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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


‘Jeopardy’ Allows Mike Richards to Anoint Himself Host

The producers of Jeopardy! did not have an easy path in front of them when Alex Trebek died in 2020 after a 36-year run as the host of the show. In the minds of most viewers, he was Jeopardy! and it was impossible to imagine anyone else behind the podium. Producer Mike Richards played a large role in the search for a new host. And taking a page straight from the Dick Cheney 2000 playbook, he came to the completely unbiased decision that nobody was more qualified for the job than himself. The powers that be at Jeopardy! agreed, and they announced he was the new permanent host. Within days, offensive comments he’d made on a podcast came to light, along with issues related to the treatment of models during his time working on The Price is Right. He stepped down as host after taping five shows in a single day. For comparison, Anthony Scaramucci made it 11 days as White House communications director in 2017. When Scaramucci outlasts you by a factor of 11, you know you fucked up big time.


‘America’s Next Top Model’ Asks Contestants to Swap Ethnicities

Judging pop-culture artifacts of the past through the prism of the present can sometimes be deeply unfair. But that sort of excuse isn’t going to help America’s Top Model and its decision in 2005 to have contestants “swap ethnicities.” This meant that some of the white models wore blackface, and others changed their skin tone and wore wigs to look as if they were Native American, Haiwaiian, or Latinx. This took place in a very-primitive era of social media, so there was very-limited public outrage, but images from the episodes are quite shocking. America’s Next Top Model host Tyra Banks has defended the move in recent years. “I want to be very clear: I, in no way, put my top models in blackface,” she said. “I’m a Black woman. I am proud. I love my people, and the struggle that we have gone through continues, and the last thing that I would ever do is be a part of something that degraded my race.” We’ll take her word that she had no bad intentions, but we can’t imagine she’d do this again if given the chance.


The Geico Cavemen Get Their Own Sitcom

Remember the Geico cavemen commercials? They featured sophisticated cavemen reacting with fury to Geico’s slogan that its website is so simple to use, “even a caveman can do it.” It was a clever way to sell insurance, but that doesn’t mean Americans wanted to spend 30 minutes a week in that prehistoric world. ABC thought otherwise in 2007, when it gave the cavemen their own sitcom. “I laughed through my pain,” wrote a New York Times critic. “Cavemen, set in some version of San Diego where people speak with Southern accents, doesn’t have moments as much as microseconds suspended from any attempt at narrative.” Thirteen episodes were ordered, but only seven made it to air. This failure was really a blessing, since it meant humanity didn’t have to endure copycat shows about the Budweiser Frogs, Coca-Cola Polar Bears, or the Energizer Bunny. 


Disney Plus Refuses to Let Lizzie McGuire Grow Up

If you’re a woman somewhere in your late twenties or early thirties, odds are high that Lizzie McGuire was a very important show to you in your tween years. And if Hillary Duff brought Lizzie McGuire back as an adult on Disney+, odds are high you might tune in for at least a few episodes to see how Lizzie, Miranda, Gordo, and the rest of the gang fared in adulthood. That came very close to happening in 2019, when Disney+ ordered a Lizzie reboot with Duff, the entire original cast, and series creator Terri Minsky. A couple of episodes were shot, but Disney+ fired Minsky over creative differences, and Duff quit the project not long after that. According to Duff, the network wasn’t happy with the more adult tone the show was taking. “She had to be 30 years old, doing 30-year-old things,” Duff said. “She didn’t need to be doing bong rips and having one-night stands all the time, but it had to be authentic. I think they got spooked.” This is just idiocy. Lizzie McGuire fans aren’t little kids anymore. They can see Lizzie live life as an actual adult in some approximation of the real world. Had they trusted Duff and Minsky to execute their vision, something very special could have been created. By pulling the plug on it, everyone lost. 


‘Saturday Night Live’ Fires Adam Sandler and Chris Farley

There’s no question that Saturday Night Live needed to make some changes at the end of the 1994-95 season. Ratings were in free fall, the reviews were brutal, and the NBC brass were flirting with the possibility of canceling it. When faced with this situation in the past, the show cleaned house and brought in a new generation of comedians in the hopes that some of them would catch fire. But they always held on to the more talented cast members, most notably Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo, who were kept on after the 1981 season when nearly everyone else was fired. In 1995, however, Adam Sandler and Chris Farley were both given their walking papers alongside more obvious cuts like Ellen Cleghorne, Chris Elliott, and Jay Mohr. This was partially due to the relatively high salaries Sandler and Farley commanded compared with the newbies, but many NBC executives felt they simply weren’t funny anymore. Farley came back to host in 1997, just two months before his death, but Sandler was bitter about the whole situation and didn’t return until 2019. He gently roasted NBC in his musical monologue. “I was fired, I was fired,” he sang. “NBC said that I was done/Then I made over 4 billion dollars at the box office/So I guess you could say I won.”


HBO Tries to Make a ‘Sex and the City’ For Men

Two years into the original run of Sex and the City, when the show was near the apex of its popularity, HBO decided to create a crass clone of the show for men. It moved the action to Chicago and saddled the central characters with spouses, which limited the potential for random hookups. That minor change couldn’t cover up the fact that the show was clearly just an inverted SATC. Seeing women talk frankly about sex was revelatory. Seeing men do the same thing on The Mind of the Married Man just felt piggish, gross, and very familiar. The show also had the misfortune of premiering weeks after 9/11, meaning people had more on their minds than Jake Weber’s sex life. The show somehow got picked up for a second season, but almost nobody was watching by that point. And when Entourage hit two years later, The Mind of the Married Man was essentially erased from history. Don’t go looking for a reboot on Max any time soon.


Two Words: ‘Cop Rock’

As the man behind L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues, and NYPD Blue, producer Steven Bochco has a pretty stellar track record when it comes to creating procedural shows for network television. But in 1990, he veered wildly off course when he came up with the ABC show Cop Rock. As the title suggests, it’s about police officers who occasionally take a break from solving crimes to sing and dance. It started when Bochco was approached with the idea of turning Hill Street Blues into a Broadway musical. When that didn’t pan out, he adapted it into a TV series. There’s a universe somewhere out there where Hill Street Blues worked on Broadway. There’s no universe where Cop Rock worked. It’s almost impossible to watch it with a straight face, especially the part in the pilot when the jury sings “He’s Guilty” with a gospel choir. The show lasted a mere 11 episodes, and Bochco whiffed just as hard two years later with his animated Washington, D.C., parody show Capitol Critters. But then he went back to basics in 1993 with NYPD Blue. It was such a huge success that Cop Rock became just a tiny, weird footnote to his career. He’d learned his lesson, though. Throughout the 12-year run of NYPD Blue, the cops didn’t sing once.


The Ungodly Horror That is ‘The Swan’ Makes Women Hate Themselves

The early days of reality television were full of stunningly misogynistic shows like Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? and Are You Hot? that seemed like they were designed in laboratories to make women hate themselves. Perhaps the worst example is 2004’s The Swan, where a group of women deemed “ugly ducklings” are paired with personal trainers, dentists, fashion consultants, and plastic surgeons. In the end, they compete in a beauty pageant where one is named the Swan. In the years that followed, many of the contestants said they had a miserable time on the show and regretted taking part in it. It’s impossible to know the impact it had on its viewers, but everyone involved in this project should be ashamed.


Fox News Tries to Make Their Own Daily Show

Despite several noble attempts, most notably Air America, liberals have been unable to make talk radio work. Conservatives own that space and there’s no way around it. Conversely, conservatives are just as hapless when it comes to trying to create a funny alternative to The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live. Fox News gave it its best shot in 2007 when it rolled out The ½ Hour News Hour with a crew of mock news anchors as well as former Weekend Update host turned contrarian right-winger Dennis Miller. Segments included the cartoon “Guy White: Closet Conservative” and a bit where Rush Limbaugh played the president alongside Ann Coulter as his VP. The only problem is that nothing they tried was even remotely funny to anyone anywhere on the political spectrum. Fox News yanked it after 17 episodes and went back to its standard unintentionally funny programming like The O’Reilly Factor. 


Geraldo Takes Viewers Inside Al Capone’s Vault

On April 21, 1986, 30 million people tuned into a television special called The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault. Host Geraldo Rivera breathlessly hyped the event for weeks, promising to crack open a newly-discovered vault once used by notorious crime boss Al Capone, on live television. Rivera had medical examiners on hand in case bodies were inside, along with IRS officials in case money was tucked away. But as any good lawyer will tell you, never ask a question to a witness when you don’t know the answer. And like any good TV producer will tell you, don’t crack open a vault live on television when you have absolutely no idea what’s inside. In this case, almost nothing was inside besides some empty bottles and a lot of dirt. Rivera was humiliated by the fiasco. Four decades later, it remains one of the most famous non-events in TV history.


Ren and Stimpy’s Adult Party Cartoon is Allowed to Happen

In hindsight, the original Ren & Stimpy was a very odd fit for Nickelodeon. This was the channel of Maya the Bee and Pinwheel, where many viewers are barely out of diapers. And then suddenly this deranged show about a demented dog and cat appeared in 1991. It took place in a bizarre world of sentient farts, serial-killer horses, and a superhero named Powdered Toast Man. Ren often collapsed into psychotic, violent rages, and Stimpy had an odd fixation on boogers and body hair. Because it was on Nickelodeon, a lot of the more subversive humor was under the surface, especially when it came to sexual matters. (What exactly was their relationship?) In 2003, the good people at Spike TV commissioned new episodes of the show from series creator John Kricfalusi. It was aimed at young adults who grew up on the show, meaning that the subtext was totally stripped away. In this version of the show, Ren and Stimpy actually had sex. Stimpy even becomes pregnant at one point, ultimately giving birth to a baby made out of feces. The whole thing was even more grotesque than it sounds, and it wasn’t even remotely funny. Six episodes were made. Spike canceled it after a mere three. In 2018, Kricfalusi himself was canceled after Buzzfeed revealed he groomed and sexually harassed teenage girls in the Nineties. There have been reports about a Ren & Stimpy revival on Comedy Central, but Kricfalusi will have no involvement. For many, many reasons, that’s for the best.


MTV Gives Up and Becomes The ‘Ridiculousness’ Channel

In the classic 2006 Mike Judge movie Idiocracy, an average guy wakes up from suspended animation 500 years into the future and finds that he’s the smartest guy on the planet. The most popular show on television is Ow My Balls!, which is nothing more than quick clips of morons getting pummeled in the nuts by angry dogs, blocks of wood, and even a giant wrecking ball. Turns out that Judge was about 495 years off, because Ridiculousness, which is basically just Ow My Balls! under a different name, premiered on MTV in 2011. To be fair, the real-life people on the show don’t always get hit in the balls. They sometimes get popped with various means of destruction in their face, back, or side. It makes America’s Funniest Home Videos look like Masterpiece Theatre. In some ways, the show is a metaphor for MTV throwing up its hands and giving up on the idea of making watchable TV at all. The network hasn’t had a genuine new hit since the days of Jersey Shore, mainly because its target audience of 18-24-year-olds spends all day either playing video games or scrolling through TikTok and Instagram, and doesn’t need TV at all. So, MTV basically just runs Ridiculousness reruns on a loop 24/7. There are occasional pauses for blocks of Catfish or even a new episode of The Challenge (which is still the best reality show on television), but most days it’s just 48 consecutive episodes of Ridiculousness. We know it’s tough out there in cable land, but surely anything is better than surrendering to an infinite loop of Ridiculousness. MTV, it’s not too late to fix this. Make a new season of Road Rules. Air these great new episodes of Beavis and Butt-head that are on Paramount+. Hell, you could even do something totally insane and out of the box and start playing music videos again! Anything is better than what’s happening right now.


‘Family Matters’ Disappears Judy Winslow

When the sitcom Family Matters premiered in the fall of 1989, the focus was entirely on the Winslow family and their three children: Laura, Eddie, and Judy. In the 12th episode, however, Laura was forced out on a date with a hopeless nerd named Steve Urkel. Audiences fell in love with the character and he became a regular, complete with a catchphrase (“Did I do that?”), a dance (“Do the Urkel”) and a robot doppelgänger (the Urkbot). This left very little room for other characters and plotlines. Judy, played by child actress Jaimee Foxworth, was impacted the worst, and was reduced to little more than a background character by the third and fourth seasons. Prior to Season Five, producers decided to simply fire Foxworth. For the remaining five seasons of the show, the characters acted like she never existed. This was confusing for longtime viewers, and simply cruel for Foxworth. At age 14, she felt like a giant failure. Not cool, Family Matters. Not cool.


‘Star Trek’ and ‘Gilligan’s Island’ Both Canceled After Just Three Seasons

If you turned on the TV at any given moment throughout the Seventies and Eighties, it’s very likely you came across a rerun of Star Trek or Gilligan’s Island. The two Sixties network shows were syndication juggernauts all over America. TV junkies could recite every line of “The Trouble With Tribbles” and “Don’t Bug the Mosquitoes.” This turned Star Trek into one of the most famous shows in TV history, and its spinoffs continue on Paramount+ to this day. Gilligan’s Island’s cultural footprint isn’t quite that massive, but it’s unquestionably one of the most enduring sitcoms of its time. Both shows were canceled after just three seasons. Neither of them hit the 100-episode mark. By comparison, According to Jim produced 182 episodes across eight seasons. We’d be in a better world if there had been a lot more Star Trek and a lot less According to Jim.


ABC Gives Us Way Too Much ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’

The launch of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in August 1999 was a major moment in the history of American television. A game show hosted by TV vet Regis Philbin hardly feels like a bold concept, but something about the execution (“Is that your final answer?”) captivated millions of Americans and generated record ratings for ABC. It also cost the network relatively little to produce. It just needed a studio full of normal Americans, Regis, his silk necktie, and some prize money. ABC simply couldn’t resist overdoing it to an absurd degree the next year by airing four hour-long episodes every single week. The novelty wore off very quickly, especially when new reality shows like Survivor and Big Brother came on the airwaves and made the Millionaire drama seem quaint by comparison. The show has come back in several incarnations over the years, but it’s never come close to matching that original wave of mania.


‘Mad About You’ Reboots on Spectrum

If a beloved sitcom comes back after a 20-year absence and nobody watches it, did it really come back at all? That’s the question Mad About You faced in 2019 when the popular Nineties show briefly returned as a Spectrum Original. If those last two words don’t make sense to you in tandem like that, you’re not alone. Very few people are aware that the cable company Spectrum entered the original-content game in 2019 as part of a desperate attempt to stop viewers from getting rid of cable. They relentlessly pushed the new Mad About You on their onscreen guide so anyone flipping through the channels would be aware of it, but it was of little use. Most television viewers don’t have Spectrum, and the whole concept of original programing was confusing for those that do, since the shows existed in some sort of weird ether, unbound to any channel. Twelve new episodes of Mad About You were uploaded to Spectrum between November and December 2019, the total viewership for all of them was about 16 people, and the show was quietly canceled. This all took place in a near total vacuum. Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt, and the whole Mad About You family deserved better.


HBO Max Dumps The ‘HBO’

HBO spent more than 50 years building up the value of its name. As the home of The Sopranos, Games of Thrones, Sex and the City, The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Leftovers, Six Feet Under, The White Lotus, The Wire, Succession, and Deadwood, it is the ultimate home of prestige television. In 2020, the network joined forces with Cinemax to launch the streaming platform HBO Max so cord cutters could still have access to their programming. But in 2023, they made the baffling decision to shorten the name to Max. “We all love HBO,” explained JB Perrette, president and CEO of HBO Max parent company Warner Bros. Discovery. “And it’s a brand that has been built over five decades to be the edgy, groundbreaking trendsetter in entertainment for adults. But it’s not exactly where parents would most eagerly drop off their kids.” Perrette was referring to adult content like Real Sex and Sex and the City. But the decision to change the service’s name to Max was even worse for the exact same reason. Had this guy never heard the term Skinemax before? Cinemax spent decades showing softcore porn late at night to boost ratings. Their name is far more associated with adult entertainment than HBO. The decision is just bonkers-level crazy.


Fox News and CNN Create Streaming Platforms

The future of cable news is quite murky. Cable itself is dying a slow death as more and more users cut the cord in favor of streaming, and the average age of a regular CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News viewer is somewhere around 117. Fox News responded to this threat by creating the streaming platform Fox Nation in 2018. For a mere $5.99 a month, subscribers could get the network’s unique brand of right-wing propaganda without having to pay for cable. Very few people signed up, possibly because Fox’s most loyal viewers aren’t exactly the kind of people who run to adapt to new technologies. Tucker Carlson began trashing Fox Nation behind the scenes. “Nobody’s going to watch it on Fox Nation,” he said on a leaked video from 2018 that surfaced earlier this year, in which he is heard discussing the possibility of putting an upcoming special on the streaming service. “Nobody watches Fox Nation because the site sucks. So I’d really like to just dump the whole thing on YouTube.” But at least Fox Nation is still a thing. CNN spent more than $300 million to launch CNN+ in March this year, and pulled the plug just four weeks later when virtually nobody signed up. 


Dan Rather Fails to Vet Supposed George W. Bush Documents

Throughout the first few years of the George W. Bush administration, rumors swirled that the president didn’t fulfill his duties to the Texas National Guard back in the early Seventies. If proven, this would be an explosive story, since W was responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Any political opponent could simply say that Bush didn’t serve his own country during Vietnam, even in a limited capacity, making him unfit to serve as commander in chief. The only problem was, there was no way to prove he actually went AWOL from the Texas National Guard, and he strongly denied it. At the height of the 2004 campaign, however, documents surfaced that seemingly proved the charge. Dan Rather put them on 60 Minutes. Within hours, conservative bloggers began examining the papers and raising significant red flags. They eventually proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the memos were forgeries created on a modern computer. CBS could have found this out prior to the broadcast and saved a lot of humiliation. The blunder cost Rather his job and essentially eliminated the National Guard conversation as an issue during the election. Some left-wing conspiracy theorists think the Bush campaign created the documents and passed them along to the media, knowing they’d eventually be shown to be forgeries. But that’s a sort of 4D chess that rarely happens in real life. In all probability, Rather and his team were simply duped. 


‘Quantum Leap’ Reboots Without Scott Bakula

Throughout the five-season run of Quantum Leap, Scott Bakula’s character, Dr. Samuel Beckett, leaped into the bodies of different people throughout history, “putting right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.” He put right a lot of wrong, but the show ended with Beckett still trapped in the past. Rumors of a reboot swirled for years, and the cult audience grew to the point where they even held fan conventions. NBC finally brought the show back in 2022, with Raymond Lee playing the new time traveler. Initial reports said that Bakula might be involved in some capacity, but the show ultimately went forward without him. “In January, the pilot was sold and a script was sent to me because the character of Sam Beckett was in it, which makes sense, right?” Bakula wrote to fans. “As so many of you have been asking me the last several months, ‘How could you do QL without Sam?'(or Al, for that matter). Well, I guess we’re about to find out. That’s the story. As the show has always been near and dear to my heart, it was a very difficult decision to pass on the project.” In other words, they weren’t willing to pay him enough or give him a significant role. Booooo. NBC, come on. You just renewed the show for a second season. Cough up the money and bring back Bakula. Doing this show without him is just insane.


The Academy Awards Asks James Franco to Co-Host

Hosting the Academy Awards is a notoriously thankless task. If you pull off a great show, like Billy Crystal did throughout the Nineties, you get maybe a day or two of positive press before everyone forgets about it. But if you bomb like David Letterman in 1994, people talk about it for decades. If you doubt us here, please quote a single Billy Crystal joke from any of his telecasts. Now, do you remember Letterman’s Uma-Oprah bit? We bet you do. But Letterman owes the Oscars a bouquet of flowers for asking James Franco to host alongside Anne Hathaway in 2010. The pairing was so painfully awkward and unfunny that few critics now point to Letterman as the worst host in history. From the minute Franco walked onstage, he looked embarrassed to be there. The more that Hathaway tried to make up for his droopy demeanor with relentless perkiness, the worse it all got. “It was like the world’s most uncomfortable blind date,” Oscars writer David Wild told The Ringer, “between the cool rocker-stoner kid and the adorable theater-camp cheerleader.” 


‘Laverne and Shirley’ Dumps Shirley

When your show is called Laverne & Shirley, it basically goes without saying that you need both Laverne and Shirley to make it work. But when Cindy Williams, who played Shirley on the hugely successful Seventies sitcom, became pregnant during the eighth season, the producers insisted that she work straight through her pregnancy, even on her actual due date. She filed a $20 million lawsuit that was eventually settled out of court, and the vast majority of the show’s last season was shot without her. This was a good time to start a new show called Laverne, but they stubbornly stuck to the original name. This would be like Art Garfunkel releasing solo albums under the name Simon and Garfunkel. The whole thing was just ridiculous on its face. 


‘The Simpsons’ Reveals Principal Skinner is an Imposter

Hardcore Simpsons fans have now spent decades arguing over the precise moment when the show’s golden age ended and its long descent into mediocrity began. Many of them point to the Season Nine episode “The Principal and the Pauper,” where we learn that Principal Seymour Skinner is actually an imposter named Armin Tamzarian. The real Skinner (voiced by Martin Sheen) spent two decades in a Chinese sweatshop after the Vietnam War, though he was presumed dead. The town ultimately decides that they prefer the fake Skinner to the real one, who they send out of Springfield tied to a train car. A judge decrees that nobody will be allowed to acknowledge what happened under “penalty of torture.” This allowed Springfieldians to carry on like nothing happened, but fans were horrified by the reveal. It felt like the very fabric of the Simpsons universe was being ripped apart. They complained bitterly on Simpsons Usenet groups that the show was now terrible, and they’ve basically been screaming that ever since.


Joey Tribbiani Gets His Own Show

When Friends ended in 2004 after a ludicrously successful 10-year run, NBC was not in a great place. Seinfeld was done, ER was on its last legs, and Will and Grace was winding down. The impulse to create a Friends spinoff under these circumstances is very easy to understand. NBC pulled that same maneuver a little more than a decade earlier when it spun-off Fraser from Cheers, giving the network another 11 years of success from that franchise. And if Joey Tribbiani was paired with characters as memorable as Niles, Daphne, and Roz, maybe it could have worked. But he was paired up with his older sister, a nephew, and a ditzy neighbor. The chemistry simply wasn’t there, the laughs weren’t either, and the show did little but make viewers miss the old Friends gang. Joey was canceled after two seasons. It cost NBC a fortune, and the only real winner was Matt LeBlanc. “I made $30 million,” he said years later. “I’d like another one of those failures.”


NBC Poaches Megyn Kelly From Fox

Fox News turned Megyn Kelly into a superstar, but behind the scenes she was was forced to endure sexual harassment from CEO Roger Ailes and the wrath of Donald Trump and his supporters when she refused to go 100 percent MAGA early in the 2016 GOP primary. She’d simply had enough of the place by January 2017, and jumped ship for NBC days before Trump took the oath of office. NBC had big plans for her, including a daytime talk show and Sunday-evening newsmagazine. It was also going to add her into the mix during major news events. The arrangement was a fiasco almost from day one. Her softball interview with right-wing conspiracy grifter Alex Jones drew shock and outrage, ratings were anemic, and many critics felt she simply didn’t jell with the other anchors. And then she walked into a buzz saw in October 2018, when she seemingly defended the use of blackface on Halloween. “When I was a kid, that was OK as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character,” she said. “I don’t know how that got racist on Halloween.” The show was canceled and NBC terminated her contract a couple of months later, but it had to pay out the remainder of her $69 million deal. 


‘Glee’ Brings in a New Glee Class

Like every high school-centric show before it, Glee faced a major dilemma when its characters reached graduation age. Taking a page from the Archie comics and keeping them forever 17 would have made no sense, but it would have been ridiculous to send them all to the same college Boy Meets World-style. Since you can’t have Glee without a glee club, the show ultimately decided to follow the OG Glee crew as they navigated college and bring in a new group of high school singers for Mr. Schuster to teach. The result was an enormous cast of characters and an absurd number of overlapping storylines spanning across the entire country. Ratings plummeted the second Glee kicked off this incarnation of the show, and it wisely put the focus back solely on the original cast.


ESPN Decides that Rush Limbaugh Would Make a Good Football Commentator

Sports is one of the few unifying institutions in America where people from all backgrounds come together and political divisions largely vanish. That’s why it was so baffling in 2003 when ESPN felt that Rush Limbaugh would make a good football commentator. When the news first hit, he promised that he’d leave his political views to his radio show and focus entirely on the sport. Just weeks into the job, however, he shared his views on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. “I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL,” he said. “The media has been very desirous that a Black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.” In other words, McNabb was being allowed to coast because of his race and receiving praise and credit he didn’t deserve. The uproar was immediate, and Limbaugh resigned within three days. “The great people at ESPN did not want to deal with this kind of reaction,” Limbaugh said. “The path of least resistance became for me to resign.”


CNN Moves Don Lemon to Mornings

Chris Licht made a lot of bad decisions during his one-year tenure as CEO of CNN, including the infamous Trump town hall, but perhaps none were more disastrous than his decision to move anchor Don Lemon from his evening slot to co-host CNN This Morning alongside Kaitlin Collins and Poppy Harlow. Morning shows are all about chemistry, and it was instantly clear that Lemon wasn’t popping with Collins and Harlow. Things came to a head on Valentine’s Day of 2023, when Nikki Haley’s presidential run came up. “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry,” Lemon said. “When a woman is considered to be in her prime — in her twenties, thirties, and maybe her forties.” The “maybe” in that sentence is pretty amazing, since the Constitution requires that the president be at least 35. By the Lemon standard, women have a mere five-year window to secure the presidency in their “prime.” “Don’t shoot the messenger,” Lemon said when his co-anchors pushed back. “I’m just saying what the facts are. Google it.” The misogyny of the statement is hard to fathom, and no apology was going to undo it. He was fired two months later. Licht himself was pushed out three months after that. There were many reasons Licht lost his job, but the whole “let’s try Lemon in the mornings” thing was certainly one of them. 


‘Arrested Development’ Breaks The Format With Convoluted Netflix Season

The fourth season of Arrested Development, which was created for Netflix in 2013, seven years after Fox canceled the show, brings to mind Jeff Goldblum’s famous line from the original Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” The scientists in this case were executives at a streaming platform desperate to satiate hordes of Arrested Development fans who wanted to see their beloved Bluths again. But the stars of Arrested Development were all busy with other projects by this point, meaning they wouldn’t be able to appear on set together for more than a couple of days. To get around this, Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz put together a convoluted story arc where individual episodes focus largely on single characters. The whole thing takes place during just a few days, and key moments are seen from several different perspectives, with a heavy reliance on green-screen technology. This was the only way to make the season possible, but it was confusing and simply not very funny. The joy of the show is watching these brilliant comedic actors work together. It falls almost completely apart when they are separated. Hurwitz realized this in 2018 and completely recut it as Season 4 Remix: Fateful Consequences, but there was no salvaging this mess.


‘The State’ Leaves MTV For CBS

It’s easy to understand why the 11-person sketch comedy troupe the State decided to leave MTV for CBS in late 1995. The cable network paid them ludicrously low salaries that forced them to file for unemployment between seasons. And after spitting out four seasons in less than two years, they were drained and ready for a new challenge. But MTV gave them enough free rein to create deranged characters like the Inbred Brothers, Blueberry Johnson, and the Bearded Men of Space Station 11. This is back when MTV was willing to broadcast trippy content like Æon Flux, The Head, and Liquid Television. CBS, meanwhile, was the home of Murphy Brown, Chicago Hope, and Murder, She Wrote. CBS may have briefly felt like it needed to get into the sketch-comedy game, but The State was a very odd fit. The network canceled the show after airing a single Halloween special on a Friday night. “The CBS special was, ultimately, the beginning of the end of the State as far as us getting paid and working on a show together,” State member Ken Marino said in the book The Union of the State. “It was the beginning of us starting to either vocally realize or in the back of our head realize that we’re probably all going to have to get other jobs because there was no place to go.”


UPN Greenlights ‘The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer’

Imagine you’re running a TV network in 1998. You get pitched a goofy show about a Black British nobleman in the 1860s that comes to America and works for Abraham Lincoln in a bizarre horny version of the White House, where the president has “telegraph sex” and dresses in drag to escape the Confederate army. You’d probably throw them out of your office and ban them from the studio lot for life. But the fine people at UPN saw this as a clever way to parody the Bill Clinton administration at the peak of Monica-gate. Nine episodes were shot. Five were aired. UPN President Dan Valentine lost his job. It is remembered today only as an example of just how shitty television got before The Sopranos arrived and changed everything.


‘Seinfeld’ Kills off Susan in Heartless Fashion

As Larry David has said many times over the years, the unofficial mantra in the Seinfeld writers room was “no hugging, no learning.” In other words, there was nothing sentimental about the show. The characters never showed any genuine affection toward one another, and they never learned a damn thing. As the series finale argued, they were actually four complete sociopaths who belonged in prison. But this took this a little too far in the Season Seven finale, when George’s fiancée Susan — a character that had been in their world since the third season — dies after licking cheap wedding invitations. The news of this tragedy is greeted by little more than a shrug by the main characters, and George uses it as an opportunity to try to score a date with Marisa Tomei before Susan is even buried. For many fans of Seinfeld, this was too much. There was such a fierce backlash that the writers placed George on a charitable-foundation board in Susan’s honor the next season, so he’d be forced to reckon with the aftermath of her death in at least some fashion.


‘Lost’ Blows The Ending

When you start writing a story, it’s good to have at least some idea where it’s going to end. That’s especially true when your story involves a group of people trapped on a remote island with polar bears, a “smoke monster,” another band of lost people, and the ability to travel through time. We’re talking, of course, about Lost. The ABC show kept its obsessed followers on their toes by introducing one fantastical plot device after another. They gathered on Reddit and other online forums to analyze every second of the show like it was the Zapruder film, convinced the convoluted story arc would eventually build to a finale where everything would be tied together. When that finale finally came in 2010, it ended with nearly all of the characters in a church that appears to be somewhere in the afterlife. Many of the central mysteries were left unresolved. To put it mildly, fans felt cheated. Their anger only grew when the writers admitted they were essentially making up the show as it went along, and had no clue how all their plotlines fit together. The blowback has managed to taint the legacy of the entire show. TV writers, take note: If you’re going to introduce a bunch of mysteries, be sure to solve them at some point down the line. Don’t leave everyone in purgatory like the people on Lost.


‘The Brady Bunch Variety Hour’ Becomes a Thing

The Brady Bunch was canceled in 1974 after five seasons, but it went into syndication the following year and enjoyed a Star Trek-like renaissance for a generation of fans who weren’t around for the original run. This led to many attempts to bring the show back over the past 50 years, including the 1981 sitcom The Brady Brides, the 1988 TV movie A Very Brady Christmas, the 1990 dramatic series The Bradys, and the 2019 HDTV reality show A Very Brady Renovation. The first one came in 1976 when ABC unleashed The Brady Bunch Hour on the world. This was the peak of the variety-show boom, when Donny and Marie Osmond were minting money for the network, and even one-hit wonders like the Starland Vocal Band were given shows. The problem is that Donny and Marie and the Starland Vocal Band could sing. This was not the case for many members of the Brady family, especially Robert Reed and Christopher Knight. Eve Plumb had a decent voice, but she didn’t sign on for this ill-fated project and was replaced by a ringer, Geri Reischl. The show lasted a mere nine episodes, and you truly need to go on YouTube to revisit the horror of this thing. They sing songs by the Beatles, the Who, and Billy Joel, break out their best disco moves, and invite guest stars like Rick Dees, Elton John, Rip Taylor, and Milton Berle to join in on the madness. If anyone ever argues that television was better in the Seventies, show them any random 90 seconds of this show. They’ll change their mind fast.


The Ropers Quit ‘Three’s Company’ For Ill-Fated Spinoff

Many of the most successful sitcoms of the Seventies were spinoffs, including The Jeffersons, Maude, Good Times, Rhoda, and Laverne & Shirley. And when Three’s Company became an enormous hit for ABC, the producers floated the idea of creating a new show around the nosy landlords the Ropers. This meant removing actors Norman Fell and Audra Lindley from a guaranteed hit (and payday) for a show that might fail and leave them unemployed. To quell those concerns, Fell and Lindley were promised they could return to Three’s Company if their new show, The Ropers, was canceled in less than a year. In the meantime, Don Knotts was brought on as the new landlord on Three’s Company. The Ropers hung around for a season and a half despite dismal ratings. By the time the network yanked it, the one-year mark had passed and Fell and Lindley weren’t invited back to Three’s Company. Fell later said he felt ABC purposely kept The Ropers on the air just long enough to make sure it didn’t need to bring them back. Whatever the truth is, it’s a good life lesson: If you have a great thing going, don’t risk it by looking for something even better.


‘Star Trek: TNG’ Fires Gates McFadden Before Season Two

As the latest season of Star Trek: Picard proved, Dr. Beverly Crusher is a key part of the Star Trek: The Next Generation family. But back in 1988, after just one season of the original show, the producers fired her. Viewers were simply told that she’d been promoted to the head of Starfleet Medical, even though her teenage son, Wesley, was going to stay aboard the Enterprise. Actress Diana Muldaur was brought in as Dr. Katherine Pulaski to replace her, but there wasn’t a Trekkie on Earth happy with the switch. With a little help from Patrick Stewart, the producers brought McFadden back for Season Three. And it’s not a coincidence that’s also the precise moment the show became truly great. Her will they/won’t they dynamic with Picard fueled many of the show’s best episodes. Let’s just not talk about the one where she was seduced by a haunted candle. Even the best shows can still misfire every once in a while.


‘Westworld’ Confuses The Shit Out of Everyone

The first season of HBO’s Westworld in 2016 was a fun adaptation of Michael Crichton’s 1973 science-fiction Western of the same name. Wealthy tourists in the future visited a Western-themed amusement park filled with hyper-realistic robots. The visitors abused the machines in every way possible and a rebellion quietly brewed. Tiny Easter eggs were planted throughout the season that pointed to a major plot development down the line, like the fact that the two storylines take place decades apart. Still, fans on Reddit flagged all of them. For the second season, the writers put together a plot so convoluted and confusing that the combined mental power of every nerd on the internet couldn’t possibly crack it. The only problem was that virtually nobody else understood what was happening either. The ratings plummeted, online recaps grew to absurd lengths, and most fans simply gave up. HBO limped forward with two more seasons, but it was hopeless. The original viewers never came back. You shouldn’t have to read seven different articles to understand the show you just watched.


‘The Office’ Keeps Going Without Steve Carrell

Many great shows have thrived after the defection of a major cast member, including Cheers, NYPD Blue, Two and a Half Men, and A Different World. The Office is not one of these shows. After Steve Carrell left near the end of the seventh season, the show tried to soldier on by promoting Ed Helms’ character and bringing in James Spader as the new owner of Dunder Mifflin. This led to two dismal, laugh-free seasons of the show that many fans simply skip whenever they engage in a rewatch. In the words of one Office writer, Michael Scott was a “load-bearing character” and The Office simply couldn’t stand without him. 


NBC Cancels ‘Baywatch’ After One Season

It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly how much money Baywatch generated throughout its 11-season run, but it’s definitely in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s quite possibly north of a billion dollars when you factor in merch and broadcasts all across the planet. A great deal of that money could have gone to NBC, but it canceled the show in 1989 after just a single season due to low ratings and horrific reviews. David Hasselhoff knew the show had a winning formula and managed to secure a syndication deal for the it. Pamela Anderson joined in the third season, ratings skyrocketed, and it was soon broadcast in more than 140 countries. NBC came within an inch of canceling Seinfeld the same year, even though it took the network nearly a year after the pilot to air the last episode. But at least NBC held onto it. It wasn’t as smart when it came to Baywatch.


Quibi Burns $1.75 Billion In Eight Months

The internet has decimated attention spans to the point where many people don’t have the patience for videos longer than the quick hits you see on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. That’s why Jeffrey Katzenberg felt a subscription streaming platform built around short-form videos roughly 10-minutes in length would be a big hit. He managed to raise an astounding $1.75  billion for Quibi, which launched in April 2020 with a massive library featuring 175 different shows. It’s very hard to imagine worse timing. This was the first full month of Covid lockdowns. People had endless time on their hands and they were hungry for long-form content they could watch on TV, not short-form content built for their phones. Quibi sputtered along until December before it pulled the plug and sold off its catalog to Roku for less than $100 million. Quibi might as well have taken a billion dollars and thrown it into a bonfire.


David Caruso Leaves ‘NYPD Blue’ After One Season

David Caruso had been knocking around Hollywood for 15 years, taking bit roles on shows like CHiPS, T.J. Hooker, and Hill Street Blues, before he landed the role of Detective John Kelly on the first season of NYPD Blue. The gritty show was an enormous hit from day one, and it ran for 12 seasons. Had Caruso stuck around for the full run of the show, he’d be an obscenely wealthy man right now. But he quit when the second season had barely started because ABC balked at his request for a big raise. He also thought he would become a big movie star, but his decision to kick things off with Kiss of Death and Jade — two obscenely awful movies that earned him dual Golden Raspberry Award nominations — forever ended that dream. He eventually crawled back to TV and had a 10-season run on CSI: Miami, but his story serves as the ultimate Hollywood cautionary tale: When you finally get your big break, be grateful.


The Networks Call Florida For George W. Bush in 2000

More than 100 million votes were cast for president in 2000, but it all came down to the state of Florida. And after weeks of vicious battles, George W. Bush was declared the winner by a mere 537 votes. That’s a margin of just .009 percent. There was no possible way for the networks to have any idea who won the state on election night using mathematical projections. That didn’t stop them from initially naming Al Gore the victor, and then reversing the call and handing it to Bush. That gave W a huge advantage heading into the recounts, since it seemed like Gore was trying to deny him his rightful win when it was truly a tie. Liberals will forever feel cheated by the outcome of the 2000 election, and conservatives will forever feel that the right man won. What’s certain is that the networks had no business calling Florida on election night. It was the definition of “too close to call.”


HBO, TNT, Showtime, FX Turn Down ‘Breaking Bad’

When Vince Gilligan wrote the pilot for Breaking Bad, he initially pitched it to TNT. “They say, ‘If we bought this, we’d be fired,’” Gilligan recalled. “‘We cannot put this on TNT, it’s meth, it can’t be meth, it’s reprehensible.’” He then went over to HBO. “The woman we [were] pitching to [at HBO] could not have been less interested,” he said. “Not even in my story, but about whether I actually lived or died.” Showtime turned it down because the premise felt too similar to Weeds, but FX actually did agree to buy it. The deal didn’t last long since it felt it had too many other dark shows about antiheroes. “Look, it was a wonderful script,” FX President John Landgraf said several years later. “If I had known Vince Gilligan was going to be one of the best showrunners in television, and Breaking Bad was going to be literally one of the very best shows in television, I would have picked it up despite the concept. But the truth of the matter is, anybody who does what I do for a living, who’s honest, will tell you that you’re making decisions based on too-little information all the time, and you make good ones and you make bad ones.”


Fox Gives Chevy Chase a Talk Show

When TV historians look back at the late-night talk scene of 1993, much attention is paid to the kickoff of Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the start of the bitter war between Jay Leno and David Letterman in the 11:30 p.m. slot. In the middle of all that, however, one of the great belly-flops in talk-show history took place when Fox gave Chevy Chase his own late show. Chase was one of the biggest comedy stars of the Eighties, but his last couple of movies (Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Nothing But Trouble) were epic bombs that forced him to recalibrate. As anyone who remembers the original Weekend Update on SNL can attest, Chase can be hilarious as a mock newscaster. But as a real-life talk-show host, he reeked of desperation and flop sweat. The Chevy Chase Show booked great guests like Martin Short, Dennis Hopper, Dan Aykroyd, and Robert De Niro, but Chase was a hapless interviewer and nothing about the show worked. “His Tuesday-night debut was the sort of disaster TV fans will recall for their grandchildren,” Time wrote in a brutal takedown. “Nervous and totally at sea, Chase tried everything, succeeded at nothing.” Fox mercifully pulled the plug after just six weeks.


NBC Royally Fucks Up The Leno/Conan Situation

Conan O’Brien’s 12:30 a.m. NBC show got off to a very rocky start in 1993, and he teetered on the verge of cancellation for several months. But once the show found its footing and ratings surged, the network faced a pretty serious long-term problem. Much like David Letterman before him, it was inevitable that O’Brien would ultimately want to take over The Tonight Show at some point. In 2002, he signed a contract extension that promised him the 11:35 p.m. slot once Jay Leno stepped down. That was amended in 2004 to say he’d get it by 2009. “Conan, it’s yours!” Leno told his audience after the news became public. “See you in five years, buddy!” Once those five years passed, Leno had no interest in giving up his gig. After Leno threatened to battle O’Brien on another network at 11:30 p.m., NBC gave Leno a nightly 10 p.m. slot. For all intents and purposes, he was moving The Tonight Show 90 minutes earlier. O’Brien would have the job in name only. This setup was doomed from the very beginning, and NBC wound up booting O’Brien after 7 months and moving Leno back to his old time slot. NBC had a rough situation on its hands from the very beginning, but it handled it in the most ham-fisted manner imaginable.


Roseanne Torches Career With Racist Tweet

Most attempts to reboot old sitcoms in recent years haven’t worked out too well. The revivals of Mad About You and Murphy Brown were so brief that many fans didn’t even realize they existed in the first place. The 2018 reboot of Roseanne was a huge exception. A stunning 17.7 million people watched the premiere episode of the new season, and viewership remained near those astronomical numbers for the next few weeks, making it the single-most-watched show of the year. After years in the wilderness, Roseanne Barr was back on top. All she had to do was keep churning out new episodes and not say anything in public that would force ABC to fire her. Well, guess what happened? Two months into the run of the show, she Tweeted that Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett looked like the “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby.” The appallingly racist tweet gave ABC no choice but to let her go from her own show. It carried on as The Connors and is still running to this day, defying all expectations that Roseanne Minus Roseanne could never work. But it would be Roseanne With Roseanne if only she’d kept off Twitter. 


Norm MacDonald is Fired From ‘SNL’ Over (Hilarious) OJ Simpson Jokes

There have been a lot of talented Weekend Update anchors over the five-decade history of Saturday Night Live — including Chevy Chase, Dennis Miller, Kevin Nealon, Seth Meyers, and the teams of Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and Colin Jost and Michael Che — but none of them brought the funny like Norm Macdonald. If you need proof, check out YouTube montages of his O.J. Simpson quips. He pounded Simpson throughout the entire murder trial, and it somehow never grew stale. “Well, it is finally official,” he said after the former football star was acquitted. “Murder is legal in the state of California.” The bit worked for nearly every viewer of the show besides the one that truly mattered: NBC West Coast division President Don Ohlmeyer, who happened to be an extremely close friend of Simpson. He begrudgingly put up with Macdonald’s O.J. jokes during the trial, but he lost his mind when Macdonald kept making references to Simpson in the months that followed. Midway through the 1997-98 season, he fired Macdonald from Weekend Update. “Lorne’s point at the time was, just do it for the rest of the season and we’ll make a change in the summer,” Ohlmeyer recalled in the SNL oral history Live From New York. “And he probably was right.” Neither of them were right. They should have kept Macdonald in that chair for the remainder of his natural life. Kicking him out was an absolute travesty.


Fox Passes on the ‘Sopranos’

Here’s a list of television shows that Fox decided to bring onto its airwaves in 1999: the Jay Mohr Hollywood satire Action (canceled after eight episodes), the shameless Who Wants to Be a Millionaire knockoff Greed (canceled before it could even give out the grand prize), and the Chris Carter-produced science fiction show Harsh Realm, about humans trapped in a virtual simulation (canceled after nine episodes). Here’s the name of a show they rejected after reading a script for the pilot: The Sopranos. This gave HBO the opportunity to pick up the show, creating an entirely new era of television where networks like Fox became hopelessly passé. The shift of quality programming from broadcast TV to cable and eventually streaming would have likely happened anyway, and The Sopranos probably wouldn’t have worked on Fox, but it was still an enormous mistake for the network to turn down arguably the greatest show in the history of television. (CBS was willing to take a chance on David Chase’s ambitious project, but it wanted to ditch the psychiatry angle.)


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.