Monday, November 19, 2007

Being There

As with any individual of my generation who grew up watching the "Back to the Future" Trilogy I have a hypothetical list of dates and activities I would do if I somehow managed to get access to a time traveling Delorean in reality. Notable temporal activities would include: (1986) watch game 6 of the World Series at Shea, (2525) see how prophetic Zager and Evans were in their predictions all those years ago; (1618) witness the Second Defenestration of Prague; (1999) really party like it's 1999 instead of being distracted by Y2K and Pokemon; (1848) fulfill that literary dream of a threesome with the Bronte sisters (sans Anne) at the peak of their writing talents.

The most recent addition to that ever growing mental list would be to transport myself back 24 or so years right into the thick of the 1983-1984 NBC television season. It would be at this point that I could actually witness, and verify with my very own eyes and ears, quite possibly the worst prime time network television season in the history of the medium. For now I can only dig up artifacts, uncover second hand accounts, and hypothesize about things that once were and that time has mercifully forgotten. I can only accept the historical records of the season where every prime time show that premiered in the fall was canceled by the end of the season. I can only begin to imagine a season so poor that it would count mid-season replacement detective series "Riptide" as one of its major successes. I can only attempt to rationalize how network executives and producers could with a serious face greenlight certain shows with premises so bizarrely awful in concept and execution for a mass audience.

Here are some of the offerings the prime time NBC viewer was rewarded with circa 1983 for following NBC's request to "Be There!":

Jennifer Slept Here
Jennifer Farrell was a once popular actress who got run over by an ice cream truck and now haunts her Los Angeles home. Her lawyer's generic 80s TV sitcom family (complete with sassy generic 80s kids) moves in and hilarity ensues. The hilarity ensues to a critical level when it turns out that only the teenage son Joey can see and hear her (hearkening back to the "classic" Fred and the Great Gazoo era of the Flintstones). This constantly gets Joey into trouble and makes everyone think he's crazy. Oddly enough this was apparently one of the more popular offerings of the season and even cracked the top 20 once, although in the end it was dead on arrival. Also, the opening sequence seemed to visually give very little insight into what the show was about.

We Got It Made
Mickey Mackenzie is a hot young woman who applies to be the live in maid to two zany bachelors David and Tom who share a two bedroom apartment. They become smitten by her and she is hired. However, hilarity ensues as this causes tension between their two respective girlfriends Claudia and Beth who are suspicious of their boyfriends living with the beautiful Mickey. This seems sort of like a mix of the equally awful contemporary show "The Big Bang Theory" and the fake pilot to "Jerry" ("because he's my butler") on "Seinfeld". I can't imagine why this show petered out, the complex set up had legs to go for at least a decade. It must also have been a Herculean effort on the part of the show's producers not to change the "Made" to "Maid" in the title.

As the William Conrad narrated introduction explains, Dr. Johnathan Chase is a wealthy, young, handsome man who traveled the world, learning the ability to transform into any animal he wants, which he uses to fight evil! So it's basically like Batman except with transformation powers...and a limited special effects budget. Despite the myriad of animals he could have turned into, apparently hawk or panther was the choice most of the time. Also scenes where he needed to change into something more complicated (snake, dolphin) the change would occur off screen ("Wow, did you see that?! He turned into a snake! Here he comes now!"). In only three months of airing it gained a reputation as one of the worst science fiction shows ever aired and even an apparent cult following (I guess there might be worse cults to be a part of).

Mr. Smith
So here's the entire show in a line: Mr. Smith is a talking orangutan (played by Clyde from "Every Which Way But Loose", the Lawrence Olivier of orangutan actors) with an IQ of 256 who is a political adviser in Washington DC. Take that Reagan Era America! How did he get so smart you might ask? By drinking a bottle of an experimental formula of course! This is a show that flies in the face of conventional logic. It's one of those complete "what were they thinking?!" kind of shows that, while completely ridiculous in their execution, deserve special notice for even making it on to national television; from "My Mother the Car" to "Cop Rock" to "Caveman". Of course as the case with such high concept fare, "Mr. Smith" lasted all of 13 episodes.

There were many more failures but they just weren't as interesting or noted. Other lowlights included: "The Yellow Rose" (some sort of lame "Dallas" clone about a cattle ranching family with Sam Elliot), "Bay City Blues" (a series centering around a minor league baseball team that sounded like the forgotten 2004 CBS series "Clubhouse"), and "For Love or Honor", "The Rousters" and "Boone" which I couldn't really find any information on.

So I guess the moral of all this is, in the context of modern TV, Thanksgiving, and the on going writer's strike, that for every "Chuck" or "Carpoolers" or unnecessary "Bionic Woman" remake we should be thankful for what we've got and that things could be much, much worse.

1 comment:

  1. oh my goodness-
    that promo is so horrible. it's like bad television on crack, with the giant floating head of mr. t at the end telling you that you are a fool.

    game on, by the way.