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These shows didn't "jump the shark." That doesn't do them justice.

No, these are shows where the creators simply said "fuck it", flew out of the water, broke the bounds of the earth's atmosphere and set a course for the center of the Sun.

They took their shows down in a blaze of batshit insane glory, and we were there to watch.

6
Baywatch

The Show:

Specifically, we're referring to a spinoff many of you didn't know existed, called Baywatch Nights. Judging from the title and David Hasselhoff's fondness for not trying too hard, you'd think this show would be Baywatch, at night. Instead they took the extra step and made it Baywatch, only in a detective agency solving beach cases. But if you watch it in slow motion with the brightness turned down, yeah, it's Baywatch, at night.

Basically the premise is that the main police officer on the original Baywatch show, Sergeant Garner Ellerbee--and yes, that was his actual name on the show--has a midlife crisis and quits his job to start a detective agency. He's joined by Mitch Buchannon, grippingly portrayed by nuanced character actor David Hasselhoff.

Together, they solve beach-related crimes, every week. Loitering-related murder came up a lot. Eh, we've heard worse ideas for shows...

So, What Happened?

It got "X-Filed."

Baywatch Nights didn't turn into the mega-hit its predecessor was, and producer/star David Hasselhoff wanted a piece of all the money X-Files was making at the time. So, he started forcing a science-fiction plot into every single episode. You would think that they would run out of sci-fi beach crime plots quickly, and... they did.

And thus some of the most ridiculous plots ever aired on TV were born. Episodes included:

Sea Monsters;
Unfrozen Vikings;
Surfing aliens;
A mutant mermaid serial killer;
David Hasselhoff getting cloned to save himself from mutated Brazillian-body-snatching snails.

We didn't make up any of those.

That transition from "shitty" to "pants-shittingly shitty" happened between season one and two, and is best evidenced by the difference in opening themes. Season One:

A very standard issue shitty TV action show intro. Notice the near omni-presence of a Miami Vice suit-wearing David Hasselhoff...

There are beaches, hot people running in slow-ass mo' and boobs jiggling.

That is a winning formula, so to mess with it they must have had something nut-burstingly awesome in mind. Season Two:

Holy shit! Why is it screaming at us?

Hasselhoff switched from a comforting white-and-black Don Johnson suit to an ominous trenchcoat. Then, it's all candles and skulls...

...and, uh, taxidermy dogs.

At one point, Eddie Cibrian points a gun at the screen in what is likely an attempt to put the viewer out of their misery.

It all ends with history's most disturbing shot of Hasselhoff eye-fucking the shit out of the camera.

Viewers around the world rapidly turned off their televisions and promptly had them cleansed by an exorcist. Baywatch Nights was canceled after the second season.

5
Family Matters

The Show:

In a nutshell, a middle-class African-American family tries to make a living, despite the fact that everything interesting they do is upstaged by their neighbor's Asperger's syndrome.

Actually a spinoff from Perfect Strangers, the sitcom that foisted horrid European walking stereotype Balki Bartokomous on the planet, Family Matters was standard sitcom fare for the time. There was a live studio audience there to remind you which parts were supposed to be funny and most episodes consisted of the dad getting mad, the kids avoiding punishment and the wife fixing everything. It was sort of like a cold medicine commercial with a laugh track.

Of course, things changed when the quirky neighbor Steve Urkel was added to the cast halfway through the first season, and the rest is history. Dirty, dirty, history.

So, What Happened?

Steve Urkel created his own science-fiction playground and took a creamy dump on the entire Family Matters universe.

See, the show had been built on a time-tested formula: African-American Family Life + Gimmick White People Like = Hit Show. They had that first part, so all they needed was to find the gimmick, and gracefully place it into the show. The goal is to do it subtly, as if it were there all along.


SUBTLETY!

And while inserting the nerdy Urkel was enough to carry the show for a few seasons, viewer interest waned and the show responded by taking a triple shot of crazy. Urkel, previously portrayed as a fish-out-of-water, grew skills as a "super-scientist." Soon, illuminating the middle-class stress of a police family was cast aside in lieu of Steve Urkel's Wacky Sci-Fi Adventures.

First came Stefan, an alter-ego created by drinking Steve Urkel's "cool juice." Once in a while, Stefan would rear his ugly head. Weird, but not Baywatch Nights weird. Then, Steve Urkel cloned himself, creating a permanent Stefan who became a fixture in the series. They even had a spooky love triangle, inspiring many viewer fantasies of being the lucky Pierre in the double-Urkel Express.


Steve Urkel. Stefan Ur-kel.

To make room for these freaky plots, entire members of the family were cast aside to a life of porn. The plot became solely about Urkel, and to a lesser extent, the cop from Die Hard. Plots included...

Urkel and Carl shrink to a tiny size;
Urkel's ventriloquist dummy comes to life and tries to steal souls;
Urkel and Carl go back in time and spend a whole episode on a pirate ship;
Urkel goes to outer space.

This nasty attempt at a crossover theme managed to alienate approximately everyone, killing the second longest-running African-American sitcom of all time. Even worse, it pretty much paved the way for Homeboys in Outer Space," for which there in no penance.

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4
Roseanne

The Show:

In a fictional town in Illinois, two ridiculously fat parents with surprisingly skinny kids make lighthearted jokes about the constant, life-crushing threat of joblessness.

The mother, Roseanne, was portrayed by a type of succubus creature with a voice that could strip wallpaper and an appearance resembling a cross between a manatee and an evil ventriloquist dummy. OK, that's a little harsh. Not all ventriloquist dummies are evil.

Anyway, toss in John Goodman in his breakthrough role as fat dad and add some smart alecky kids, then make everyone hate each other. Poof, instant Emmys, presumably for its "realism." The show was praised back in the day for portraying a blue-collar family in which both parents worked, otherwise known as every family you've ever heard of ever.

So, What Happened?

Through its first eight seasons, Roseanne was always about the ups-and-downs of a struggling family. It was a steady hit for most of its run, but when the ratings declined, the powers that be decided to end the series. However, they agreed to make one last season, and plumped it full of freaky gimmicks in a cheap attempt to boost ratings.

To begin the season, Roseanne wins $108-million in the lottery. Overwhelmed by this ridiculous plot twist, Roseanne begins to drift in-and-out of fantasies, such as hanging with Jerry Springer, doing glamor photo shoots with Hugh Hefner and this god-awful episode involving Roseanne killing terrorists on a train and wearing a tube top. We freaking warned you:

Then, Jackie, the sister-who-could-probably-grow-a-mustache, marries a prince. If the jiggly adventures of a semi-nude Roseanne and Jackie-XXY weren't enough to make your sex organs crawl up into your stomach, the show decided to drop the revelation that Roseanne's crazy old bitch mom was a lesbian.

However, none of this compares to the twist of the series finale, where it was revealed that the whole show was invented by Roseanne to cope with her horribly craptastic life. Her husband, the father of their children, is dead. It was like finding out that Cliff Huxtable had murdered his family, buried them in the basement and then hallucinated a decade of wacky Cosby adventures. Cue laugh track. End series.

3
Felicity

The Show:

Once upon a time in 1998, high school senior Felicity is graduating. Hunky Ben signs her yearbook and tells her he wished he'd known her better. He should have just signed "have a cool summer!" because, like any rational person would do, Felicity interprets this completely offhanded comment as a "sign" and dramatically alters her plans so she can follow Ben to college in New York.

Once she gets there, she learns that life in the Big Apple is, like, hard and stuff. She gets a witch with a capital W for a roommate--no, really, she does; the roommate is a Wiccan--and over the course of four increasingly painful seasons, Felicity embarks on a magical journey of personal discovery.

So, What Happened?

Sorcery and time travel.

In 2002, after graduating college, Felicity realizes that she made some pretty poor choices. The rational, adult way to handle things would be to examine her life, steel her resolve and start establishing a fine path to personal success. However, this would require an iota of fortitude, something Felicity never once demonstrated in her three-and-a-half seasons of "following her heart," i.e. being totally selfish.

Instead of forcing Felicity to grow up and learn from her mistakes, the show proves it is truly made of the stuff spoiled girls dream about by concocting a ridiculous plot twist. To help her cope, Felicity's Wiccan roommate sends Felicity back in time one year.

Back. In. Freaking. Time.

Rather than do something worthwhile such as, say, warn her fellow New Yorkers about the now-pending 9/11 attacks, Felicity tries to use her knowledge of future events to make her life superficially better.

Once back in time, Felicity uses the ripple effect to alter the future timelines of her and her friends. She achieves her primary objective: To use her knowledge of the future to engineer a relationship with a man (her freshman year dorm manager) whom she believes to be her ideal mate. Soon, her dream man is in her arms. However, one short episode later, Felicity has already cheated on him. Yes, the miraculous, universe-bending opportunity to travel in time is squandered on a total whore. It was like that show Quantum Leap, if instead of trying to make people's lives better, Scott Bakula had just tried to bone them.

Learning nothing from this entire experience, Felicity begins longing for her old life. Again, the rational, adult thing would be to buck up and try harder. At least bet on some sports and make millions with her future-knowledge. But, no. Instead, she finds some crazy-ass magician, and starts working out a deal. The final episode is spent watching Felicity putting all sorts of now-magic artifacts together for a huge spell that (SPOILER ALERT) may or may not have worked. Who cares?

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2
The Flintstones

The Show:

It's the early 60s, and TV was hurting for an unfunny spoof of life from a million years ago--you know, something the kids could relate to. Instead, the world got The Flintstones, the tale of a prehistoric family who enjoyed a bygone time when it was legal to blatantly rip off The Honeymooners.

For those of you unfamiliar with the back-story behind the vitamin, the gist of it is that fat and unattractive chauvinist pigs Fred and Barney are married to subservient but hot women who are far out of their league. Along for the ride are pet dinosaur "Dino" and, later, babies Pebbles and Bam-Bam, who would later hook up in their own spinoff, in case you cared, which we know you don't.

Most of the shows revolved around Fred and Barney trying to find ways to avoid work and threaten their wives with physical violence. There was a laugh track, because nothing says realism like the idea of a live studio audience present for the taping of an animated show. Oh, and occasionally Fred and Barney shilled for the cigarette companies, as evidenced by this artifact from a more innocent time:

So, What Happened?

Alien astronauts.

After following the daily life of a blue-collar worker in prehistoric times for five seasons, The Flintstones decided they weren't being inaccurate enough in their portrayal of ancient history (for real, who besides Wilma ever used saber-tooth-tiger-tail tampons?) Thus ushered in the mercifully-short-lived era of the Great Gazoo, a squeaky creep who wore some sort of testicle hat.

Gazoo was an honest-to-gosh alien banished from his planet for creating a nuclear device that could kill the entire universe with a push of a button (playing on Cold War apocalypse scenarios is a great way to unite the whole family for a hearty laugh).

Another important aspect of the Great Gazoo is that he can apparently make individual atoms his bitch, allowing him to do anything. For those of you keeping score at home, God is not dead. He's just a tiny green alien with a huge weapon who's trapped in the Stone Age. Breathe easier, mankind.

Gazoo transports Fred and Barney to the future, just to prove a wicked-dumb point about whether a magazine is correct. Frankly, having an all-doing deity at their hands would probably be totally awesome, if only other people could see his work. But only Fred, Barney, Pebbles and Bam-Bam can see him, because they "truly believe." The women? Well, they're less enlightened. And lazy.

Still, he's magic, right? Fred and Barney can get set up like playboy millionaires. Or, this all-knowing, all-seeing power can be needlessly squandered like a $50 bill at a strip club. They use Gazoo's power for the benevolent purpose of winning a few bucks at the racetrack. Later, Gazoo creates two clones of Fred and Barney who are somehow even more mentally challenged (if you were wondering, Fred and Barney use these clones to trick their wives and go bowling).

There must've been some legendary pot going around Hollywood writers' rooms in the 1960s. The show was canceled less than one season later, and it probably took the staff another year to realize it.

1
Airwolf

The Show:

To explain the premise of what is already a pretty baffling show before it decided to lose all its marbles, let's let Wikipedia sum it up:

The series' protagonist is Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent), a loner who lives in a cabin in the mountains, only accompanied by his Bluetick Coonhound, "Tet", and the surrounding wildlife. Hawke is a recluse, spending most of his time alone with his priceless collection of paintings, and serenading eagles with his equally priceless Stradivarius cello. His only real friend and mentor is the older, eternally cheerful Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine).

We're sold! When can we tune in? Nothing says "surefire hit" like creepy backwoods loner who "serenades eagles." Who can't relate to that? Isn't there a little recluse schizophrenic in all of us?

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the main character is actually a helicopter named Airwolf, and everyone else is just along for the ride. A series of incredibly convoluted plot twists occur involving kidnap, espionage, a volcano and Airwolf, the world's greatest fighting machine unless you have stealth-detecting radar and surface-to-air missiles.

Together, they start running covert ops for a mysterious branch of the CIA called FIRM, and the rest of the series was spent watching Airwolf's crew spend most of their time trying to not run out of plots entirely centered around a helicopter.

So, What Happened?

The show became a zombie.

Airwolf ran successfully on CBS for three seasons before being canceled. Not content with their 24-hour schedule of awful movies and cleavage, the U.S.A. Network decided to pick up the show and make it themselves.

However, they had a shoestring budget, which is bad news on a TV show based entirely around futuristic helicopter fight scenes. This led the minor problem of not actually having access to the helicopter at all (they no longer owned it). That's right. They were trying to do an Airwolf series without using any shots of Airwolf.

Thus each episode was carefully constructed from previously aired footage of Airwolf, walking a fine line between hysterically shitty and just plain sad.

Having "solved" the budget problem of a show starring a multi-million-dollar machine, U.S.A. just had to eliminate the only other major expense: actor's salaries. U.S.A. certainly couldn't afford the veteran cast of Airwolf, which included the high-profile star Ernest Borgnine.

There of course was only one solution: HELICOPTER EXPLOSION:

Borgnine's character, played by Borgnine's stunt double, is conspicuously seen only from behind:

...and then dies in the way he knew he always would: in a grainy, poorly-edited stock footage explosion.

They were able to afford to get a couple of minutes of Jan-Michael Vincent, so he was only injured in the explosion. Still, his Airwolfing days were over.

Airwolf was canceled at the end of the first season, though they were probably long out of old Airwolf footage anyway and were on the verge of flinging a toy helicopter through the air with a slingshot. In retrospect, the entire U.S.A. Network should probably have been canceled with it.

Evan Hoovler co-wrote the National Lampoon book, "Pimp It Yourself." In addition to Cracked, he can also be read regularly at Gamespy, Comedy.com, Asylum, and Amog.

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For more boob-tube failures, check out 6 Beloved TV Shows (That Traumatized Cast Members For Life) and The 10 Most Disastrous Saturday Morning Cartoon Adaptations.

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