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Literature / What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History

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2004 book by David Hofstede celebrating the worst of television. Anything goes: individual plot points or elements, or even entire shows. It's an interesting reading to know what some people consider examples of "So Bad, It's Horrible" (or at the very least incredibly controversial).

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    The List 
  1. The Star Wars Holiday Special note invoked
  2. Dallas' infamous "Bobby in the shower"/All Just a Dream cop-out note 
  3. The Jerry Springer Show turning from a decent talk show into a freak show for violent, sexually deviant human trash note 
  4. Jackie Gleason's flop Game Show You're in the Picture (1961) note 
  5. CNN tries to promote new journalist Paula Zahn as "sexy" note 
  6. The 1950s quiz show scandals note 
  7. The inclusion of Scrappy-Dooinvoked in the Scooby-Doo franchise (1979-88) note 
  8. Geraldo Rivera reports on the discovery of Al Capone's vault and finds nothing (1986) note 
  9. Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? note 
  10. The Heidi Bowl note 
  11. The Brady Bunch Hour note 
  12. My Mother the Car note 
  13. Televangelist Oral Roberts announces that God will "call him home" if he doesn't receive $8,000,000 from his flock note 
  14. The Anna Nicole Show note 
  15. The Emmy Awards' flawed voting process note 
  16. Rampant Product Placement, particularly in televised sports note 
  17. William Shatner's notorious take on Elton John's "Rocket Man" at the 1977 Science Fiction Film Awardsnote 
  18. Dateline's 1992 report on exploding General Motors trucks note 
  19. TV movies on Amy Fisher note 
  20. Supertrain note 
  21. Life With Lucy note 
  22. The Goddess of Love note 
  23. FOX After Breakfast note 
  24. Lost in Space episode "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" note 
  25. Turn-On note 
  26. The Magic Hour note 
  27. St. Elsewhere's All Just a Vision in an Autistic Kid's Mind ending note 
  28. The $1.98 Beauty Show note 
  29. Cop Rock note 
  30. Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell note 
  31. The epilogue of Michael Jackson's 1991 "Black or White" music video note 
  32. Dynasty replacing Pamela Sue Martin with Emma Samms as Fallon Carrington (beginning April 1985)
  33. Pink Lady and Jeff note 
  34. Twin Peaks' second season note 
  35. Drudge note 
  36. Moonlighting's poor handling of Dave and Maddie as a couple
  37. Chuck Cunningham's disappearance on Happy Days
  38. Colby losing to Tina on Survivor: Outback (2001) note 
  39. CBS' many failed attempts at morning shows (Morning Show, Calendar, The Morning Program)note 
  40. The Dana Carvey Show and how ABC screwed it over (1996) note 
  41. Several TV versions of films, including a Casablanca adaptation (1983) with David Soul as Rick Blaine note 
  42. Burger King's "Where's Herb?" commercials note 
  43. Small Wonder note 
  44. The Dukes of Hazzard replacing Bo and Luke with Coy and Vance (1982-83) note 
  45. Fish Police note 
  46. The Reagans note 
  47. Cousin Oliver joins The Brady Bunch for its final six episodes
  48. The XFL note 
  49. The 1960s TV rule against showing navels on women (affecting such shows as Gidget, Gilligan's Island, and I Dream of Jeannie)
  50. Thicke of the Night note 
  51. Shelley Hack taking over for Kate Jackson on Charlie's Angels note 
  52. The 61st Academy Awards telecast note 
  53. Dan Rather using "Courage" as his signoff on the CBS Evening News note 
  54. The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer note 
  55. NBC's Fall 1983 schedule note 
  56. The Brothers Grunt note 
  57. NBC failing to let David Letterman use the names of his NBC-era segments on CBS' Late Show note 
  58. The New Monkees note 
  59. Dusty's Trail note 
  60. The Wilton North Report note 
  61. Dark Shadows' "Leviathan" storyline note 
  62. WWF Raw's Mark Henry/Mae Young storyline note 
  63. Land of the Lost (1974)'s third season note 
  64. Madonna's "Like a Prayer" music video debut note 
  65. Joanie Loves Chachi note 
  66. Roger Ramjet and Underdog both getting bashed by Moral Guardians due to allegations of drug abuse
  67. Days of Our Lives deals with the Devil note 
  68. Attempts to Americanize Fawlty Towers note 
  69. The erasure of countless TV showsinvoked note 
  70. The Chevy Chase Show note 
  71. Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Spock's Brain" note 
  72. Shows with talking babies (Happy, Baby Talk, and Baby Bob)
  73. Roseanne Barr butchering the National Anthem at a San Diego Padres game in 1990 note 
  74. Nick @ Nite's Network Decay note 
  75. The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island note 
  76. Paul Lynde as a bachelor on The Dating Game note 
  77. Harold Robbins' The Survivors note 
  78. Janet Jackson's Wardrobe Malfunction at Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston note 
  79. Bewitched recycling scripts after The Other Darrin takes over. note 
  80. The Flying Nun note 
  81. Woops! episode "Say It Ain't So, Santa" note 
  82. Battle of the Network Stars #18 note 
  83. Me and the Chimp note 
  84. ABC's 1974 Wonder Woman TV-movie note 
  85. Connie Francis performing poorly as a celebrity partner on The $10,000 Pyramid note 
  86. Elvis Presley being shot only from the waist up (due to Standards & Practices rules at the time that found Elvis' swiveling hip dances to be too risqué) on The Ed Sullivan Show
  87. Recycled In Space cartoons (Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, Partridge Family 2200 AD, Yogi's Space Race, and Gilligans Planet)
  88. Laverne & Shirley writing Shirley out of the show
  89. QVC selling the Poopin' Moose note 
  90. Bad Ronald note 
  91. USA Network Up All Night note 
  92. The Aldrich Family's chronic case of The Other Darrin note 
  93. The Dick Van Dyke Show episode "The Bad Old Days" note 
  94. 3's A Crowd note 
  95. The Western saturating television with 30 shows on the schedules of the Big Three in the late 1950s. note 
  96. Quark note 
  97. Farrah Fawcett's awkward interview on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1997 note 
  98. The addition of Dawninvoked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Connor on Angel note 
  99. AMC "going commercial" note 
  100. Professor Price note 

    Honorable mentions 
  1. Saturday Night Live's sixth season (1980-81), produced by Jean Doumanian (and then Dick Ebersol for one episode after Doumanian and 90% of her cast were fired), which helped end Fred Silverman's tumultuous run at NBC.
  2. Boohbah note 
  3. Are You Hot?: The Search for America's Sexiest People note 
  4. The Tortellis note 
  5. Batman (1966) often casting Batgirl as the Damsel in Distress
  6. The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Peter Marshall note 
  7. Santo Gold infomercials note 
  8. Jabberjaw note 
  9. The Morton Downey Jr. Show note 
  10. Revenge of the Nerds III and IV, and Problem Child III note 
  11. Playing It Straight note 
  12. It's About Time note 
  13. Rudolph's Shiny New Year note 
  14. MTV's infamous Network Decay.
  15. The New Leave It to Beaver note 
  16. CBS bleeping Janet Jackson saying "Jesus" on The Late Show with David Letterman
  17. USA Today: The Television Show
  18. James Stockdale's 1992 vice presidential debate note 
  19. Frank Zappa hosting Saturday Night Live note 
  20. The Love Boat Follies note 
  21. Playboy's 50th-Anniversary Celebration
  22. Baywatch Nights note 
  23. She's the Sheriff note 
  24. After M*A*S*H
  25. The Lingerie Bowl note 

Tropes in this book:

  • All Just a Dream: Entries 27 (St. Elsewhere) and 2 (Dallas) are derided as misuses of this trope.
  • Award Snub:invoked Entry 15 discusses how the Emmys are horribly broken.
  • Book Ends: Entries 100 (the Professor Price game from The Price Is Right) and 1 (The Star Wars Holiday Special) were both aired on CBS, bookending the list. Both entries also happened within 12 months of each other toward the end of the 70's.
  • Bowdlerization: Entry 91 is based around USA Up All Night doing this for B-movies from The '80s, though Hofstede doesn't really try to address the possible counterpoints that USA gave the movies mainstream exposure that they wouldn't get otherwise, or that the movies could be perfectly enjoyable for their Camp value even without the more titillating parts. He basically admits that his main complaint is that he wasn't getting the goods when he watched the show as a Hormone-Addled Teenager.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Entry 37 is about the Trope Namer.
  • Cousin Oliver: Entry 47 is on the Trope Namer himself, while Entry 98 discusses the trope in the Buffyverse. It's noted that Oliver himself isn't actually ungodly annoying like his reputation would suggest, but rather that the writers themselves seemed to have complete apathy to him, with the few episodes after his arrival giving him nothing to do and shoving in the audience's faces how pointless he was.
  • Creator Provincialism: Because the book focuses on American television, it does leave out some of the most infamous television events in other parts of the world, including :
    • Heil Honey I'm Home!, a British sitcom about Adolf Hitler that only lasted one episode.
    • Australia's Naughtiest Home Videos, a take on the America's Funniest Home Videos formula that aired on Nine Network and primarily featured animals having sex. It was pulled off the network in the middle of its only airing at the demand of the network's owner Kerry Packer, leading to the people who made/helmed the show being very acrimoniously fired right away and trespassed from the network.
    • The Pokémon: The Series episode "Electric Soldier Porygon", which was never exported beyond the show's native Japan and was outright banned by the Japanese government because it contained strobing visuals that caused an epidemic of epilectic seizures during its only airing and led to new Japanese television practices that are still in effect to this day.
    • Much like the American counterpart, the countless erasure of multiple episodes from British TV shows, most notoriously episodes from Doctor Who.
    • And while we're on the subject of Doctor Who, its initial cancellation before its hiatus of nearly 15 years (during the time this book was published) deserves a dishonorable mention.
    • The Trouble with Tracy, a 1970s Canadian sitcom that was created solely to fulfill the then-financially struggling CTV's quota on locally produced content, with the producers required to film 130 episodes in a single season. The time and economic pressures involved forced them to take shortcuts such as recycling 25 year old radio scripts, shooting whole scenes in a single take, using canned laughter instead of a live studio audience, keeping flubbed lines in the completed episodes due to having insufficient time to shoot retakes, and shooting virtually the entire series inside a poorly-constructed set. The end result was regarded as one of the most poorly-produced sitcoms ever made.
    • Hilfe, meine Familie spinntnote , a German remake of Married... with Children that attempted to recreate the source material frame by frame, down to the looks and gestures of the cast, with virtually no attempt made to adjust the humor or plots to their new cultural surroundings. Its poor audience reception was not helped by its occasional translation issues or the fact that the original had already been exported the year prior to great success and even aired on the same network.
  • Executive Meddling:invoked
    • Referenced in entry 23, on FOX After Breakfast - "A gaggle of new producers micromanaged every aspect of the show, certain they knew what worked on the network better than the original cast and creative team."
    • Entry 47, The Brady Bunch's Cousin Oliver, also invokes this, noting it was ABC who insisted that Sherwood Schwartz introduce a cute younger character to the show to counter-balance the rapidly-aging original Brady kids.
  • Jumping the Shark:invoked Twin Peaks' second season is cited as an example in entry 34. Interestingly, the trope-naming Happy Days episode doesn't make the list. note 
  • Missing Episode:invoked The focus of entry 69.
  • Network Decay: Examples are cited for AMC (see the YMMV tab) and Nick @ Nite.
  • The Other Darrin:invoked Entries 92, 51, and 32 are about this on The Aldrich Family, Charlie's Angels, and Dynasty (1981) respectively. Entry 79 is about the Trope Namer himself, at least in a roundabout way; see Recycled Script below.
  • Product Placement: Entry 16 laments the increased appearance of it in society as a whole.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Entry 19 cites ABC, CBS, and NBC rushing to create a TV movie on Amy Fisher as a Real Life example of this, outright mentioning Rashomon by name and even asking the reader to watch it when "you're at the video store and they're all out of Happy Gilmore". Hofstede finds NBC's take (Amy Fisher: My Story, based on her autobiography) sympathetic to Fisher and well-acted but boring; CBS's (Casualties of Love, starring Alyssa Milano) more sympathetic to the Buttafuocos; and ABC's (The Amy Fisher Story, starring Drew Barrymore) as the most even-handed but also most lurid, but still shames all three networks for their desires to try and outdo each other on such a subject.
  • Recycled Script:invoked Entry 79 calls out Bewitched on this.
  • The Scrappy:invoked Entry 7 is on the Trope Namer. Dawn and Connor from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel also get a spot, noting that they were both able to be rescued to some extent but the damage was already done.
  • Self-Deprecation: The foreword was written by Tom Bergeron, who openly expresses his personal embarrassment (FOX After Breakfast).
  • Shipping Bed Death:invoked Entry 36 highlights the notorious example on Moonlighting.
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: Entry 68 is about two ill-conceived attempts to do an American adaptation of Fawlty Towers, a show that many people would consider a Tough Act to Follow, and a show rooted in very English sensibilities.
  • Variety Show: Entries 33, 30 and 11 deal with cases where networks tried to launch these as vehicles for very unlikely hosts (a Japanese pop duo with a limited grasp of English, a sportscaster known for his deadpan style and Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, and the cast of a family sitcom hosting in-character), only to have them fail and damage the entire genre in the process. Entry 1 is about an attempt to shoehorn the world of a very expensive Space Opera into a Variety Show special, with disastrous results.
  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Hofstede has a tendency to use "it's" where he should be using "its".
  • Writer on Board: While any book like this is going to be very subjective and tilted toward the biases of the author, a number of entries are Hofstede complaining about things he personally doesn't like, rather than moments that were widely regarded by viewers as horrible.