In general, we have zero expectations about the quality of television programming. This goes double for game shows/competitive reality shows, which occasionally celebrate human ingenuity but are mostly about watching terrible people endure some kind of pain or humiliation.
Yet, as low as those expectations are, there have been multiple shows over the decades that have managed to go even lower. Here are the ones that deserve to occupy that special place in television history. (Spoiler alert: This special place is a dumpster fire.)
6The Singing Competition Where You Win a Kidney Transplant
American television is currently inundated with amateur talent competitions, so clearly it's time to up the stakes, Running Man-style. You know, like they do in Central and South America, where American Idol-type shows aren't just about a contestant's talent (or lack thereof), but about real, soul-crushing human tragedy. If a particular contestant on one of these shows doesn't win, people could die.
"I could use a lot more wine for this."
Cantando por un Sueno ("Singing for a Dream") and its sister show Bailando por un Sueno ("Dancing for a Dream") are hugely popular programs in Mexico and South America. Their setup should be familiar to American audiences -- some random nobody performs and is judged by celebrities on whether or not they suck. And like Dancing With the Stars, the contestants on Cantando and Bailando are paired up with even more celebrities. But here's the catch -- the shows' winners don't receive a record deal or a Vegas booking. No, any cash payout serves as an "intervention" designed to save the contestants from some heart-wrenching personal calamity, such as losing their business or missing out on an organ transplant. That last bit isn't hyperbole -- here's a woman singing in order to get kidney transplants for her kids. (The judges buzz the shit out of her, by the way.)
Wait, there's more! The routines on Bailando supplement boring old modern dance and tango with stripping and pole dancing, as audiences apparently relish the surprise boner interspersed between crushed contestants' crying fits.
"Tonight on Bailando, tears of sorrow will pour out of your left eye, while tears of joy will stream from the right!"
Sure, one lucky winner per season has his or her dream fulfilled. Meanwhile, the finale episodes of Bailando feature elimination ceremonies during which the losing dancers snuff out candles that presumably represent their hopes for a better life. Sorry, kids, but Mom should have danced harder.
"This shit would never happen to Jennifer Beals' kids."
5The Quiz Show About Watching Couples from a Windowless Van
The 1970s were heady times for the game show genre. Boundaries were being tested, and shows were playing it loose. Booze made guest appearances on Match Game, William Shatner was throwing chairs on The $20,000 Pyramid and a serial killer took first place on The Dating Game. So if that's the shit that was going on in the top-tier network shows, what would it take to make a network hurriedly pull the plug on one?
To answer that question, let's look at CBS's The Amateur's Guide to Love, which debuted on March 27, 1972, and lasted all of three months. Almost all of the episodes are believed to have been destroyed, possibly after a 12-step program and moment of clarity on the part of the producers.
When asked about the surviving episodes, producers said, "We have top men working on it now ... Top. Men."
In each episode, an olive-green cargo van with "LOVE" posters taped on the sides cruised around Southern California, secretly filming young couples making out. The unwitting participants were then messed with, Candid Camera-style, after which they were approached by the film crew.
The crew would then ask the couple tawdry questions regarding love, marriage and sex, and their responses were judged by a celebrity panel. The couple that chose the best answer, according to the judges, was awarded a prize. If there were a Daytime Emmy for "Unintentional Creepiness in an Opening Credit Sequence," this intro would sweep the category for the next 83 years:
With the advantage of hindsight, we might wonder why these couples didn't immediately start running when presented with what is clearly a rape van. Yes, this was several years before cargo vans became synonymous with serial killers in the state of California, but never since the invention of the camera has secretly filming people necking not raised red flags. On the plus side, The Amateur's Guide to Love did boast numerous guest appearances by renowned sexpert Vincent Price.
"Some people say that it's impossible to rape an egg. They are fools."