March 22, 2017
Worst of the worst
However, one’s opinion toward such lists chances when one is looking for some spark of inspiration, some reason to put pen to paper and write down choice opinions on an issue of the day. Now, let me assure you that I do have ideas for other essays, and there’s a good chance you’ll be reading those essays in the next few weeks. The temptation here was too strong, though – a list of the 12 worst television shows of all time. Surely there has to be some grist for the mill here!
It already had several things going for it, especially if your intention was to pick apart the list and demonstrate why it was a waste of time, and how my job is to read it so you don’t have to, etc. For one thing, the list appeared on the CNN website, and I’m normally of the opinion that 98% of everything that appears on the CNN website should be treated as clickbait and worthy of contempt. (The other 2% are actually advertisements, and therefore exempt.)
Once there, it got better. As it turned out, the list came from Rolling Stone, which previously gave us the “100 Greatest Shows of All Time” list that was similarly ridiculed, to which they said this was a “companion list.” Now, if the presence of Rolling Stone’s name wasn’t itself reason to unload cultural scorn, then the fact that a list of 12 really bad shows can be considered a companion to 100 really good shows is an even better reason. It suggests, for one thing, that the history of television contains a disproportionate share of good shows to bad ones – a ratio of just under 10 to 1, if my math is correct. And if they’re trying to convince us that thus is the history of television, then I think they’ve got another think coming. Why limit it to 12? Why not 1,000? That would be about the right ratio, I’d think.
Anyway, you can see how successful my idea is, that I’m already on the fifth paragraph without even having gotten to the shows in the list. Hey, when it comes to this kind of thing I know what I’m doing!
Yes, the list. I was expecting one of my favorite series, Hogan’s Heroes, to be on the list, because it frequently winds up on such lists, especially the ones written by people who don’t really have a clue as to what the series was actually about. In fact, I’d already composed three sentences of my rebuttal before I found out Hogan’s Heroes wasn’t on the list. I was glad, but I was also sad in a way – it’s always hard for an author to throw material away. But now, to the actual list!
In fact, two other shows on this list come from the reality genre – Osbournes Reloaded and For the Love of Ray J – and this is not really playing fair. For one thing, most reality shows belong on a list like this, so by having them make up 25% of the shows on this list just makes the list maker(s) look lazy. It’s like catching fish in a barrel. You’re really telling your readers “I was on deadline and didn’t really have time to do any research, so here.” And seriously, these are the three worst reality shows? What about Real Housewives? What about Honey Boo-Boo? What about Wife Swap, or the one where real-life couples having intimacy problems went into a room to sort things out while a group of “experts” waited outside until they were done? Right.
I mentioned that Hogan’s Heroes didn’t make the list, which at first blush would seem to indicate at least some level of discernment, but wait! The oldest show on the list, The Ropers, only dates back to 1979; the next-oldest, Joanie Loves Chachi, ended in 1983.* C’mon, where’s My Mother the Car? Where’s Turn-On, the infamous one-episode comedy show that was almost cancelled while that single episode was on? What about Jackie Gleason’s bomb You’re in the Picture, which was so bad he spent the entire next week’s airtime apologizing for it. Television had existed for thirty or so years prior to the debut of The Ropers, and apparently none of those shows merited an appearance in this list? Wow, the Golden Age of Television really was Golden, wasn’t it?
*Considering the author makes a point of mentioning star Scott Baio’s presence at last year’s Republican National Convention, I suspect there might have been an agenda at work here as well. And another thing: they write of Joanie Loves Chachi that “this barely beats My Two Dads and Mama's Family.” If it was that close a decision, why aren’t either of those shows on the list? It's not as if the '80s are overrepresented.
Oh, and by the way, they also say that this “killed [Baio’s] career.” Which, of course, is why he wound up as a co-star on Diagnosis: Murder ten years later. It has, as they used to say, the crackle of Confederate money.
(By the way, the rest of the shows on the list: Viva Laughlin, 1600 Penn, The Hard Times of RJ Berger, The Ghost Whisperer, Stalker, and The Pickup Artist. I swear to you, except for The Ghost Whisperer, I've never heard of any of these shows. I wonder why that is?)
More likely, this list was compiled by – wait for it – a bunch of snarky millennials who have no grasp of the history of television, no ability to think back any farther than they day they were born, and probably never heard of the series I just mentioned. Probably they discarded anything in black-and-white just on general principle – those old shows are, like, so uncool, you know. They were made back in the Stone Age. And that’s fine if you want to compile a list of the Worst Shows Since I Was Born, or the Worst Shows of the Last 30 Years, or the Worst Shows of the 2000s, or something. But now, these are The 12 Worst TV Shows of All Time. Get that – all time. Like in since the beginning of time. Which says a lot for truth in advertising.
No, really. Words mean things, and when you bill your list as compiling the worst shows of all frigging time, you ought to have at least one show on there from the 50s or the 60s, or even the 80s, which is woefully underrepresented (nine of the 12 came from the oughts, which again is kind of hard to believe). Northern Exposure, another show that makes the list, was, the authors (let’s assume the plural here) concede, critically acclaimed in its time. If that’s the case, what makes it now one of the worst? C’mon, tell us; we’ll wait. (I’ll be it’s because one of its stars, Janine Turner, is a Republican.) I could name plenty of shows that would wind up on my own worst-of list, shows that probably appear on someone else’s favorites list: Cop Rock, The Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, Sheriff Lobo, SportsNight, Supertrain, Hello Larry. Every one of these shows has its fans (well, perhaps not Desmond Pfeiffer), and I could at least give you a reason why they’re on my list. It would start a conversation, anyway. The only conversation this list could reasonably start is one on how stupid the individuals who made it are.
Not stupid, check that. Uninformed. And there’s no shame in that; most people aren’t anything like experts on vintage television, nor is there any reason they should be. But when you give your list such an authoritative title, even in just, all you really do is put your ignorance on display for all to see, so in addition to uninformed, I guess you can add hubris, or whatever someone suffering from that is called.
The introduction to this list mentions that “For every bad show that claws its way to the airwaves, there are hundreds of even worse ones that never made it that far.” And that’s where this list has all the others beat, because there are probably hundreds of bad worst-of lists, but how many of them make it into print? You made it all the way, guys - you're the worst of the worst. Congratulations.