It happens all the time. An idea sounds great on paper. So great, that the project produced and heavily advertised as a amazing event. Then, it comes on and it quickly becomes clear the project was a bit ill-conceived. The show flops, and is off the air very quickly and is remembered as the punch line to jokes for years to come.

The history of television is littered with examples of projects like these. Today I wanted to feature five of my favorite train wrecks.


#5. Cop Rock. This was one of the first flops of the 90’s. Steven Bochco developed some amazing series. He was responsible for Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue among others. However, I guess everyone has to have one bad idea. Airing on ABC, Cop Rock was a cop show with a twist…musical numbers! What in the world made them think this was going to work? Variety was long gone and musicals weren’t even popular in movies at the time. To the surprise of no one, the show only lasted twelve episodes and then it was gone. I do realize this show has picked a sort of cult following, but for me it will always be an example of a bad idea.


#4. The Chevy Chase Show. Oh man this was painful. I remember watching this in college, and hating myself. It sounded like a can’t miss premise. With lots of fanfare Chevy Chase made a deal with FOX and even had his own theatre named after him for the show. The show was just, well, it sucked. Chevy just wasn’t funny, even doing is weekend update style segment. His first show had Goldie Hawn singing to him as he sat there, and it was just creepy. Thankfully, the show only lasted five weeks. The show was canceled and theatre renamed. It became a punch line including a great line in a Fresh Prince episode. The great thing was the way Chevy handled the cancellation, making light of it and even doing a super bowl commercial lampooning it.



#3. The Jay Leno Show. This show has a complicated and embarrassing history. NBC had the bright idea of taking Jay Leno off The Tonight Show and moving him into prime time. Why? I have no idea what made them think this would work. The audience at 10:00 is very different than the audience at 11:35, and several affiliates complained including my very own WHDH here in Boston. The show was really The Tonight Show just reformatted. They gave Jay a couch to sit on with no desk, and the comedy bits weren’t funny. The only good things were the old stuff from The Tonight Show, which is where Jay was back on after being on for just a few months. Yes, I know I am leaving out a large part of the story with Conan O’Brien. He got screwed, enough said.


#2. The XFL. This was WWF owner Vince McMahon’s brilliant idea. In a way to keep football fans interested after the NFL was done, he created the XFL. The so-called “Extreme Football” was supposed to be “real” without penalties for roughness and with fewer rules in general. The loud games featured players and coaches with microphones and cameras in the huddle and in the locker rooms. There were also scarcely clad cheerleaders. There were really a couple of mistakes here. The majority of the games were on obscure cable stations like TNN which doesn’t scream “legitimate”. The second mistake was that NBC aired the show on Saturday night. Who is home on Saturday night to watch football? Isn’t that the night most people go out? Finally, the fact that Vince McMahon was behind the concept didn’t help, wrestling isn’t exactly a well respected activity. I will say one thing; the ads for this were very well done. However, that didn’t help save the actual product. To no one’s surprise, the XFL was canceled after its first low-rated season.


#1. The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault

Geraldo Rivera learned the dangers of live TV first hand in this two-hour special which aired April 21, 1986. I guess I can see how it seemed like a good idea. Al Capone was, of course, the notorious Chicago mobster and the idea of a secret vault does sound interesting. Who knew what could be inside? There could be money, gold, even dead bodies! Sounds silly but that’s the way the special was hyped, and I mean really hyped! There was a medical examiner on the show and representatives from the IRS. After two hours of hype what was found when the vault was finally opened? Some bottles and a lots of dirt. What an embarrassment, but to be fair the special had a huge audience.



I am leaving lots of things off, of course. I could talk about the atrocity that was The Brady Bunch Hour but I try not to think of that. There were horrible sitcoms like My Mother, The Car (it’s how it sounds), Baby Bob, and The Lucy Show. The awful game show “Twenty-One” that came out in the 90’s. If I missed any others you feel deserved to be mentioned, feel free to comment and let me know.

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