture as one piece of evidence that the 1960–61 TV season was the "worst in the [then] 13-year history of U.S. network television."[99]


  • ESPN Hollywood – The show's launch was controversial; promotional advertisements featured photos of baseball player Derek Jeter with a woman whose face was not shown. A spokesman for Jeter's employer, the New York Yankees, objected to the ad, saying "In the ad they insinuate they are out with Jeter, with his permission, or they are following him. Give me a break. Neither is true."[100] ESPN realized that the show would be risky; if sports figures were angered by their coverage on ESPN Hollywood they might refuse to participate in interviews on other ESPN programs.[100] The final episode was broadcast on January 26, 2006.[101] An ESPN executive vice president later remarked that the premise of the show was unworkable, saying "I think fans want information about athletes in the context of sports coverage."[102] The series was created in the first place because athletes from various sports did branch out into roles in Hollywood.
  • Hard Copy – In 1996, actor George Clooney began a public boycott of Hard Copy and its sister show Entertainment Tonight (both were produced by Paramount Domestic Television) after Hard Copy violated a six-month agreement not to air segments about Clooney by airing footage of Clooney and then-girlfriend Celine Balitran on the set of his film Batman & Robin. Other celebrities supported the boycott including Whoopi Goldberg, Madonna, and Steven Spielberg.[103] Paramount Domestic Television (now CBS Television Distribution) eventually agreed to change the way both shows obtained their news.[104] They also agreed not to air "unauthorized footage" of celebrities or "footage that is known to have been obtained illegally."[103]
  • The Morning Program – On January 12, 1987, The Morning Program made its debut[105] on CBS hosted by actress Mariette Hartley and Rolland Smith, former longtime anchor at WCBS-TV in New York City. Radio personality Mark McEwen handled the weather, while Bob Saget did comedy bits. Produced by the network's entertainment division, the show ran for 90 minutes (7:30–9 A.M. local time) behind a briefly expanded 90-minute CBS Early Morning News (6–7:30 A.M. local; although most larger affiliates pre-empted all or part of the 6–7 A.M. hour to produce a local morning newscast), which had dropped "Early" from its title. However, The Morning Program, with its awkward mix of news, entertainment, and comedy, became the joke of the industry, receiving scathing reviews.[106][107][108] At one point, it generated the lowest ratings CBS had seen in the morning slot in five years. The format was aborted and the time slot returned to the news division after a ten-and-a-half-month run. Hartley and Smith were dumped, while Saget left to star on the ABC sitcom, Full House. A longtime producer summed up this version of the program upon its demise by saying, "...everyone thought we had the lowest ratings you could have in the morning. The Morning Program proved us wrong".[108]

Reality television series[edit]

  • The Briefcase is an American reality TV series created by Dave Broome that premiered on CBS on 27 May 2015.[109][110] In each episode, two American families undergoing financial hardship are each given a briefcase containing $101,000, and must decide whether to keep all the money for themselves or give some or all of it to the other family. Over the course of 72 hours, each family learns about the other, and makes a decision without knowing that the other family has been given a briefcase also with the same instructions.[111][112][113] The Briefcase has been met with largely negative reception from critics. Ken Tucker, critic-at-large of Yahoo! TV, described it as "cynical and repulsive" for "passing off its uplifting, inspirational TV."[114] Jason Miller of called it "the worst reality TV show ever".[115] Others compared the show to fictional film and television that pitted the needy against each other, such as the Twilight Zone episode "Button, Button", or The Hunger Games.[111] A petition was made on to end the show with more than 60,000 supporters.
  • Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is an American reality television series on TLC, featuring the family of child beauty pageant contestant Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson. The show premiered on August 8, 2012. Thompson and her family originally rose to fame on TLC's reality series Toddlers & Tiaras.[116] The show mainly revolves around Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson and "Mama" June Shannon and their family's adventures in the southern town of McIntyre, Georgia. Critical reaction to the series was largely negative, with some characterizing the show as "offensive," "outrageous," and "exploitative," while others calling it "must-see TV."[117] The A.V. Club called the first episode a "horror story posing as a reality television program,"[118] with others worrying about potential child exploitation.[119]
  • The One: Making a Music Star – At the time of its premiere, according to overnight ratings from Nielsen Media Research, the first episode of The One was the lowest-rated series premiere in ABC history, and the second-worst such episode in the history of American broadcast television,[120] scoring only 3.2 million total viewers (1.1 rating in the 18–49 demographic), and fifth place in its timeslot.[121] In Canada, the premiere of The One on CBC had 236,000 viewers, which trailed far behind Canadian Idol on CTV and Rock Star: Supernova on Global, each scoring around one million viewers.[122] The next night's results episode fared even worse in the U.S. ratings, sinking to a 1.0 rating in the 18–49 demographic. The re-run of night 1's episode (which preceded the results show) plunged to an embarrassingly low 0.6 average in the vital demo ratings. The poor performance of the show helped ABC measure its lowest-rated night in the network's history (among 18-49s), finishing tied for sixth place.[123] The series was ultimately cancelled after a second week of poor results. According to CBC executive Kirstine Layfield, in terms of resources and money, The One "had the most backing from ABC than any summer show has ever had (sic)."[124] Canadian ratings have dipped as low as 150,000 [125] – not necessarily out of step with the CBC's usual summer ratings, although much lower than the broadcaster's stated expectations for primetime audiences, in the one-million range.[126] The CBC initially insisted that despite the cancellation, a planned Canadian version may still go ahead, citing the success of the format in Quebec (Star Académie) and Britain (the BBC's Fame Academy).[124] The network confirmed that the show will not air in fall 2006[127] – in fact, the show had never been given a fall timeslot[128] – but the show was "still under development."[127] Critical response was limited but generally negative. The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Richmond called the series "clearly derivative and opportunistic" with the judges' comments "awkward and forced."[129] Endemol (the creators of The One) would later find much greater success with its next music-based reality contest, The Voice.


Specials and television movies[edit]

  • Buffalo Night in AmericaWBBZ-TV's attempt at a three-hour special in July 2012 devoted to its hometown of Buffalo, New York was a technical, critical and ratings disaster. Despite the involvement of numerous well-known broadcast professionals, including Joey Reynolds, Danny Neaverth and Jim Brinson (formerly of Sports Fan Radio Network), the special had numerous faults. Commercials were inserted in awkward locations, the live cut-ins to parties hosted by Buffalo expatriates across the United States often featured inappropriate conduct and had numerous other technical issues, and much of the special was devoted to long-winded, often dull interviews, with the night ending in Reynolds pulling out what was supposed to be a decades-old chicken wing to accompany an anecdote from his high school days. Alan Pergament, former TV critic for The Buffalo News and a man who has otherwise spoken positively about the station in his online column, described the special as "so classically bad that in a bizarre way it was entertaining." Fortunately for the station, very few people watched the telecast, and later intentions of rerunning the special were later scrapped.[130] WBBZ owner Phil Arno later acknowledged that the complaints about the special were valid and blamed himself for being too "impatient" and "ambitious" for an event that the fledgling station was not quite ready to pull off; he and WBBZ's other employees consider the special to be a significant learning experience, and the station's subsequent productions have proven to be of higher quality.
  • Celebrity Deathmatch Hits Germany! – After the original hit MTV show was cancelled, producers for German MTV received rights for a Celebrity Deathmatch special. This special, which is relatively unknown by American audiences, removes the original cast, including Johnny Gomez, Nick Diamond, and referee Mills Lane, and features about eight matches, all about a minute and a half long. The German producers animated, and voiced the show, but the puppets were still made by the American owners. It was criticized for choppy animation, poor special effects such as blood, and no English subtitles, although it wasn't meant for an American release.[citation needed] Only a few matches have been leaked to the internet. It was also known as the last original Celebrity Deathmatch episode before it was brought back to MTV2 in 2006.
  • The Decision – On July 8, 2010, LeBron James announced on a live ESPN special that he would be playing for the Miami Heat for the 2010–11 season.[131] In exchange for the rights to air the special, ESPN agreed to hand over its advertising and air time to James. James arranged for the special to include an interview conducted by Jim Gray, who was paid by James' marketing company and had no affiliation with the network. The show drew criticism for making viewers wait 28 minutes to find out where LeBron would play, and for the spectacle of the show itself.[132] LeBron's phrase "taking my talents to South Beach", which he used to reveal his decision, became a punch line for critics.[133][134] ESPN's reporting leading up to the James special, its decision to air the program, and its decision to relinquish editorial independence were widely cited as gross violations of journalistic ethics.[135][136][137]
  • Eaten Alive – A television special on Discovery Channel purported to have Paul Rosolie being swallowed whole by an anaconda during the special. The special drew controversy over its premise before it even aired[138][139] and further complaints after the special aired because Rosolie was not, in fact, eaten.[140][141]
  • Elvis in Concert – This TV special was a recorded Elvis Presley concert held on June 19, 1977; it was one of the last concerts of his career. Presley's deteriorating physical condition was obvious from his weight gain (particularly his extremely bloated face) and his inability to remember lyrics for several songs. It has been described as "terrible and embarrassing"[142] and as a "travesty."[143] Had Presley not died on August 16 of the same year, CBS would have likely never aired the concert, and only did so in October, after his death; the network had had plans to record another concert to get better footage, but this was rendered impossible after Presley's death. The Presley estate refuses to release the special on VHS or DVD to this day.[144]
  • Exposed! Pro Wrestling's Greatest Secrets – The documentary was roundly criticized for being sensationalist, misleading, and outdated in the presentation of the "secret tricks." Critics in and out[145] of the wrestling business contend that many of the "secrets" exposed were already widely known by fans to begin with, and others were so obscure as to be non-notable. While most of the professional wrestling world refrained from acknowledging the program, the night following its airing, Ernest "The Cat" Miller entered the ring during WCW Monday Nitro and sarcastically shouted in a melodramatic tone to the audience, "Now you know all our secrets!" Mick Foley on WWF Monday Night RAW announced, to tag partner Al Snow, "We didn't do so well last week, but last night, the secrets of professional wrestling were revealed to me!" Foley also poked fun at the program several times in his autobiography, Have a Nice Day!
  • First Night 2013 with Jamie Kennedy[146] – On December 31, 2012, KDOC-TV aired a live New Year's Eve special that was hosted by comedian and actor Jamie Kennedy—however, the special quickly became infamous for a large number of technical issues, dead air, unedited swearing, and a fight breaking out on-stage. A montage of clips from the special went viral after it was discovered by fellow comedian Patton Oswalt.[147]
  • Highlander: The SourceHighlander: The Source is the first Highlander film in the franchise not to be released in American theatres. Instead, it was shown on the Sci-Fi Channel on September 15, 2007. Critical reaction to Highlander: The Source has been universally negative. Christopher Monfette of IGN gave The Source a score of 1 out of 10, saying: "The worthwhile days of Connor MacLeod, it would appear, are officially over—dead, decapitated, and depleted of their power. The struggle for an immortal to move through life unchallenged has since mutated into an awkward arrangement of mismatched mythologies, TV-to-movie crossovers, and a steady stream of low-budget, direct-to-DVD cash-cows which may, in the end, prove to be the only truly immortal thing about this series."[148] Brian Orndorf of DVD Talk gave the film one half star out of five, saying: "The Source is nothing less than a parody of what has come before. If you've seen the previous sequels, you already know that's saying something. There is some relief that this franchise will finally be put out of its misery, because nobody in their right mind would try to keep this series going after watching just how boneheaded Highlander: The Source is."[149] Danél Griffin of Film as Art gave The Source one half star out of four, remarking that "it's bad—cheesily bad, colossally bad, monumentally bad, bad enough to make you never want to watch another movie again bad."[150] Keith Breese of gave the film one star out of five, saying: "Not only will Highlander fans be disappointed by the film's nosedive into nonsense, but the average viewer will be stunned by the backyard quality of this film. The acting is uniformly terrible, the special effects are hideous, the sets are cheap and grubby, and the direction is uninspired. The film is an utter failure. ... Surely this is the final nail in the coffin lid for this film series. If it isn't, then something is truly wrong with the universe."[151] The Sci-Fi Movie Page gave The Source one and a half stars out of five, saying: "Just when you think that this is a franchise that can't sink any lower, along comes Highlander: The Source. ... One gets the impression that The Source was filmed with theatrical distribution in mind but that no sane cinema distributor would touch it with a ten-foot barge pole. Good for them. Instead it went straight to the SciFi Channel and now the DVD shelves where you should let it stay, collecting dust."[152]
  • If I Did It – In November 2006, O. J. Simpson, who had been acquitted of the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in a trial in 1995, wrote a book describing how, if he were to have actually committed the murder, he would have done it. He arranged for a television special in which he would be interviewed by publisher Judith Regan to promote the book. NBC refused to air it, while Fox almost did before backing out at the insistence of its affiliates. The Goldman family, who insist Simpson is guilty of the crime despite the acquittal and who won a US$33,500,000 wrongful death settlement against Simpson for the murders, declared the special "an all-time low for television"[153] and eventually arranged for Regan's firing from HarperCollins for alleged "anti-Semitic remarks;"[154] Regan eventually sued HarperCollins for wrongful termination and won. Fox CEO Rupert Murdoch eventually admitted the idea was an "ill-considered project."[155] The special never aired and the book's rights were turned over to the Goldmans, who retitled the book If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer, with the If in much smaller type.
  • Liz & Dick – This Lifetime original movie featured Lindsay Lohan in the title role of Elizabeth Taylor, a casting move that earned wide derision. Matt Roush of TV Guide panned the film, calling it "An epic of pathetic miscasting" and "Laughably inept".[156] According to David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle, the film is "so terrible, you'll need to ice your face when it's over to ease the pain of wincing for two hours" and "the performances range from barely adequate to terrible. That would be [Grant] Bowler in the "barely adequate" slot and Lohan, well, in the other one."[157] Jeff Simon of The Buffalo News noted, based on a consensus of other reviews, that "it's the howler everyone expected" and openly mused that the film could end Lohan's acting career.[158] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 26, which indicates "generally unfavorable reviews", based on 27 reviews.[159]
  • Megalodon: The Monster Shark LivesDiscovery Channel aired this special alleging the continued existence of the megalodon, a long-extinct giant shark species, to begin its 2013 edition of Shark Week. The special received some of the highest ratings ever for Shark Week, but the special was shortly thereafter soundly rebuked from numerous critics, who noted that many of the events in the special, despite being portrayed as actual events, were obvious fabrications; Discovery itself was also the target of criticism for allowing such a program to air, accusing the channel of "jumping the shark" (a wholly unrelated television idiom) and having stooped to a level of channel drift that the channel had previously been able to avoid. Discovery's response to the criticism was to claim that the barely visible fine print, which ambiguously stated that the organizations mentioned in the special were not involved and that there was still doubt about what caused the alleged events, was sufficient.[160] Science writer Christie Wilcox wrote an open letter to Discovery Communications complaining about the program: "Part of me is furious with you, Discovery, for doing this. But mostly, I'm just deeply saddened. It's inexplicably depressing that you've gone from "the world's #1 nonfiction media company" to peddling lies and faking stories for ratings." [161]
  • The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults – Recently fired from his job as a reporter for ABC, Geraldo Rivera hosted this live syndicated television special in 1986, which involved opening a recently discovered vault previously owned by mafia boss Al Capone. Although the promotions for the special heavily implied that the vault was likely to contain valuable artifacts from Capone's life or possibly even dead bodies, when the vault was opened it was revealed to contain a handful of empty moonshine bottles and nothing else. The phrase "Al Capone's vault" soon entered the vernacular to refer to any event that is heavily hyped and promoted but spectacularly fails to live up to expectations. Several sitcoms made joking references to the disappointment. The special marked a turning point in Rivera's career, shifting from his previous career in journalism to a career in tabloid entertainment, including his eponymous talk show.[162]
  • Shark SwarmShark Swarm is a film created by RHI Entertainment as part of the Maneater film series. It premiered on Syfy on May 25, 2008.[163] Directed by James A. Contner and written by Matthew Chernov and David Rosiak, the film stars Daryl Hannah, John Schneider and Armand Assante. It was released to generally unfavorable reviews.[164][165][166]
  • Star Wars Holiday Special – Generally, Star Wars Holiday Special has received a large amount of criticism, both from Star Wars fans and the general public. David Hofstede, author of What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, ranked the holiday special at number one, calling it "the worst two hours of television ever."[167] Shepard Smith, a news anchor for the Fox News Channel, referred to it as a "'70s train wreck, combining the worst of Star Wars with the utter worst of variety television." Actor Phillip Bloch explained on a TV Land special entitled The 100 Most Unexpected TV Moments, that the special, "...just wasn't working. It was just so surreal." On the same program, Ralph Garman, a voice actor for the show Family Guy, explained that "Star Wars Holiday Special is one of the most infamous television programs in history. And it's so bad that it actually comes around to good again, but passes it right up." The only aspect of the special which has been generally well received is the animated segment which introduces Boba Fett, who would later become a popular character when he appeared in the Star Wars theatrical films.
  • Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? – This one-time special had fifty female contestants vying to immediately marry an unseen multimillionaire who, unknown to the contestants or viewers, only barely qualified for the title (owning only $2,000,000 in assets, including non-liquid ones) and who had a record of domestic violence. The winner, Darva Conger, never consummated her relationship with Rick Rockwell and the marriage was annulled. In a 2010 issue of TV Guide, the show was ranked #9 on a list of TV's ten biggest "blunders".[168]


  • Arena Football League on NBC – NBC's coverage of the Arena Football League ran from 2003 to 2006. It borrowed many of the features it had previously attempted with the XFL (see below), including moving the start of the league's season to February (it had previously begun in April), regional coverage and an adaptation of the XFL's swirled-ball pattern. Although NBC's arena football coverage didn't have the lowbrow promotion tactics it used for the XFL, its coverage faced its own set of problems. Promotion was inconsistent,[169] the network overpromoted several teams (New York, Philadelphia, Dallas) while leaving others (Buffalo, Grand Rapids) blacked out entirely, and perhaps most fatally, casual football fans cared little about the league, with ratings finishing lower than even the XFL's[170] and the sport as a whole becoming the butt of jokes on sitcoms. It did not have as much of the negative publicity that the XFL did, mainly because the sport languished in more obscurity on Sunday afternoons. The large amount of television promotion (continued when the league moved to ESPN) along with investment from National Football League ownership also sparked a run-up in player salaries, a factor that led to the original league's bankruptcy and dissolution in 2009.
  • The Baseball Network (Baseball Night in America) – This short-lived joint venture between ABC, NBC, and Major League Baseball was a pioneer in that the league produced and owned the rights to the telecasts (including half of the regular season and the postseason), but it was mostly a flop. The arrangement did not last long; due to the effects of a players' strike on the remainder of the 1994 season, as well as poor reception from fans and critics over the coverage was implemented, The Baseball Network would be disbanded after the 1995 season. Criticism centered over several factors: that The Baseball Network held exclusivity over every market, which meant that in markets with two teams, a Baseball Network game featuring one team prevented all viewers in the market from seeing the other team's game that night;[171][172][173] the fact that East Coast teams playing on the West Coast (or vice versa) could not be seen in the market as the start time would either be too late or early for the home market;[174][175] and regionalized coverage well into the postseason, which led Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci to dub The Baseball Network both "America's regional pastime" and an "abomination" and Bob Costas to write that it was an unprecedented surrender of prestige and a slap to all serious fans. Frustration was also shared by fans; the mere mention of The Baseball Network during the Mariners-Yankees ALDS from public address announcer Tom Hutyler at Seattle's Kingdome elicited boos from most of the crowd. ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson, in announcing the dissolution of The Baseball Network, said "The fact of the matter is, Major League Baseball seems incapable at this point in time, of living with any long term relationships, whether it's with fans, with players, with the political community in Washington, with the advertising community here in Manhattan, or with its TV partners."[176]
  • Celebrity Boxing – This self-explanatory series, an icon of Fox's "lowbrow" era of the late 1990s and early 2000s, ranked number 6 on TV Guide's 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time list. Celebrities who participated in the two-episode contest were mostly D-list names and those involved in criminal cases (Joey Buttafuoco, Tonya Harding, and Paula Jones were among the contestants, while Buttafuoco's former lover Amy Fisher backed out of the contest); one match even featured a man (Buttafuoco) facing off against a woman (pro wrestler Chyna), with Buttafuoco (who had taken the place of "Weird Al" Yankovic, who refused to fight a woman) winning in a decision.[177]
  • ECW on TNN – Early signs of a rocky relationship between ECW and TNN came when TNN president David Hall implied that the program would be "toned down" from the usual ECW fare[178] – which featured more violent matches and explicit content than that offered by the two leading professional wrestling companies of the day, the WWF and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). On WWE's The Rise and Fall of ECW DVD, ECW owner Paul Heyman alleged that the requests from TNN to tone down ECW's content, including the removal of references to hatred ("intense dislike" was preferred) and objections to the show's theme music on the grounds that it sounded "demonic", were excessive. The first episode of ECW on TNN was broadcast on August 27, 1999, five years to the date that Shane Douglas threw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and rechristened ECW (then known as Eastern Championship Wrestling) as Extreme Championship Wrestling. The first episode of ECW on TNN also became a source of contention, since it did not consist of original programming. Unsatisfied with the first TNN shoot, Heyman instead chose to air a compilation of promos and old ECW matches designed to act as an introduction to the company for those who had never before heard of it or seen it. ECW commentator Joey Styles said that "the network crapped on" this episode,[179] and ECW wrestler Tommy Dreamer's recollection supported this assertion.[180] The network also had reportedly placed a great deal of importance on ECW retaining top star Taz, and initial publicity indicated that this helped him sign a lucrative deal with ECW.[181] Instead, the deal fell through and Taz signed a contract with the WWF just months after the show's premiere. His departure, coupled with that of the Dudley Boyz (who also joined the WWF), forced the company to build storylines around new champions only weeks after starting their first, and only, national cable television show. Heyman and former ECW producer Ron Buffone have since complained that TNN's production expectations were unreasonable. On Rise and Fall, Buffone stated that TNN provided ECW with a very small budget to produce the program while simultaneously asking for high-quality production on par with WCW Monday Nitro and WWF Raw. This expectation irritated Heyman, due not only to the difficulty of meeting the standards, but also because he felt the more bare-bones ECW "look" was part of its appeal. Heyman also took umbrage with what he felt was a lack of promotion of the show by the network specifically and by its parent company Viacom in general, as well as the fact that almost immediately following ECW's debut on TNN, the network began negotiations with the WWF to bring Raw over to its lineup from the USA Network. Many wrestlers echoed this point on both the Rise and Fall DVD as well as the independently produced Forever Hardcore documentary. Heyman's dissatisfaction with TNN culminated in an on-air promo in which he made known his disdain for the network, as well as in a running storyline in which manager/commentator Cyrus portrayed a TNN representative that continually interrupted ECW proceedings that he felt were inappropriate. TNN muted the audio during Heyman's promo and ran a crawl across the bottom of the screen that poked fun at Heyman's sanity. The full promo, with audio and without the news crawl, was featured on ECW's syndicated programming, which continued to air and was regularly used as a back-up program to display anything TNN removed from the show.
  • NBA on ABC (2002–present) – One common complaint about NBA coverage on ABC is of strange camera angles, including the Floorcam and Skycam angles used by ABC throughout its coverage.[182] Other complaints[183] are of camera angles that appear too far away, colors that seem faded and dull, and the quieting of crowd noise so that announcers can be heard clearly (by contrast to NBC, which allowed crowd noise to sometimes drown out their announcers).[184] Some complaints have concerned the promotion, or perceived lack thereof, of NBA telecasts. The 2003 NBA Finals received very little fanfare on ABC or corporate partner ESPN; while subsequent Finals were promoted more on both networks, NBA related advertisements on ABC were still down significantly from promotions on NBC. NBA promos took up 3 minutes and 55 seconds of airtime on ABC during the week of May 23, 2004 according to the Sports Business Daily, comparable to 2 minutes and 45 seconds for the Indianapolis 500. Promotions for the Indianapolis 500 outnumbered promotions for the NBA Finals fourteen-to-nine from the hours of 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm during that week.[185] They were also criticized for focusing coverage on a select few teams, particularly the decision to schedule the Lakers against the Heat on Christmas Day for three straight years.
  • NHL on Fox (FoxTrax era) – Fox Sports's decision to implement a CGI-generated glowing hockey puck during their live coverage of the National Hockey League from 1996 to 1998 drew ire from sports fans, who derided the move as a gimmick. Greg Wyshinski wrote of the glowing puck as the second-worst idea in sports history in his book Glow Pucks and Ten-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History. (The worst idea in that book was Ten Cent Beer Night, which wasn't a television event.) Despite Fox's significant growth and emergence as fourth major television network over the course of the 1990s, something that should have increased the NHL's viewership, ratings instead fell dramatically after the debut of FoxTrax, from a high of 2.1 per game in 1996 to a low of 1.4 at the end of Fox's run as the NHL's television partner.
  • NHL on SportsChannel America – Taking over for ESPN, SportsChannel's contract paid $51 million ($17 million[186] per year[187]) over three years, more than double what ESPN had paid ($24 million) for the previous three years[188] SportsChannel America managed to get a fourth NHL season for just $5 million.[189] Unfortunately, SportsChannel America was only available in a few major markets,[190][191] and reached only a 1/3 of the households that ESPN did at the time.[192][193] SportsChannel America was seen in fewer than 10 million households.[194] In comparison, by the 1991–92 season, ESPN was available in 60.5 million homes whereas SportsChannel America was available in only 25 million. As a matter of fact, in the first year of the deal (1988–89), SportsChannel America was available in only 7 million homes when compared to ESPN's reach of 50 million.[195] When the SportsChannel deal ended in 1992, the league returned to ESPN[196] for another contract that would pay $80 million over five years. SportsChannel America took advantage of using their regional sports networks' feed of a game, graphics and all, instead of producing a show from the ground up, most of the time. Distribution of SportsChannel America across the country was limited to cities that had a SportsChannel regional sports network or affiliate. Very few cable systems in non-NHL territories picked it up as a stand-alone service. Regional affiliates of the Prime Network would sometimes pick up SportsChannel broadcasts, but this was often only during the playoffs. SportsChannel America also did not broadcast 24 hours a day at first, usually on by 6 p.m., off by 1 or 2 a.m., then a sportsticker for the next 16 hours.
  • Olympic Triplecast – Even before the 1992 Summer Olympics started, many criticized the business model. On July 16, nine days before the Opening Ceremony, one Philadelphia Inquirer writer called it "the biggest marketing disaster since New Coke".[197] The Triplecast was deemed by the New York Times "sports TV's biggest flop" and that NBC and Cablevision were "bereft in sanity" in operating it.[198] By 1994, it was referred to as "the Heaven's Gate of television"[199] Albert Kim, the editor of Entertainment Weekly, went on National Public Radio and called it "an unmitigated disaster for NBC".[200] It was a loss of about $100 million (half of which was covered by Cablevision under agreement) for the two parties. It also shaped NBC's strategies in the coverage of future Olympics.
  • The Premiership – In 2000, ITV took over terrestrial broadcasting rights the highlights of the English Premier League, following a bidding war against its rival and long time rightsholder, the BBC (known for broadcasting its similar show Match of the Day) at a reported cost of £183 million to commence at the start of the 2001–02 Premier League season.[201] The first show aired at 7pm on 18 August 2001[202] was watched by a peak figure of 5 million viewers, in comparison to The Weakest Link which drew an average of 7 million when shown on rival channel BBC One at the same time.[203] The channel suffered their worst Saturday night ratings for five years, when an average of 3.1 million viewers watched The Premiership.[204] After two months, figures had not greatly improved: only 4.6 million viewers tuned in, and the 7pm slot was a clear failure. The decision was made in early October 2001 to shift The Premiership from its original slot to a permanent later time of 10:30pm, from 17 November.[205] Not helped was the media and football critics – most notably the Daily Mirror – were outspoken about the programme's highlights. Out of the 70 minutes on air, the first show included only 28 minutes of action, compared to the average of 58 minutes on MotD the previous season.[206] At the end of its contract run in May 2004, rights for the league were sold back to the BBC.[207]
  • WFL on TVSTVS Television Network, a syndicator best known for its coverage of college sports, signed on to televise the World Football League, a fledgling major football league, in its inaugural 1974 season. TVS would carry a weekly Thursday night game with a two-man announcing crew and, in most weeks, a celebrity guest commentator. The league soon devolved into chaos; several teams either moved or folded midseason, including the New York Stars, a team that was particularly important to the network's viewership ratings, and schedule changes were being made on an almost weekly basis. The WFL was further undermined by a scandal in which league owners were caught lying about paid attendance, having inflated ticket sales by as much as tenfold, which destroyed fans' and TV stations' confidence in the league. By the end of the 1974 season, TVS found it impossible to sell the games to local stations, and ratings fell to levels that were anemic even by modern standards. TVS issued an ultimatum to the WFL demanding that the Chicago Winds sign Joe Namath in order to continue TV coverage in 1975; the Winds failed to do so, and TVS pulled the plug, leaving the WFL untelevised for its final, abortive season.[208]
  • XFL on NBC, XFL on TNN and XFL on UPN – The three television programs covering the XFL are generally treated as one for the purposes of worst television show lists. The series, the subject of Brett Forrest's book Long Bomb: How the XFL Became TV's Biggest Fiasco, ranked #3 on the 2002 TV Guide list of worst TV series of all time, #2 on ESPN's list of biggest sports flops, #21 on TV Guide's 2010 list of the biggest television blunders of all time, and #10 on Entertainment Weekly's list of the biggest bombs in television history.[209][210][211] Among its problems were a series of low-scoring and unexciting games, the involvement of the World Wrestling Federation, an emphasis on tawdry stunts, a particularly poor casting choice in which Jerry "The King" Lawler was hired as a color analyst despite his near-total lack of knowledge of or interest in football, generally inferior talent (only a few of the players would go on to make an impact in the National Football League or had done so already), minimal sports media coverage outside of the networks carrying it, and even a possible involvement of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

Talk/chat and discussion shows[edit]

  • The Chevy Chase Show – Television critic Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly gave the show an F letter grade, and criticized the show for having "the gall to rerun a taped comedy bit he'd aired in the first week of his show."[212] Tucker also noted that "the audience that fills Hollywood's new Chevy Chase Theatre has steadily turned into the worst-behaved crowd in late-night television; they hoot and yell and cheer over whatever pitiful chatter Chase is attempting to wring out of a luckless guest."[212] TIME panned the show: "Nervous and totally at sea, Chase tried everything, succeeded at nothing."[213] The magazine also criticized Chase for having "recycled old material shamelessly", taking pratfalls, and even pleading with the audience to stand up and dance in their seats.[213]
  • The Jay Leno Show – While the show itself, which amounted to transporting The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (a popular late-night talk show) into an earlier prime time slot, was not considered horrible, the decision to use a late-night talk show in a prime time slot as a cost-cutting measure was declared the biggest blunder in television history in a listing compiled by TV Guide in 2010. Entertainment Weekly expressed a similar sentiment when it declared the show one of the "biggest bombs in television history" in January 2010. The move caused significant damage to the Nielsen Ratings of the local newscasts that immediately followed it and drew derision from labor unions involved in producing scripted programming. Leno resumed hosting The Tonight Show in March 2010, but only after the controversial removal of existing host Conan O'Brien. The series, and its subsequent and complicated cancellation, was the subject of the book The War for Late Night by Bill Carter.
  • The Jerry Springer Show – The show topped TV Guide magazine's 2002 list of "The Worst TV Shows Ever".[214] The phrase "Jerry Springer Nation" began to be used by some who see the program as being a bad influence on the morality of the United States. In addition, the phrase has shown the association of Springer with any "lowbrow" type of entertainment in general.
  • The Magic Hour – Soon after its debut, the series was panned by critics citing Earvin "Magic" Johnson's apparent nervousness as a host, his overly complimentary tone with his celebrity guests, and lack of chemistry with his sidekick, comedian Craig Shoemaker. The series was quickly retooled with Shoemaker being relegated to the supporting cast (and eventually fired for publicly stating the show was a disaster)[215][216] which included comedian Steve White and announcer Jimmy Hodson. Comedian and actor Tommy Davidson was brought in as Johnson's new sidekick and Johnson interacted more with the show band leader Sheila E. The format of the show was also changed to include more interview time with celebrity guests.[217][218] One vocal critic of The Magic Hour was Howard Stern, who was later booked as a guest for one episode as part of a stunt to raise the show's ratings.[219]
  • Maury – This tabloid talk show hosted by Maury Povich was dubbed by USA Today columnist Whitney Matheson as "the worst show on television" and "miles further down the commode than Jerry Springer."[220]

Variety/sketch comedy shows[edit]

  • The 1/2 Hour News HourFox News Channel's satirical news comedy show was criticized for its obvious intent to imitate Comedy Central's The Daily Show from a more politically conservative slant. The show's initial two episodes received generally poor reviews.[221] MetaCritic's television division gave The 1/2 Hour News Hour pilots a score of 12 out of 100,[222] making it the lowest rated television production ever reviewed on the site.[223]
  • Australia's Naughtiest Home Videos – The series was cancelled by its network midway through its first airing. Kerry Packer, Australian media magnate and owner of the broadcaster Nine Network, saw the show while out at dinner with friends, and reportedly phoned Nine central control personally, ordering them to "Get that shit off the air!" The network complied and immediately replaced it with reruns of Cheers, citing "technical difficulties." Packer arrived at the network the next day and again referred to the show as "disgusting and offensive shit." The show itself largely consisted of videos involving crude sexual content interspersed with off-color jokes from the show's host, former 2MMM morning host "Uncle" Doug Mulray. The show would not be seen in its entirety until 2008, three years after Packer's death.[224]
  • Ben Elton Live From Planet EarthLive From Planet Earth debuted on Channel Nine on 8 February 2011, in the 9:30 pm timeslot. During the broadcast of the first episode, reaction on Twitter was hostile, with many users speculating the show would be axed.[225] Reviews of the first episode were largely negative. Colin Vickery of the Herald Sun called it "an early contender for worst show of the year", and Amanda Meade of The Australian called it "a screaming, embarrassing failure".[226] The Age's Karl Quinn stated there was "more to like than dislike" about the show.[227]
  • "Bird Up" - This man on the street show is described by its host Eric Andre as "the worst show on television" [228] It consists of Andre walking around New York City in a latex green suit showing only his face with a bird on his shoulder, often inappropriately touching various pedestrians only to inform them that everything except the bird will be edited out in post-production.
  • The Brady Bunch Hour – This variety show featuring the cast of the hit sitcom The Brady Bunch has been frequently panned for its poor quality. Fred Silverman produced the show without the permission of either creator Sherwood Schwartz or then-copyright owner Paramount Television; both eventually consented after the fact. Eve Plumb, the original Jan Brady, refused to participate due to contractual issues, leading to the Jan Brady role being recast with Geri Reischl. It is ranked #4 on TV Guide's list of the worst TV series of all time, and Susan Olsen (who played Cindy Brady) authored a book on the show in 2009, Love to Love You Bradys, in which she referred to the show as "spectacularly bad".
  • Hee Haw Honeys – This all-female adaptation of the popular and long-lived syndicated country-flavored variety show Hee Haw, which starred Kathie Lee Johnson, lasted one season in syndication in 1978, after which most of the cast (except Johnson) rejoined the parent show. It was nowhere near as popular or well-received as its parent show, which lasted 23 years on air. TV Guide placed it at #10 on its 2002 list of the worst TV shows of all time.
  • Horne & Corden – This was a sketch show written by and starring James Corden and Matthew Horne, following their tenure in the hugely successful sitcom Gavin & Stacey. Unlike the latter, the show featured mass negative reviews in the press. The show was cancelled, and Corden stated that the sketch show was a mistake.[229]
  • Osbournes: Reloaded – The show was universally panned by critics, with Roger Catlin of the Hartford Courant even going so far as to call it the "worst variety show ever"[230] and Tom Shales of the Washington Post labeling it "Must-Flee TV".[231] It was canceled after one episode, which itself was cut from 60 to 35 minutes prior to air; twenty-six affiliates had refused to air the first show or buried it in overnight graveyard slots, and Fox had barely convinced a group of nineteen other stations to drop its plans to do the same.
  • Pink Lady (also known as Pink Lady and Jeff) – The series ranked #35 on TV Guide's Fifty Worst TV Shows of All Time list. The series, which featured Japanese duo Pink Lady struggle awkwardly through American disco hits and sketch comedy (the duo spoke very little English), was moved to the Friday night death slot after one episode and killed off after five episodes. (A sixth episode was unaired at the time but later included in a DVD release.)[232]
  • PopCultured – The show was widely panned and due to poor ratings it was canceled after one season, in early 2006. Comedy Network removed its web site's message boards due to the huge number of complaints they received, and a number of petitions demanding the cancellation of PopCultured were circulated on the Internet. However, it is unclear whether these petitions had any direct link to the cancellation of the show. A 2005 poll on named PopCultured the worst TV show of all time.
  • Riot – The American adaptation of the Australian improv series Slide Show was met with mixed to positive reviews from critics but was soon met with extremely low viewership upon its summer 2014 debut; it was reported that "no original series on one of the Big Four networks has ever rated lower."[233] The series was canceled after only four episodes aired; four remain unseen. The poor ratings were partially attributed to its lead-in, the hoax reality contest I Wanna Marry "Harry", which itself received poor reviews.
  • Rosie Live – This NBC variety special hosted by comedian and activist Rosie O'Donnell on the day before Thanksgiving 2008 received almost universally negative reviews from critics. The Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara wrote, "For those of us who are, and remain, Rosie fans, who think The View will never quite recover from her departure, who think her desire to resurrect the variety show was, and is, a great idea, disappointment does not even begin to describe it."[234] TV Guide critic Matt Roush panned the show as "dead on arrival,"[235] while Variety wrote "If Rosie O'Donnell and company were consciously determined to strangle the rebirth of variety shows in the crib, they couldn't have done a better job of it than this pre-holiday turkey."[236] The show had been cleared for a tentative January 2009 launch as a regular series, but the show's poor reception led to the cancellation of those plans.
  • RyantownRyantown was named as one of the "Top 10 Worst Irish TV Programmes" by the Irish Independent and host Gerry Ryan was later to admit that it was all horribly "half-baked" and "should have been taken off the air after a few shows".[59]
  • Saturday Night Live with Howard CosellSaturday Night Live's director Don Mischer remembers the show as hectic and unprepared, and has recalled one particular episode wherein executive producer Roone Arledge discovered that Lionel Hampton was in New York, and invited the musician to appear on the show an hour before the show was set to go on the air.[237] The show fared poorly among critics and audiences alike, with TV Guide calling it "dead on arrival, with a cringingly awkward host."[238] Alan King, the show's "executive in charge of comedy," later admitted that it was difficult trying to turn Cosell into a variety show host, saying that he "made Ed Sullivan look like Buster Keaton."[238] Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell was canceled on January 17, 1976, after only 18 episodes.[237] A year later, in 1977, the NBC sketch show Saturday Night finally got permission to be named Saturday Night Live due to the cancellation of this version of Saturday Night Live and hired many cast members who worked on the ABC version (the most notable being Bill Murray, who was hired after the departure of Chevy Chase).
  • The Tom Green Show – In 2002, it was ranked #41 on TV Guide's 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time.[239]
  • Turn-On – Bart Andrews, in his 1980 book The Worst TV Shows Ever, stated that Turn-On was actually quite close to the original concept for Laugh-In. "It wasn't that it was a bad show, it was that it was an awkward show," concluded author Harlan Ellison, a fan of counter-cultural comedy and a TV critic for the Los Angeles Free Press in 1969. Nonetheless, it has an extremely poor reputation because of the actions of at least two affiliates, who dropped the show halfway through its first airing, and others on the West Coast who did not show the first episode at all. The network followed suit in cancelling the series after its first episode. Although neither the first nor only American network series to be cancelled after a single broadcast, it become synonymous with the phenomenon after being spotlighted in the first edition of The Book of Lists in the late 1970s.
  • White Heather Club – BBC Scotland show featuring traditional Scottish songs and dances usually performed in kilts, which ran from 1958 to 1968. Although popular in its day, and in some respects competently made, it put forward a couthy tartanised version of Scotland which some found very dated and even an embarrassment by the late 1960s. The Penguin TV companion in 2006 voted The White Heather Club one of the 20 worst TV shows ever. Jeremy Paxman cited The White Heather Club as evidence that there was no "Golden Age" of British television at the 2007 Edinburgh International Television Festival's James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture.
  • The Wilton North Report – Almost from the outset, creative differences occurred between The Wilton North Report's writing team, executive producer Barry Sand, and hosts Phil Cown and Paul Robins. The hosts thought the writers' material was too sophisticated for mass audiences and frequently not very funny; the writers thought Cowan and Robins were less than erudite and felt uncomfortable writing for them. Sand tried to make peace between the hosts and writers, seeking material that Cowan and Robins would feel comfortable with yet encouraging the hosts to town down their shrill delivery. Pre-debut rehearsals did not impress Sand nor Fox executives, who decided on November 29 to push back Wilton North's premiere, which had been scheduled for the next night, to allow the crew extra time to gel (the hosts and writers had been together for not even a week). The delay also meant a retooling of the show, beginning with Sand's scrapping of the opening news review segment; Sand believed it did not mesh with Cowan and Robin's friendly approach,[240] while Fox objected to its crude humor.[241] By the time Wilton North did finally reach the air on December 11,[242] its own cast and crew would have difficulty articulating what the show was even trying to do. The on-air product was met with general derision from critics; Clifford Terry of the Chicago Tribune said the show took a smug, studious approach to its subject material,[243] while Ken Tucker of the Philadelphia Inquirer thought the "video version of Spy magazine" lacked "genuinely amusing rudeness."[244] Later episodes of Wilton North would see a greater reliance on long-form videos and feature reporting, with such examples including a report presented by Aron Ranen on a dominatrix that specialized in corporal punishment, as well as a feature on a high school basketball team in South Carolina that hadn't won a game in five years (though they pulled off a win when a Wilton North crew filmed them in action). The idea was to have Cowan and Robins generally serve as presenters and offer comments on what was being shown. Staff writer and commentator Paul Krassner would also be on hand to introduce and discuss "underground videos" with the hosts. Krassner, in what he would later term a "practice" segment, discussed the highlights of 1987 with Cowan and Robins on the January 1 broadcast, with the possibility that such analyses would become permanent the following week (a possibility Krassner was thrilled about doing, as he would recall in a February 1988 Los Angeles Times piece about his time at Wilton North).[240] By this time, however, Fox's affiliates grew restless and demanded that the show be cancelled immediately; Fox would announce Wilton North's cancellation on January 5, 1988, with network president Jamie Kellner calling the show "a bit too ambitious."[240] The show's 21st and final episode would air on January 8.

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Further reading[edit]

  • Hofstede, David (2004). What Were They Thinking: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History. Back Stage Books. ISBN 0-8230-8441-8. 

External links[edit]