Ah, the early 2000s. The economy kinda worked, trucker hats were fashionable and Justin Bieber wasn't yet old enough to make music. It would have been a fun decade, if we didn't have to endure the following awful TV shows.
The Michael Richards Show
Michael Richards was the first former Seinfeld star to embark on a solo TV project …and the first to fail miserably at it. In a departure from his role as an awkward, hipster doofus on Seinfeld, Richards played an awkward, private eye doofus on his eponymous show, which managed to eek out only eight episodes. It's important to note this was Tim Meadows's first TV gig after he decided to leave Saturday Night Live earlier that same year. Hindsight, she's 20/20.
Continuing the so-called "Seinfeld curse," Jason Alexander's sitcom about a troubled motivated speaker met its demise after five episodes. Bob Patterson was doomed from the get-go, really. Executive producer Tim Doyle left in the middle of production, and two lead characters were recast-and a new character written in-reportedly after the pilot had already been filmed. NBC aired five out of the ten episodes that were produced.
That 80s Show
That 70s Show lasted for as long as it did because, when the nostalgia of watching a show set in the wacky 1970s melted away (hey, remember bellbottoms?!), there was actually a loveable group of characters at its core. This is the reason why its bastard cousin, That 80s Show, fared so poorly. Not even a young Glenn Howertown (of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame) was able to breathe life into this unfunny mishmash of Aqua Net Hairspray and Members Only jackets. Thirteen episodes aired.
What do Bill Bellamy, Tiffani Thiessen and the guy who played Jennifer Love Hewitt's douchey ex-boyfriend in Can't Hardly Wait all have in common? That's right, they haven't been relevant since the 1990s. Also, they starred together in the FOX drama Fastlane. In what was basically an hour-long hip hop music video, the trio headed up a super secret (and highly implausible) sector of the LAPD that seized criminals' cars and guns and used them to carry out sexy, undercover, explosion-laden police operations. FOX cancelled it after a season.
For no apparent reason, here's a lesbian kiss between Thiessen and guest star Jaime Pressly in the episode "Strap On." I'm serious.
NBC (2002, 2003)
The success of The New Adventures of Old Christine has all but erased from our memories the failure that was Julia Louis-Dreyfus' first attempt at a post-Seinfeld comedy. Luckily for us, the internet never forgets. During its first season, each episode of Watching Ellie was told through the lens of a single camera in real time. (This innovative format would go on to work for 24, because it was a frenzied show about terrorists, and not a weekly profile of a struggling LA lounge singer, as was Watching Ellie.) The series was placed on hiatus in Spring 2002, and was retooled the following year as a three-camera sitcom to no avail.
Though championed by NBC as if it were the next Friends, Coupling turned out to be just a poorly executed British TV import. Eleven episodes were initially produced, but the show was yanked after only four weeks due to lackluster ratings. For comparison, here are two versions of the same scene-one from the British series, the other from the American series-featuring almost identical dialogue:
I know this is the part where I'm supposed to remark on how much better the British version is, but they both seem like the same, tired sitcom schlock we've seen for years, don't they? In fact, the premise itself appears to be lifted from an episode of Seinfeld titled, "The Strongbox."
The WB (2003)
The WB's Tarzan took the beastly, jungle-dwelling savage and turned him into a Calvin Klein underwear model. Literally. Travis Fimmel, a Calvin Klein model turned actor, assumed the role of John "Tarzan" Clayton, a 20-something hunk who comes to live in New York City after being rescued from the jungle where he was marooned as a boy. Tarzan put his animal-like speed and reflexes to good use by helping Jane Porter, an NYPD detective, rid the streets of criminals in eight, lightly-viewed episodes.
UPN (2003, 2004)
A mullet haircut may be "business in the front and party in the back," but this show was terrible from just about every angle. It followed brothers Dwayne and Denny Mullet on their redneck adventures involving wrestling, Camaros and air guitar. The boys were often at odds with their stepfather, a rich game show host played by Seinfeld's John O'Hurley (who actually went on to host Family Feud in real life). The Mullets' ratings were too low even for UPN standards, and the show was pulled from the Fall ‘03 schedule after six episodes. It returned briefly in March of 2004, but was eventually cancelled.
When your new reality show could have easily been the plot of a nightmarish episode of The Twilight Zone, you know you've stumbled onto something special. The Swan aimed to help women with low self esteem and bad body images by giving them exactly what they needed: radical plastic surgery. The "ugly ducklings" underwent a slew of cosmetic procedures, and competed for a place in the season-culminating pageant, where one was ultimately crowned The Swan. Enough people watched the show for it to remain on the air for two cycles, making it more of a failure of morals than a failure of ratings.
Below, a reel of Swan lowlights featuring life coach/executive producer Nely Galán.
Come to Papa
Before Tom Papa signed on to host The Marriage Ref, he starred in his own NBC sitcom as an aspiring comedian working as a newspaper reporter in New Jersey. It lasted only four episodes, none of which are available online (surprised?).
He's a Lady
Before RuPaul's Drag Race, there was He's a Lady, an ill-conceived cross-dressing reality competition from TBS. A group of manly men thought they were going to be on a show that tested their mental and physical prowess, but were shocked to find out they would have to dress and act like women if they wanted a shot at the cash prize. The show finished out a six-episode season.
Chances are some of your most stressful, frustrating and downright shitty experiences have happened while waiting inside an airport, which is an apropos setting for this single-season debacle. Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood played opposing Los Angeles International Airport managers tormented by hostage situations, emergency landings and their own family problems. Come fly the melodramatic skies!
Life on a Stick
The concept behind Life on a Stick was simple: An underachieving teen works at a fast food joint in the mall. He's hounded daily by his foreign boss (which, you know, is funny because foreign people have funny accents), and has to put up with his crazy family once he goes home (which, you know, is funny because we all have crazy families too). Not surprisingly, only five episodes made it to air. Fun tidbit: Zachary Knighton, who played Bryce on the recently cancelled Flash Forward, can be seen in the clip below as Laz, the lead slacker.
When Friends finished its run in 2004, NBC attempted to keep its ratings momentum going by spinning off Matt LeBlanc's character into a new series called Joey. The show followed the titular Joey Tribbiani, who moved out of his unrealistically large New York apartment and left his unrealistically likeable friends to peruse his unrealistically hopeful acting dreams in Los Angeles. Joey struggled for a season and a half before NBC wised up and pulled the plug.
The 70s House
This short-lived reality show has the distinction of being the first-and probably last-MTV show inspired by a PBS program. In the spirit of The 1900 House, The 70s House placed a group of young adults in a disco-era domicile devoid of modern technology. Housemates competed in a series of challenges in order to determine who among them best embraced the style, vernacular and attitude of the decade. Though as much as it sucked, I think I would still watch this over The Hills.
USA might be the number one cable network, but that doesn't absolve it from rehashing Kojak, the popular 1970s cop show starring Telly Savalas. Channeling his character from Pulp Fiction, Ving Rhames got medieval on criminals' asses as the rough and tumble, lollipop-chomping New York detective for just ten weeks in the Spring of 2005. "Who loves ya, baby?" Answer: Not many, if you had hand in this show.
Living with Fran
The WB (2005-2006)
In her second starring TV role, Fran Drescher played a recently divorced interior decorator whose construction worker boyfriend didn't look much older than her college-aged son. If the MILF-tastic premise wasn't enough of a deterrent, the show was also a desperate attempt at recreating the magic of The Nanny, what with Drescher's nasally delivery and the casting of Charles Shaughnessy-who played Mr. Sheffield on the popular CBS show-as her ex-husband. Living with Fran lasted two short seasons.
This UPN drama told the tale of two former Brooklynites who quickly found themselves tangled in a web of sex and crime while working in a fancy Miami hotel owned by a sultry businesswoman played by Vanessa Williams. The show was one of the worst rated of the season, leading UPN to cancel it after eight episodes.
Emily's Reasons Why Not
Now here's a show that truly embodies what this article is all about. Emily's Reasons Why Not spawned from an identically-titled book, which-if its current rank of #1,943,420 on Amazon.com is any indication-is probably not the next Catcher in the Rye. Heather Graham starred as Emily Sanders, a lovelorn woman working in publishing who governs her life's big decisions based on her predetermined set of social rules. ABC pulled the show after just one episode due to its terrible premiere rating and creative shortcomings, as admitted by ABC head-of-programming Steve McPherson in a 2006 Washington Post interview.
[via Live Video]
Unlike Coupling, Teachers originated from a British series that actually looks appealing (from what can be pieced together from clips on YouTube). Provocative and interestingly shot to boot, the show aired four seasons across the pond. Nothing of the sort can be said for its Uncle Sam counterpart, which turned out to be a cookie cutter, three-camera sitcom that tanked as a midseason replacement.
For some reason, the powers that be at ABC expanded the charming 30-second Geico Cavemen commercials into a 30-minute sitcom, which is about as good an idea as giving the "Where's the Beef?" lady her own investigative news show. The proof is in the pilot below, which features the otherwise funny Nick Swardson in what is surely his most embarrassing role to date (and that's counting his role as Terry, the roller skating gay prostitute on Reno: 911!)
Say, do you like Survivor? Well, how about Survivor…with pirates? No, not scary Somali pirates; the flamboyant Johnny Depp kind! Not buying it? Well, neither did the rest of America. Pirate Master filmed one season, then walked the plank.
Andy Barker, P.I.
Out of Andy Richter's three-wow-three failed sitcoms over the last decade, Andy Barker, P.I. had the shortest lifespan. Co-written and executive produced by Conan O'Brien, the show garnered rave critical reviews but disastrous ratings. It's hard to say why a seemingly good show like Andy's failed to pick up an audience, however, NBC offering the entire series online before it even debuted on television probably had something to do with it.
Based on a British show (what else?), Viva Laughlin was a story about casinos, money and murder told through impromptu singing and dancing. Critics lampooned it, viewers shunned it and CBS cancelled it after only two episodes. But that doesn't mean the show was all for naught. One could argue Viva Laughlin paved the way for Glee, which, depending on your tolerance for campy high schoolers, can be a good thing or a bad thing.
Who's Your Daddy?
FOX reportedly intended to air Who's Your Daddy? as a full-fledged reality series, but put on the brakes after the pilot ignited a hell storm of negative publicity. The show involved a small time actress successfully picking out her biological father-whom she never met-from a pool of eight men. She was rewarded $100,000 for choosing correctly, though the money would have gone to one of the "fake fathers" if one of them was able to fool her into picking him in error, like so:
Armed & Famous
This reality series shadowed Jack Osbourne, La Toya Jackson, Erik Estrada, wrestler/model Trish Stratus and Jackass' Jason "Wee Man" Acuna while they endured law enforcement training in Muncie, Indiana. Liability issues notwithstanding, the celebs were sworn in as "reserve police officers" and assisted in real-life arrests, one of which almost came to blows when a perp taunted Estrada by calling him "Emilio Estevez." Armed & Famous only lasted four episodes on CBS, despite gratifying footage like this:
Bionic Woman and Knight Rider
NBC (2007 and 2008, respectively)
I'm lumping these shows together because they're two offshoots of the same terrible idea: take a TV show that was popular back in the day, and change it just enough that people might consider watching it in the new millennium. Bionic Woman rebooted the classic series from the 1970s starring Lindsay Wagner (which was itself a spin-off of The Six Million Dollar Man), while the new Knight Rider continued the saga of the original series, following Michael Knight's son and an updated talking car. NBC froze production on Bionic Woman after eight airings due to the 2007 writer's strike, and never bothered to resume it once the labor dispute abated. Knight Rider, however, was allowed to slowly bleed out over the course of a 17-episode season.
It's not easy following a funny show like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which the painfully unfunny Canadian comedy series Testees had to do for much of its 10-week run. The concept was paper-thin: Each week, two slackers tested a dangerous new product for research company Testico (which sounds like testicles!). Hilarity didn't ensue.
[You can watch the pilot episode on Hulu]
If you thought misplaced reality programming on the Sci Fi-sorry-Syfy channel was something new for this year, think again. Cha$e dared to envision what it would look like if people played a glorified game of hide and seek against dudes dressed like Agent Smith from The Matrix. It also pioneered the unnecessary use of the dollar sign way before Ke$ha did. Syfy aired six episodes of Cha$e in virtual anonymity.
Rosie O'Donnell's attempt at bringing back the network variety show fell flat on its face, as Rosie Live got the ax shortly after its disastrous inaugural Thanksgiving Eve special. To recount every head-scratchingly bad number would be too painful, but the Los Angeles Times did a thorough play-by-play if you care to read it: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2008/11/rosie.html
Comedy Central (2008)
As America was about to elect its first African-American President, Comedy Central hoped to strike a chord with Chocolate News, a show the network billed more or less as "The Daily Show for black people." Host David Alan Grier tackled racial issues through a series of rants, impersonations and parodies, but often fell short of the bar that The Chappelle Show had placed so high five years prior. Ten weekly episodes aired, but Comedy Central declined to order any more.
Continuing its "make lighting strike twice" approach to programming, NBC revived the early ‘90s competition show American Gladiators for two tournaments in 2008. Hulk Hogan served as ringleader to a brand new circus of juiced up gladiators, scrawny contenders and extreme events, like the Comically Large Q-Tip Joust (over a pool of water!). Can you handle that, BROTHER?
D-list celebrities trained to become even less entertaining magicians for a shot at 100 grand on this VH1 reality series. Hal Sparks, Carnie Wilson and others attempted to master a bevy of professional magic tricks, the most difficult being turning such a terrible show concept into something watchable.
Secret Talents of the Stars
Some secrets are best left unrevealed, like Clint Black's desire to be a stand up comedian and George Takei's penchant for country music crooning. That's exactly what viewers endured during the first-and only-episode of Secret Talents of the Stars.
Exhausting whatever remained of their pop culture capital, Ozzy Osbourne's clan signed on to host a variety show featuring music, comedy skits and wacky audience pranks. FOX force-fed the first episode to an unsuspecting audience following an airing of American Idol, and mercifully chose to shelve the rest of the series.
So, will this decade of television be as disappointing as the last? Judging from the new slew of shows announced at this year's upfronts, it looks like we already have a running start. So, stay tuned (and be very afraid)!
Christopher Vespoli is a freelance writer and creator of the pop culture blog ANGELINA FAUXLIE. Originally from New York, he currently resides in Los Angeles where he writes, performs and produces comedy sketches and parodies for television and the web. His work has appeared on the Today show, the Maury show and CollegeHumor.com, and can be seen on his production company's YouTube channel.