Congratulations, newly-fledged TV executive vice-president of programming! You’ve got the corner office, an assistant to take your calls from eager supplicants whilst you lunch with the hottest new faces in town, hot wannabes now approaching you at parties.
And sometimes, when you’re left alone with your Firefly promotional stress grips, you sit and dream of being the visionary who greenlights the next Simpsons—or maybe Mad Men—depending on how long it took you to get here. At any rate, you envisage the fond mentions from grateful auteurs in retrospectives years later, the Lifetime Achievement honours.
The thing is, Padawan, to achieve this pinnacle one must ever be alert to the Dark Side of your newfound power. Trend-spotting holds full as many pitfalls as it does rewards. Come with us now [rattles chains, Marley-style] as we take a cautionary look back at the 10 most spectacular mistakes of TV executives past…
Exhibit A: Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos, Nine Network (Australia), 1992
This was an hourlong compilation of the rejected material, wink-wink nudge-nudge, from the hit Aussie version of Funniest Home Videos. At least, it was for 34 minutes. We’re not sure what footage precisely inspired network owner Kerry Packer to race to the phone and bark “Get that s*** off the air!” at that point, but we like to think it was the little girl grabbing a kangaroo’s scrotum.
At any rate, Packer got his wish (no doubt forcing American FHV host/famously blue comic Bob Saget to cancel his emigration plans) and the special was unceremoniously yanked mid-broadcast, along with several Nine Network careers. Characteristically, though, Aussie audiences protested that they were just fine with marsupial-scrotum-molestation, thankyouverymuch. The special was eventually rebroadcast in 2008—with only a few ‘jibes against obesity’ removed.
Exhibit A: Rosie Live!, NBC (US), 2008
Every now and again, Hollywood is seized with the desire to revive the TV variety genre post-1980. Evidently, their idea is to appear charmingly populist—instead of what they generally actually look like, which is people who learned nothing from Pink Lady and Jeff. If Wayne Brady couldn’t get ratings with the format in 2001, it wasn’t likely Rosie O’Donnell had a hope.
Still, near a decade later, Rosie was riding high as the down-to-earth diva of daytime, so NBC duly scheduled this special for Thanksgiving and provisionally cleared a timeslot for the next season. A solid B-list of entertaining vox populi was signed on, including Conan O’Brien and Harry Connick Jr. And the result… well, let’s give Variety, as always, the definitive word: “If [they] were consciously determined to strangle the rebirth of variety shows in the crib, they couldn’t have done a better job of it than this pre-holiday turkey.” NBC quietly uncleared the time slot, and the world is safe once again from variety revival fever. For now.
Exhibit A: Who’s Your Daddy? Fox (US), 2005
Yes, surprisingly, Fox has only one entry in this category. Who’s Your Daddy? turned the search for a biological parent into a lottery, dropping a young woman (actress T.J. Meyers) into a group of potential papas and promising her $100,000 if she guessed correctly. If not, the guessee got the $$, instead.
Still not as crass as, say, Joe Millionaire? Maybe. But there’s nobody looking out for the special interests of meatheaded pretty boys, is the point here. Once the adoption lobby got hold of Who’s Your Daddy?, on the other hand, it barely got its premiere on the air as a ‘special’.
Exhibit A: Manimal, NBC (US), 1983
I can still remember how excited I was about this one: a dashing adventurer (Simon MacCorkindale as Dr. Jonathan Chase) had the power to change into any animal he wanted. Being 12, all I worried about was whether they’d go for the T.Rex right away, or save it for the season finalé. After all, they had to get through the tigers and elephants and eagles and gorillas and stuff, first.
Meanwhile the producers, being certified (certifiable?) adults, actually had to face the harsh realities of an early-‘80s TV F/X budget. They ended up with exactly two decent transformation sequences, a panther and a hawk, repeated ad nauseum. From which—just for that extra-special little touch that turns a flop into a standing joke—Dr. Chase re-emerged with shredded suit magically re-intact. Manimal lost its mojo after only eight episodes.
Exhibit A: You’re in the Picture, CBS (US), 1961
Yep, if only Hollywood had been paying attention 50 years ago, we all could’ve avoided the modern-day parade of stand-up stiffs. You’re in the Picture was a game show in which guests would stick their faces through novelty photo cut-outs, then try and guess who/what they were by asking questions of the host—who was Jackie Gleason! Does that not sound like a one-way ticket to Wackyland?!
... right. It didn’t set anyone else on fire, either. The whole thing was so clunky and ill-conceived that Gleason took the still-unprecedented step of scrapping the second episode altogether in favour of an actually funny, touching 30-minute apology in the same time slot the following week. And that, my friends, is why they called him The Great One.