Bad ideas for television shows abound these days. In fact, if you are willing to be completely honest with yourself about even the shows you consider your guilty pleasure, it’s probably not an overstatement to suggest that most shows airing on TV these days are a bad idea. Anything “starring” a Kardashian, Osborne or store owner is pretty likely going to qualify as a bad idea for a TV show. When there were just three or four networks, it was really quite a feat to get a genuinely horrible concept for a TV series on the air. The competition was just too great. Which is why these really quite tremendously awful ideas for TV series stand out so starkly. Although, to be perfectly honest, they would probably qualify as barely mediocre among today’s crop of crap.
The Legend of Jesse James
In the world of Walter White on “Breaking Bad” treading the line between sympathetic hero and vile drug kingpin, “The Legend of Jesse James” would probably fail to raise an eyebrow or a stimulate much discussion of what makes it a bad idea for a TV show. The series lasted just one season, but that’s a little misleading since that single season resulted in roughly half the number of episodes produced during the five-season run of “Breaking Bad.” Why the continued reference to “Breaking Bad” you may ask. Because just seven years before a celebrated episode of “The Brady Bunch” in which Bobby Brady’s hero worship of Jesse James got a cold water to the face comeuppance, the same network aired “The Legend of Jesse James” as a series in which Jesse and his brother were Robin Hood figures. Not to be seen on the series was the cold-blooded murders, the violent racism and lust for the return of the slave-holding Confederacy. Bad idea. Bad, bad idea for a TV series. No wonder Bobby Brady wound up so confused.
The Ugliest Girl in Town
Dressing in drag is one of the oldest comedic traditions around. When done right it can be spectacularly funny as in “Some Like it Hot” or “Bosom Buddies.” When done wrong it can be one of the most embarrassing and humiliating things on an actor’s resume as in “White Chicks” or “Work It.” The worst thing about “The Ugliest Girl in Town” is not that star Peter Kastner is so incredibly unbelievable as a woman that he makes the title of the series one of the most appropriate of all time. A guy dressing in drag doesn’t need to be passable as a woman to mine comedy. The opening credits of “The Ugliest Girl in Town” features Kastner relating the story of how he came to be dressed in drag. The story last about 40 seconds and then the show’s theme song kicks and the visuals continue to outline the basic premise of the show for another twenty seconds. And that still isn’t enough to explain everything you need to know to understand the situation of this comedy. If ever a TV show were in desperate need of a catchy little narrative theme song ala “Gilligan’s Island” it was “The Ugliest Girl in Town.” Not that it would have helped.
You can forgive the bad idea that was “Manhattan Maharaja” if you keep in mind it aired during the 1950/1951 season. Television was still in its infancy and getting its bearing. Add to that the fact that political correctness simply did not exist at this time and you get “Manhattan Maharaja.” According to TVacres.com, this variety show was intended to be a satire of the lifestyle of the modern day maharaja. Maybe so. I don’t really know much about what the lifestyle of a maharaja was in 1950 nor do I know if 1950 TV audiences were so knowledgeable on the subject that they’d be hip to the satire. Star George Ansbro donned the costume of an Arabian maharaja, music was provided by a band called the Snake Charmers and a harem of dancing girls added sex appeal. I don’t know. I just don’t know. But it sure does sound like a bad idea for a TV show to me.
Hanna-Barbera Happy Hour
Because they weren’t satisfied with trying to destroy the art of cartoon animation, Hanna-Barbera set their sights on driving the final nail into the coffin of the variety show with this truly breathtaking bad idea for a TV show. Ed Sullivan? Carol Burnett? Jackie Gleason? Forget them, “The Hanna-Barbera Happy Hour” introduced two genuine cases of nightmare fuel to host their show. Life-sized puppets of such extraordinary creepiness that they make Pennywise the Clown from “It” look comforting. And then, simply because it was the late 70s, happy hour included a stop by the Disco of Life which was mercifully short on Bee Gees, but terrifying long on unfunny comedy bits. Just how well did this remarkably bad idea for a TV show go over? It premiered on April 13 and its final show aired on May 4. Of the same year. Ouch!