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The 50 Worst Decisions in TV History

Reality TV disasters, boneheaded cancelations, cable news calamities, and more

50 worst decisions in TV history

Photo Composite by Joe Rodriguez. Images in illustration: Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images, Paul Gero/NBC; Greg Gayne/ABC/Getty Images; HBO; CBS/Everett Collection, Doug Hyun/AMC; HBO, AdultSwim

THE HISTORY OF television is a vast wasteland of terrible decisions. For every groundbreaking show like Breaking Bad, Star Trek, and All in the Family that got on the air, there are 50 duds like Capitol Critters, Homeboys in Outer Space, and Joanie Loves Chachi. For every brilliant network idea, like NBC allowing Jerry Seinfeld to make a “show about nothing,” there are 100 insane ones, like ABC allowing Jim Belushi to create 182 episodes of According to Jim across eight seasons.

It wasn’t easy, but we combed through six decades and picked out the 50 worst decisions in the history of television. The goal wasn’t to center this on “Jumping the Shark” moments, which is why you won’t see entries about Felicity getting a haircut or Cousin Oliver moving in with the Brady Bunch. We instead focused on choices made at the network level by clueless suits. That said, a few dumb writing decisions — like the infamous Armin Tamzarian episode of The Simpsons — were hard to avoid.

This list could have easily been six times longer, since buffoons have been running networks since the earliest days of television, so feel free to add your own ideas on X (formerly Twitter) using the hashtag #BadTVDecisions. (If you’re interested in how a similar level of weapons-grade stupidity can play out in the world of music, here’s our list of the 50 Worst Decisions in Music History from last year.)

Warning: Some of these are agonizing to relive, especially when you consider that we could all exist in a world where Lost ended in a satisfying way, MTV never aired an episode of Ridiculousness, and NBC didn’t pave the way for Donald Trump’s presidency.

From Rolling Stone US


NBC Turns Donald Trump Into a Television Titan

Before NBC put The Apprentice on the air in 2004, Donald Trump was little more than a punchline. His real-estate ventures were hemorrhaging cash and his attempt at starting an Atlantic City casino empire had ended in bankruptcy. If he’d simply placed the massive inheritance he received from his father in the bank and let the interest grow over the years, he would likely have been much better off financially. But thanks to NBC and the work of Australian reality-TV kingpin Mark Burnett, The Apprentice transformed Trump into a genius-level titan of big business in the minds of countless TV viewers. The fact that the whole thing was a charade mattered not one tiny iota. The Apprentice was NBC’s biggest hit for several years. It played a huge role in setting the stage for his successful 2016 run for the presidency. Along the way, NBC let him host Saturday Night Live and appear on Jimmy Fallon’s couch, where he received a playful hair tussle from the host. MSNBC has spent the past eight years pounding Trump every single night. If it wants to look for the root cause of his political career, however, it just need to peek down the hall to the entertainment division of its parent company. This is on them.


NBC cancels ‘Freaks and Geeks’

Few shows in TV history captured the agony of adolescence better than Freaks and Geeks. Series creator Paul Feig drew inspiration from his own childhood in suburban Michigan, and in one of the greatest casting moves in Hollywood history, thanks to industry legend Allison Jones, brought together Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Busy Phillips, Linda Cardellini, Samm Levine, and John Francis Daley when they were all completely unknown. But despite incredible reviews and an average weekly viewership that hovered around 6 million, NBC pulled the plug before they could even air all the episodes they shot for the first season. If a show wasn’t pulling in Friends-like numbers, the network simply wasn’t interested. A huge cult has grown around Freaks and Geeks over the past two decades, along with questions about where the show could have gone in Seasons Two, Three, and beyond that we’ll never be able to answer.