March 22, 2017

Worst of the worst

One of these days I’m going to start a list, and I think I’m going to call it “The Worst ‘Worst-Of’ Lists of All Time.” I know, these “Worst-Of” lists are just evil clickbait, and as such they should be ignored, and their authors sent off to some purgatory where there may still be a chance for redemption, a very, very slim one.

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!

It turns out the absolute worst television show of all time is Duck Dynasty. Now, I have to admit up front that I’ve never seen an episode of Duck Dynasty, but I know what it’s about (more or less), and I know who the Robinson family is. Why do I get the feeling that this choice is more ideologically-based than anything else? I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

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.


  1. I've never actually watched Duck Dynasty either.
    I'm a city kid, and in my mid-'60s, I still shave.
    But I have heard of it, and one of the things I know is that the family's name is Robertson.
    Robertson, like in Cliff or Dale, not Robinson, like in Jackie or Edward G.

    To your main thesis:
    We've been here before - the fact that fewer people these days have a sense of history.
    It isn't just not knowing historical facts - it's not knowing how they fit together over the flow of years.
    Smartasses talk/write of Historical Eras as if they exist in isolation from one another; as if the Depression suddenly came to an end with the onset of World War II, or as if the Placid Fifties gave way to the Wild'N'Wooly Sixties with no transition whatever, or any other example you or I can name.
    If nothing else, history is continuity.
    As a Fifties Kid, I believe I was ideally placed to understand all this. Every medium available was in some kind of transition: music, literature, film/TV (a transition within a transition), sports, world affairs ...
    Transition almost always happens gradually, imperceptibly. You don't even notice as certain things drop out of sight.
    Every day for more than forty years, I commuted to downtown Chicago - 1971 to 2013.
    The Chicago of '71 and the Chicago of '13 (or for that matter '17) are almost 100% different from each other - but the changeover was so gradual that while it was happening, I never really noticed.
    Today, any time I go to the Loop, I look around, and lately I'm remembering places I used to go regularly in the '70s - and so many of them aren't there anymore - and haven't been for years.
    This is Old Man Talk, I know; people these days are living longer/getting older, and explaining how things used to be to the Whippersnappers gets to be irritating.
    I thought for a while that Classic/Vintage/Old TV would be a bridge of sorts, as it was during my '50s-'60s youth - sadly, that doesn't seem to be happening.
    In the past couple of days, I've read of the passings of Chuck Berry and Chuck Barris - see, I know the difference, but how many Millenials have even heard of either of these?

    Side Note:
    I also read of the passing of Robert Day, a British director who relocated to the USA in the mid-'60s. He had quite the career: British comedies with Alastair Sim and Peter Sellers from the mid-'50s onward, into British TV with shows like The Avengers, to USTV series like The FBI (where he met his longtime wife Dorothy Provine), to many made-for-TV movies through ththe '80s-'90s, ultimately to happy retirement in the Pacific Northwest, where he passed over the weekend in his '90s.
    And basically, no one noticed (unless, like me, they happened to stumble across the obit).

    I seem to have lost the thread here; I'll stand down and regroup ...

  2. Both Rolling Stone lists are terrible, which isn't surprising.

    Joanie Loves Chachi didn't exactly kill Baio's career; he returned to Happy Days, then had another successful series, Charles in Charge, which had a three year run in first-run syndication after the initial season on CBS (four seasons total). If a dead career means being the star of a multi-season show, then a lot of stars would probably take that killing! They are likely just bashing him for other reasons (like you mentioned on Ms. Turner).

    Northern Exposure being on any such list is ridiculous. Maybe overrated, but a good show by anyone's standards.

    I have a soft spot for Sheriff Lobo. The writing was bad, but not that much worse than The Dukes of Hazzard, and the chemistry between Claude Akins and Mills Watson was as strong as that between James Best and Sorrell Booke IMO. No classic, but pretty funny that first season, until they moved everything to Atlanta.

    NBC had a lot of candidates during the Silverman Era. Pink Lady and Jeff had to be one of the worst ever, even with guest shots by Sid Caesar and Larry Hagman. I remember Number 96 being a big disappointment but haven't seen it since.

    Rolling Stone thought American Idol was one of the best shows ever, and put the Dick Van Dyke Show at # 90. I don't think I read past that.....

  3. Ha! I've avoided blogging about absolute duds myself but may now give it a go...

  4. Wikipedia has you covered: List of television shows considered the worst.
    Including Barney (And who doesn't hate Barney?), the ridiculous Supertrain and the insipid Manimal, Honey Boo Boo, Al Capone's Vault (LOL Geraldo) and, of course, the Plan 9 from Outer Space of TV, Elvis in Concert, which never would have aired had he not died.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!