Then came Pink Lady and Jeff.
As the story goes, in 1980 NBC head Fred Silverman saw a Walter Cronkite report on a popular Japanese pop duo called Pink Lady (Mitsuyo "Mie" Nemoto and Keiko "Kei" Masuda), who were superstars in their native country with a string of million-selling singles stretching back to 1976. In 1979, they made a serious run at the American market, appearing on a Leif Garrett TV special and releasing an English-language album, which included a minor U.S. Top 40 hit, "Kiss in the Dark" (the first song by a Japanese act to hit the North American charts since 1963). note For a time, Pink Lady's record sales in Japan alone surpassed the global record sales of every other pop group, including ABBA.
Echoing a similar situation with Ed Sullivan and The Beatles in 1964 (when Sullivan saw the Beatles in a Cronkite report and immediately booked them) Silverman, not unreasonably, thought that importing a couple of gorgeous, intriguingly exotic young pop stars would be a huge success in the United States.
He was so sure of it, in fact, that he went right ahead and gave Pink Lady their very own eponymous variety show. It would be helmed by Sid and Marty Krofft, featuring Mark Evanier as head writer and seasoned variety show veteran Art Fisher as director. It didn't hurt that this also came after a year of declining record sales in Japan, with Pink Lady's previously squeaky-clean image having been damaged by a scandal involving kids from a school for the blind being invited to the taping of their New Year's TV special and the school denying having been told about it. And Mie and Kei were ambitious girls who really wanted to make it in the States.
Well... for starters, somehow Silverman had managed to book a Japanese pop group for primetime American television without bothering to inquire if they knew any English whatsoever. Which - surprise! - it turned out they didn't (the songs on their earlier U.S. album were recorded phonetically). So the producers brought in then-unknown comedian Jeff Altman (who was under contract to NBC) as a co-host based on the fact that, hey, he was under contract.
Mie and Kei were assigned clichéd American-style "personalities" (basically, one was cute and sassy, the other cute and shy) and learned their few English lines phonetically, making improvisation or even much interaction with Jeff impossible. Plus, the girls weren't allowed to sing the songs that made them popular in Japan, instead being forced to sing covers of American disco hits. Which, if you recall your music history, wasn't exactly a guaranteed ratings-booster in 1980.
And wouldn't you know it, the show died after five episodes, taking the already-dying variety show genre with it. It gained a reputation as one of the worst TV shows ever. As if failing in the States wasn't enough, Mie and Kei went home to Japan to find their record sales had gone into free-fall in their absence, and ended up disbanding less than a year later (though they have reunited a few times in the years since).
Pink Lady and Jeff contains examples of:
- Drop-In Character: Since the show was already suffering in the beginning, NBC decided to bring in an ensemble cast of comedy players to try and help boost the slumping ratings, including a then-unknown Jim Varney.
- Fanservice: Each show ended with Mie and Kei luring a tuxedoed Jeff into a hot tub. Jeff tried to convince the writers to do away with the segment, but he was shot down in favor of what was basically an excuse to see two attractive Japanese women in bikinis.
- Faux Fluency: Part of the reason why the skits featured in each episode were so unfunny was because Mie and Kei could not speak a word of English. All their lines were learned phonetically, making improvisation impossible. Also, they were unintelligible half of the time anyway...
- Hotter and Sexier: The show was a spicier take on the Variety Show format to make it palatable for the more jaded tastes of the post-Watergate era. It would become a key example of why the first wave of Jiggle Shows didn't get past 1980.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: The show was actually called Pink Lady, since the girls' manager demanded that the show be Pink Lady's and Pink Lady's only. Except you wouldn't know it from the adverts at the time, which billed it as Pink Lady and Jeff, and which pissed off the band's manager to the point where he threatened to sue (which was a moot point anyway). At the same time, Jeff Altman's manager demanded the show be named Pink Lady and Jeff since he was, for all intents and purposes, the anchor of the show. In the public consciousness, the show is still referred to by the latter name, and was even listed as Pink Lady and Jeff on the DVD release.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: A running gag was about how little the girls knew or understood about American culture. Which made sense, considering they didn't even fluently speak the language of the country their show aired in.
- Sex Sells: Pretty much the reason for the Running Gag with Pink Lady stripping down to bikinis for "Hot Tub Time" at the end of every episode.
- Not only that, but one episode's guest stars were Hugh Hefner and some of the then-current Playmates.
- Short-Runner: Six episodes, of which only five made it to air before cancellation.