Mr. TV: Stuffing TV Turkeys

It’s almost Thanksgiving, and incredibly this is my sixth annual column dedicated to the best and worst on the small screen. And as always, there are plenty of turkeys stuffing up the airwaves just waiting to be plucked by Mr. TV.

Back in the day there was a family called Osbourne that struck it rich on MTV in their own reality series. What was once oddly appealing turned into a train wreck when the clan took on the challenge of hosting a variety show, The Osbournes Reloaded. Not only did an embarrassed Fox air only one episode, but it also trimmed it down to just 40 minutes. I have not seen variety this bad since The Brady Bunch Hour in 1977.

While we are on Fox, let’s consider recent entry Brothers, a so-called “comedy” with ex-NFL great Michael Strahan as a retired football pro (a real stretch). He moves back home with crusty Mom, witless Dad and snappy brother Chill (Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), who happens to be in a wheelchair. Yup, handicapped jokes always slay the TV audience.

Also lame in the sitcom arena was ABC’s Surviving Suburbia with former Full House dad Bob Saget playing a bumbling, immature curmudgeon with a wise and patient wife, two smart-mouthed kids and a wacky neighbor. Sounds pretty original, right? The only thing missing was a sassy maid like Florence Johnston or Hazel.

Over at NBC, there was hype all summer about The Jay Leno Show, the nightly prime-time hour that was going to “change the course of television.” Putting myself in the shoes of an NBC executive (which is not a stretch—I actually worked there for five years), here is what you do if you want to keep your poor track record intact. Take the 17-year host of one of your most important franchises, The Tonight Show, and move him to prime time because, hey, it’s cheaper to produce than scripted programming. While NBC claims the expectations were low, soggy ratings on each of the five-night telecasts are a result of the show itself. It stinks. Even the workaholic host admitted he would go back to late night if NBC asked him.    

Over at The CW there is actually one piece of positive freshman news: The Vampire Diaries. But The Beautiful Life, headlined by wooden Mischa Barton, was the first official cancellation of the current season, and the struggling remake of Melrose Place pales in comparison to the over-the-top 1992-99 original. Sure, Heather Locklear did wonders “saving” the original, but her return on Nov. 17 is too little, way too late. Not even steely eyed Amanda Woodward can make this a trendy TV address again.

If you read this column regularly, you know I’m a big fan of nonscripted programming. Survivor, The Amazing Race, Dancing With the Stars, Celebrity Apprentice, Big Brother—I watch them all. But there are limits to what I can take, including  summer relationship entries Dating in the Dark on ABC and Hitched or Ditched on The CW. Dating with the lights off? Huh? What could possibly be next? Dating at the DMV?

Since no TV turkeys update is complete without painful reminders of the past, this year’s “honorees” are sitcoms Hee Haw Honeys and The Flying Nun. Hee Haw Honeys was a syndicated 1978-79 comedy spun off from classic rural variety series Hee Haw and set in a Nashville nightspot. One of the stars of this corny concoction of rural slapstick was a very young Kathie Lee Johnson. Before Kathie Lee lassoed hubby Frank Gifford (and bored us to tears with endless stories of offspring Cody and Cassidy), the perky soon-to-be TV hostess was trading forced sitcom barbs.   

The Flying Nun, of course, was the classic 1967-70 tale of apple-cheeked Sally Field as cute-as-a-button Sister Bertrille, who was so thin (society apparently didn’t know about anorexia then) a swift wind would carry her off into the wild blue yonder. It must have been pretty damn windy at Convent San Tanco because perky Sally was all over the place in every episode…all 83 of them.

Gobble, gobble.