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.