Friday, January 11th, 2013

The 17 Best Failed TV Shows Of The 80s (As Judged By Their Openings)

11. "Hometown" (1985): Thirtysomething… Or Something

Michael: Remember when every show was "Thirtyomething"—you know, about rich white people having problems about what to serve at dinner or something? Yeah. Me neither. But it's Jane Kaczamarek, aka the mom from "Malcolm in the Middle," as a rich white lady! These people really like their hometown. There's nothing ethnic about it! The synth music and rocking smooth guitar riffs are super sweet, bro.

Sarah: Truth: I love "Thirtysomething." For me there are few things more comforting than spending ten minutes watching Peter Horton, aka Bicycle Guy from Singles, attempt to pick up a woman in a hardware store. Throw in Ken Olin babbling about his integrity and I am THERE, baby.

12. "Crime Story" (1987-1989): All You Need Is Farina

Sarah: Oh, Dennis Farina. Why is it that no matter how many terrible TV shows and movies you appear in I can feel no animosity toward you—even after you had the temerity to replace Jerry Orbach on "Law & Order." You're just there, with your Chicago accent and your vaguely perturbed expressions and your vaguely stylish ties. You make anything you're in at least somewhat watchable. From whence does the Farina magic spring? Only science can tell us.

That said, "Crime Story" actually looks amazing. Based on the theme song and the number of hats present, I'm assuming it takes place in Las Vegas in the 50's, and stars Farina as a hardnosed dick (God, it was nice to have an excuse to write that) who just wants to keep the city safe. I imagine there are a lot of voiceovers about scum and a lot of time spent staring jadedly at the headless corpse of a topless dancer (though probably not the topless corpse of a headless dancer). Of course, it seems equally possible that Farina plays a mobster, but do 50s mobsters wear hats and look quite so beleaguered? I have so many questions. He also spends large portions of the opening credits running around, which suggests that the show was yanked form the air when his heart just couldn't take it anymore.

Mainly, though, I'm obsessed with the fact that "Crime Story" costars Stephen Lang, whom you may remember as the vaguely Brad Dourif-esque actor who played scumbag tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds in the movie Manhunter, in which Farina also starred. Does "Crime Story" finally see the fruition of their chemistry? Does Stephen Lang play Dennis Farina's therapist—a sexier Dr. Melfi? If Dennis Farina is a mobster, does he cry about ducks? Does he have a showgirl confidante? Is the Kennedy assassination somehow worked in? Above all, why isn't "Crime Story" still on?

13. "Call to Glory" (1984-1985): Oh, Gabriel Damon

Michael: Top Gun will be a popular movie in two years so here's Craig T. Nelson flying a plane. I'm pretty sure that's why this show exists. Or maybe it's shameless baby boomer nostalgia because LOOK! KENNEDY! THE COLD WAR! CASTRO! LIFE WAS WEIRD! But it's okay because Elisabeth Shue will save us by brushing back her hair and before you know it, an old man with a silly moustache winks at you and the opening is over. Thank God!

Sarah: This show also featured Gabriel Damon, who would one day play Spot Conlon in Newsies, and remained the love of my life. Seeing him as a small child in this show is somewhat troubling for me.

14. "Everything's Relative" (1987): Serenity Now!

Sarah: While in a fugue state, George Costanza sublets a Larry and Balki's apartment and moves in with a feckless bodybuilder to whom he finds himself disturbingly attracted. He dampens his urges by convincing himself that the bodybuilder is a younger brother kept secret from him by Frank and Estelle. The series ends when George can no longer deny his urges and drowns himself with the Waterpik.

15. "Whiz Kids" (1983-1984): Nerds Like Us!

Michael: INT. Computer nerd is sitting at desk. He is typing. He is a nerd because he has glasses on and no tan because he is a nerd and never leaves the house. Did we mention that he's a nerd? Zoom in on the computer and show us scenes of the show. He also makes polygons fly out of his computer and kill his fish, or something. And he's a magician. He watches men in their underwear. Show flashing lights and his glasses again because he's a nerd. And then… wait a minute. …. Melanie Griffith?

Sarah: It might be Melanie Gaffin, but it's hard to tell with the fabulous Casio font they're using.

Michael: Never mind her! Girls are icky! Back to the computer and the floppy disks! And more polygons in his fishtank. He's a nerd. Pan over computers. He has more than one. He's a nerd. Make him smile. He's a nerd. Now, make sure you get the tinniest synthlike music you can, and make it sound like a robotic humming bird fluttering over a daisy. End scene.

Sarah: If anyone happens to have a tape of this, they should probably send it to me.

16. "A Year in the Life" (1987-1988): The Triumph of Vague Nostalgia

Sarah: A year in the life what, Adam Arkin? Is the sad music playing because Sarah Jessica Parker is in this? Are these people all dead? Is this an episode of "Lost"? WHAT ARE THEY IN A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF? Why are they playing touch football? I DON'T KNOW! I CAN SEE THEIR MOUTHS MOVING BUT THERE ARE NO WORDS BECAUSE OF THE FUNERAL MUSIC PLAYING OVER EVERYTHING. Anyone who watched this probably killed himself. This show was a suicide meme.

17. "Hell Town" (1984): Robert Blake Will Never Not Be Terrifying

Michael: Robert Blake is a priest in a tough inner city, but there are goats and nuns wearing overalls. This is one confused television. Okay. So, he's getting ready to enter the fray in the big bad city and he tells God, his fourth best friend, "Already heavenly father, let us go among them." What is this music? Like a conga line? Is this an episode of "Treme"? They won't bow down! Not even to Robert Blake! They don't know how! His coat does everything! It keeps him warm. Puts out fires. Robert Blake has always looked like a serial killer, hasn't he? Whitman Mayo and Jeff Corey are… in a field… with a goat… in the inner city… in Hell Town… Oh God. 44 seconds into it and Robert Blake has the most smug look on his face as he sits between a nun and a guy in a suit. Robert Blake chastises a cat and then prays by a cow's ass. He's a tough guy cause Hell Town is a tough place and he drinks beer and plays pool and sings with nuns and uh… goats? There are a lot of goats in Hell Town. Remind me not to visit.

Sarah: Further research reveals that Sammy Davis, Jr. sang the theme song, which makes me incredibly sad.

80s TV Shows We Wish Existed

Sarah: So in my excavation of 80s TV themes, I was sorry not to encounter certain scenarios that seem to me to be TV gold, and just as able to get on the air as Voyagers! Some of my ideas, should I ever have the opportunity to go back in time: A sitcom about struggling figure skaters touring with the Ice Capades, a la "It's a Living" (and probably also featuring Ann Jillian); a slasher-inspired miniseries like "American Horror Story," but produced in 1982 and therefore way better (and starring Brad Dourif as the sensitive English teacher at Slaughter High, Lisa Whelchel as a stuck-up cheerleader, Kirk Cameron as the class clown, and Keith Gordon as AV Club Pete); and a "Hello, Larry!- inspired sitcom called "Hello, Nixon!" about Tricky Dick opening a piano bar in the California desert after resigning, hiring Julie and Tricia as waitresses, and summarizing the episode's events each night with a song.

Michael: A sitcom starring Bryan Cranston as a cartoonist, who made a Where's Waldo-type book,called Here's Waldo. A show about a talking dog who solves mysteries in his spare time after being a fortune teller in a traveling carnival, but the dog also has anger management issues and has to see a carnival mandated therapist who is a cat. Title: Barking Mad.

Sarah: I can't tell which are weirder: the shows that didn't get made or the shows that did. To wit, how many of these movie spinoffs have you actually heard of?

"Working Girl" (starring Sandra Bullock); "9 to 5" (featuring the flawlessly named Peter Bonerz); "Ferris Bueller (whose opening featured Charlie Schlatter, the new Ferris, chainsawing a standee of Matthew Broderick and generally appearing vaguely sociopathic; also, Jennifer Aniston); the live action AND animated "Police Academy"shows; "Baby Boom"; "RoboCop"; and "Dirty Dancing" (which I would cut my own arms off in order to own on DVD).

I mean, if those exist, then why not these ones?

A sitcom version of Amadeus (featuring Jeffrey Tambor as Salieri and Charlie Schlatter as Mozart), "Young Guns" (featuring the movie's entire original cast, because they didn't have anything better to do), and "Escape from New York" (featuring Ann Jillian as Maggie and Meadowlark Lemon as the Duke).

Michael: Let's not forget Citizen Kane remade entirely with the Muppets.

Sarah: And then there are the actors who didn't quite survive the eighties—career-wise or otherwise-wise, and who really should have been in everything: for my money, the list includes Ann Jillian, Stephen Lang, Dack Rambo, Maggie Han, Robert Urich, Peter Bonerz, and Jon-Erik Hexum (farewell, sweet prince).

Michael: Don't forget about Tim Topper. I love him.

Sarah: Maggie Han, if you're out there, we love you, and we want you to come back.

Sarah Marshall and Michael Magnes are the co-creators of an imaginary TV show called "LadyCop," which stars Nick Nolte in a blond wig as a lady and a cop, who's sometimes so busy being a cop he forgets how to be a lady. Aw, hell.

34 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#1,720)

"The fictitious band, which actually consisted of four skeletons stolen from the biology lab (and controlled by strings with a smoke machine to cover them up), is a little too successful"

Yes, sure, whatever.

Chuckell (#6,080)

I love that one of the scenes from those "Voyagers" credits takes place on that collapsing bridge that could put itself back together that was a part of the Universal Studios tour-ride in the seventies. And may well still be, for all I know.

Chuckell (#6,080)

Also, "Crime Story" most definitely *WAS* a f'ing great show.

And how are ya gonna talk about Jon-Erik Hexum and not mention Rebecca Shaeffer, the other great tragedy of 80s TV?

Chuckell (#6,080)

I mean, really, if someone really had to set out to kill a costar of Pam Dawber's, I can think of at least one much better candidate.

sventurata (#4,205)

Will now obsessively watch the "Paper Dolls" and "Jennifer Slept Here" themes all day.

Also, just a friendly suggestion: have you considered using something like tubeclip to select only the portion of the video you want us to see? That way we don't have to scroll 8 minutes into a 9-minute video.

Carrie Frye (#9,863)

@sventurata Thank you, excellent suggestion! I've switched 'em over (an excuse to watch 'Jennifer Slept Here' theme again).

A Good Question (#182,018)

Bryan Cranston wears a mullet, bad stubble, and a sleeveless shirt when he's not playing a meth dealer? The 80s really were weird.

I loved "Hello Larry", "We Got It Made," and "It's Your Move" as a pre-teen/teen.

Then again, I was also a fan of "Spencer" and "Herman's Head" back in the day. Maybe I have terrible taste in sitcoms?

Pop Socket (#187)

The "Ferris Bueller" TV show wasn't nearly as good as the rip-off of it,"Parker Lewis Can't Lose":

@Pop Socket I loved that show! That and "Square Pegs" were my favorite 80s sitcoms, I think.

KenWheaton (#401)

The only thing showing at 3:50 for the Crime Story video is the opening for A Different World. HELP!

Carrie Frye (#9,863)

@KenWheaton I've fixed!

KenWheaton (#401)

@Carrie Frye Bless you, my child!

Was THE Kim Richards in Hello Larry?

Chuckell (#6,080)

The Kim Richards who is Paris Hilton's aunt, you mean? Then yes.

P.J. Morse (#232,627)

@Chuckell Same Kim Richards who was in a Meatballs movie, too. The one where the kids hide an alien in the cabin.

RebeccaKW (#240,724)

Crime Story…my parents loved it. Probably now, they would say it was their favorite show ever. I was in elementary school and I was not allowed to watch it.

Max Clarke (#3,635)

@RebeccaKW Truly awesome show! Sort of a younger sibling to Miami Vice — produced by the same team, with a similar glossy style, but set in early 1960s (not 1950s) Chicago the 1st season, then Vegas the 2nd season. A cops v. gangsters epic, obviously. And ahead of its time in being semi-serialized instead of strictly episodic.

Bittersweet (#765)

Hello Larry! can't be that terrible if Joanna Gleason was in it.

I wanted to watch Paper Dolls when it premiered but I was too young. Had to wait til high school in the mid-80s, and then fed my obsession with rich-people problems with Dynasty and Shirley Conran.

goodiesfirst (#3,448)

And if you were in grade school (everywhere I'm assuming and not just loser early '80s Portland) you could mail order paperback YA adaptations of many of those shows through Scholastic or some such. I was bummed to just discover that "Paper Dolls," the novel is no longer with me, but somehow the "It's Your Move" in print managed to survive the ages.

This shit is for real. i feel you on Voyagers. My childhood self is still in the fetal position at the memory of how that show was snatched. But you know what? I will, never, ever forgive network television for snatching away

The Phoenix

This horrible, protracted death that the broadcast networks face is a result, I believe, of the curses of so many in my generation who were robbed of Bennu's plot resolution. Did he ever find Mira? Why was this alien species so spurriously blonde?

Fuck you very much broadcast television for never answering those questions to my generation. That is why I watch mostly cable.

Cinjun (#11,921)

You are doing quite a disservice to Stephen Lang – he certainly survived the eighties. Manhunter? That's the credit of his you can remember? Avatar, Gettysburg, Terra Nova, Conan, Tombstone (the better Wyatt Earp movie)?!!! (also son of Eugene Lang, as in the New School).

Eric@twitter (#240,779)

Crime Story holds up quite well. I picked up the DVD box sets last year and still watch them from time to time.

The first season takes place in 1950s Chicago, following the rise of a mobster to where he takes control of the city. Then he suddenly moves his operation out to Vegas. They used the Stardust casino for a lot of the interiors, and since Fremont St was still open to traffic, there were a lot of car chases and shootouts with the old casinos as set pieces. It was fairly well written and produced by Michael Mann, the guy who did Miami Vice.

Max Clarke (#3,635)

@Eric@twitter Yes… Crime Story was basically a premium cable series before premium cable series existed. It looked way too good, and had a way too complex plotline, for network TV. Probably why it lasted only 2 seasons.

jackman30 (#273,507)

Crime Story was basically a premium cable series before premium cable series existed. It looked way too good listy do europarlamentu zachodniopomorskie

I have VHS rips of all of the episodes of Whiz Kids somewhere on an old hard disk. I'll find them and upload. They're pretty amazing.

@C. Blake Campbell@facebook I AM WAITING WITH BATED BREATH!

sarahbee (#11,692)

@C. Blake Campbell@facebook: Not sure I want my memory of that show sullied with reality…okay, yes I do.

bootcamp014 (#240,800)

love it

ezarc (#240,821)

Have always been, and yet still, sad about McLean Stevenson and 'Hello, Larry'. We will always wonder what Henry Blake would have become if he survived the Sea of of Japan and instead became a struggling radio psychologist in the Pacific Northwest. Though it appears his alcoholism cleared up, which is nice. Oh what could have been….

( 'Hello, Larry' was a spin-off of Diff'rent Strokes by the way…sort of )

Doctress Ju'ulia (#239,630)

I'm kind of surprised The Legend of Matthew Starr wasn't on this list. I loved that show.

Whiz Kids, I remember that. I had a thing for the main guy… always had a thing for nerdy types…

Drewbert (#240,936)

Exactly how did all of you miss Jadzia Dax in Paper Dolls?

SEO FORUM (#245,753)

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Jeffrexx01 (#261,612)

To be fair, the set of "Everything's Relative" (which really should have been titled "Brothers") looks more like the set of "My Two Dads," especially with that weird staircase.

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