We’ve all heard of the horrors of Cop Rock and Manimal, but after receiving a reader tip on one of their worst TV shows of all time, I did some digging and uncovered these utterly classic samples of bad television that would make great material for Joel McHale or the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
10. Bucky and Pepito (1959)
Produced by Sam Singer, “The Ed Wood of Animation,” Bucky and Pepito was a typical story of an “ambitious” white cowboy and his “lazy” (literally, they sing about it in the theme song) Mexican buddy trolling the old west on a zero budget. According to Toonopedia, “Cartoon historian Harry McCracken once said the pair ‘set a standard for awfulness that no contemporary TV cartoon has managed to surpass. They were great at what they did, which was being bad.'” Thanks to Bucky and Pepito, cartoonists have debated creating a Sam Singer Award for truly bad animation.
9. Captain Fathom (1965)
A typical submarine adventure cartoon, Captain Fathom was one of three animated shows from Cambria Studios to feature Syncro-Vox, a shortcut that superimposed the mouths of voice actors over the animated characters that proved cheaper than producing actual animation. The result is, of course, creepy and disturbing. This is especially bizarre given the fact that Alex Toth, of Hanna-Barbera fame, was the show’s director.
8. My Mother the Car (1965)
Trying to follow the success of Mister Ed, NBC execs aired a show about a guy and his car, a 1928 Porter that just so happens to be his mother re-incarnate. Nothing beats hearing your mom tell you she needs a wax and a lube job. Watching a horse talk is mildly entertaining; watching the radio flash in a car while listening to a voiceover is downright lame. Ironically, the show’s creator, Allan Burns, went on to create The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its subsequent spinoffs. Surprisingly, the show’s star, Jerry Van Dyke, managed to survive the show’s crazy concept, establishing a successful comedy touring circuit and resurfacing on television decades later with recurring roles in shows like Charles in Charge and The Middle.
7. Turn-On (1969)
From the creators of the hit series Laugh In, Turn-On was intended to be a comedy show… produced by a computer. If that doesn’t sound like enough of an acid trip for you, the show reeked of ’60s chic, having been shot almost entirely in front of a minimalist white backdrop and making heavy use of the Moog synthesizer. Cited as “physically disturbing” to some viewers, production executive Digby Wolfe described it as a “visual, comedic, sensory assault involving animation, videotape, stop-action film, electronic distortion, computer graphics—even people.” One affiliate thought the show so bad they pulled the pilot from the air, mid-broadcast. What could best be described as experimental television, the show was penned in part by Albert Brooks and hosted by Tim Conway.
6. Super Train (1979)
The most expensive series ever aired at the time, the pitch meeting for Super Train was rather simple: The Love Boat on a train. Remarkably the show managed to stay on the air for three months, despite casting re-works throughout its short tenure. Between blowing their cash on this train wreck and the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics, NBC nearly went bankrupt. Too bad Sheldon Cooper wasn’t born sooner, then they’d have at least one die-hard fan.
5. Co-ed Fever (1979)
If the extensively show-tuney theme song isn’t enough of a tip off, the fact that network execs thought a TV version of Animal House was a good idea should be enough of a signal that this is some truly terrible television. Aired as a “special preview” for the upcoming season, the pilot was the only episode ever made. Hardcore ’80s TV fans will recognize the set from the first season of The Facts of Life.
4. Galactica 1980 (1980)
The 1980 TV series, acting as a sequel to an ABC television movie of the same name, is the perfect illustration of everything that can go wrong with television sci fi. Despite the fact that Battlestar Galactica creator Glen Larson was somewhat involved in the show’s creation, a laundry list of bad moves ensured that this series would be cancelled after 10 episodes. Starting with a low budget (footage from Universal Studios’ 1974 film Earthquake was re-used in one famous battle sequence), bad writing, and a terrible time slot, the show’s creator was also forced to include “educational content” and limit the acts of violence within the show. Conquering cylons with brains instead of braun apparently doesn’t make for scintillating TV.
3. Pink Lady And Jeff (1980)
A variety show starring comedian Jeff Altman and Pink Lady, a pair of Japanese music artists who (probably intentionally) spoke terrible English. The whole plot of the show: mock the ladies’ poor English skills. Seriously. Cancelled after 5 episodes, the show became a cult classic. A 2001 DVD release “…quickly went out of print, and now an unopened copy in mint condition will fetch more than $50 on Amazon.com.”
2. The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (1998)
Hideous is a kind adjective for this horrible attempt at racial humor in a historical setting. (Yeah, that just sounds genius. Racial humor set during the Civil War — hysterical!) Cancelled after 4 episodes, Entertainment Weekly dubbed the show “this season’s winner of the what-drug-were-they-smoking-when-they-created-this-show award.” The show, which aired on UPN, is most noted for angering the L.A. Chapter of the NAACP.
1. Heil Honey, I’m Home (1990)
I purposefully saved the best for last. This gem of British television is a send up to the American family comedies of the 1950s and ’60s with one seriously demented twist: Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun play the lead couple. Adolf and Eva have the perfect 1950s urban life in Berlin until the Jews move in next door. One episode aired in 1990, leaving one to wonder what BBC exec thought The Honeymooners meets Nazis was ever a good idea.