6 TV Shows You Won't Believe Were Actually Made
Hey, remember that time some people thought a sitcom about Hitler was a good idea? Turns out that not only did they get to keep their jobs, but they were promoted to Head of Everything and spent the rest of their lives humping television into the ground. Here are just a few of the ugly bastard progeny that the unholy union of sitcom writers and head trauma victims produced over the years:
Mr. Smith (1983)
That's the poster for Mr. Smith, an NBC sitcom where a talking orangutan becomes a political adviser! Can you imagine anything wackier? If you can, you're fired! This network doesn't need some goddamn revolutionary jamming up the gears of this finely oiled cliche machine.
Is that ... Kelsey Grammer?
The star of Mr. Smith was an orangutan named Cha Cha who was captured and taken to a government research center in Washington, D.C., where he drank an experimental mixture intended to increase human intelligence. This mixture gave Cha Cha an IQ of 256 and the ability to speak. Naturally, they immediately made him a political adviser. Get it? A monkey could do a politician's job!
You'd think that a talking orangutan would be one of the biggest scientist discoveries of all time, even in a sitcom world based around a joke your grandma would tell at Thanksgiving dinner (and get her booed away from the table for her trouble). But no, the entire premise is truly about the wacky shenanigans of a superintelligent primate in the world of politics.
"I tried to present my cure for cancer, but the Senate filibustered it."
But they couldn't even be bothered to keep to basic satire: Cha Cha had a brother named Bobo who also escaped during the accident, so the show would often neglect its own barely existent plot to focus instead on the superintelligent Cha Cha keeping his still-primitive sibling out of trouble. Other wacky antics included various guest stars almost finding out that Mr. Smith was a talking monkey, and what happens when a talking monkey falls in love with a regular monkey. So they went into the show with two subjects -- "monkeys" and "politics" -- and it turns out that all they could handle was "monkeys."
But they didn't even do that very well: Mr. Smith was canceled after 13 episodes and replaced by the far superior oddly-intelligent-primate-tries-to-live-with-a-wacky-family sitcom Harry and the Hendersons.
The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (1998)
The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer was a sitcom that took place during the Civil War, and that's actually pretty cool. We're all for using a novel setting to explore complex social norms (or whatever it is that sitcom writers tell undergrad English students to get laid these days). The story revolved around a black servant named Desmond Pfeiffer who was kidnapped from England, forced into slavery and freed from slavery, and then accidentally ended up working for Abraham Lincoln.
We're sure this will be treated with all the tact and sensitivity a touchy subject like this requires.
Wait, this sitcom is about a black British manservant who mysteriously gets sold into bondage, is rescued from slavery and then is made to work in Lincoln's White House as they fight against slavery during the Civil War? How does one even arrive at a premise that stupidly complicated? That's four more twists than the worst M. Night Shyamalan movie. If the writers were trying to comment on politics, setting a show in the White House during the Civil War is a good enough vehicle. If they wanted to comment on racism, casting a slave as the protagonist is a bold move. We can't imagine what demographic the captured/recaptured/freed/re-employed ex-English black butler character was meant to appeal to, but there can't be that many survivors of Benson's sex dungeon.
With such a convoluted premise, ratings were bound to sink. Not helping matters were the confusing priorities of the show: Instead of dealing with race and history, as one would reasonably expect of a show about slavery and the Civil War, Desmond Pfeiffer was content to mock modern-day headlines in the basest possible fashion. They recast Abraham Lincoln, arguably the most revered president in history, as a one-note buffoonish sex addict in order to parody then-president Bill Clinton. It was not a job they did with subtlety, with lines like "You're no better than a horny hillbilly from Arkansas." One of the episodes was entitled "A.O.L.: Abe On-Line," where Lincoln became addicted to telegraph sex. Timely! In another, Lincoln hides behind enemy lines by dressing in drag. What the what?! Men dressed as women? We sure hope '90s couches came with sea belts, or else the viewers would be blown completely away!
"I-I-I-I beg you pardon?! How frightfully absurd!"
Tragically, that turned out to be just a little bit too much Vitamin Zany for the public to take on an empty stomach, and The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer was canceled after only four episodes.
What a Dummy (1990)
In 1990, Fox produced a sitcom called What a Dummy. The show revolved around a New Jersey family who inherited their great-uncle's steamer trunk and inexplicably found inside a living ventriloquist's dummy named Buzz who had been imprisoned for the last 50 years.
Aaaaaand he obviously killed them all with a chainsaw. Right?
What? This was a half-hour family comedy? Who the hell was told "mysteriously imprisoned living ventriloquist dummy" and heard "G-rated comedy" instead of the screams of a thousand dying children?
"Put down the saw, Timmy, and just play with me. Forever and ever and ever."
And while a terror-comedy about an American family trying to find hope in the face of overwhelming evil actually sounds pretty edgy and cool, What a Dummy basically tried to be ALF instead, basing most of their plots on nosy neighbors perpetually on the verge of discovering the family's soulless wooden murder-doll.
Although why they were attempting to rip off ALF right after it had been canceled is beyond us.
In 1999, CBS started airing a show about pilgrims trying to survive their harsh life in the New World called Thanks. For some reason, it was a comedy.
Thanks took place in 1621 and followed the misadventures of the Winthrops, a Puritan family living in a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The family had just survived their first winter, and far from glossing over the horrors of settler life, the show seemed to wallow in them. The original press materials actually read:
"Now, along with their fellow settlers, they must decide whether or not to remain in the uncivilized New World and face yet another year of disease ... and each other. But don't be fooled: It's Puritan fun."
So if you think it's hilarious to watch stern, severely religious people die of syphilis and hypothermia, just say "Thanks!"
Characters on the show included the standard idiot relief, Cotton, played by the future Dean Pelton from Community, and Cloris Leachman as the horny Grammy Winthrop, who was always hitting on younger men and telling her grandchildren bawdy stories about being violated by pirates ...
"Because you can't spell 'clitoris' without good ol' Cloris!"
One of the show's very first lines was "It's a beautiful day. People are airing out their clothes, dragging out their dead." There was constant mention of the "50 percent mortality rate" within the colony, and how fellow settlers frequently died in terrible ways. Which is kind of OK: We're down with black comedy. But aside from a few morbid mentions, that is not the tack that Thanks took: The show hinged on all of your standard sitcom elements, like the befuddled dad, the wacky neighbor and the rebellious teenage daughter, and its formulaic jokes played to a canned laugh track. It was a dismal, morbid, tense situation paired with default wacky sitcom shenanigans; it was basically Married With Children if the show took place in Auschwitz and Marcy was a Nazi ...
Actually, that sounds amazing. Bring back Thanks, you soulless network bastards!
A Dog's Life (1979)
On June 15, 1979, ABC aired a pilot for a TV series called A Dog's Life. Everything stupid you just assumed about the show from that title? That is all 100 percent accurate. In fact, if anything, your stupid assumptions would be tastefully understated compared to the reality: A Dog's Life was a sitcom where all the characters were dogs, as played by actors in cheap-looking dog costumes. You can watch the entire episode here, if you loved Cats but hate cats.
Shockingly, A Dog's Life was the brainchild of renowned Emmy Award-winning producer Norman Lear, whose previous work included All in the Family, Sanford and Son and The Jeffersons. And once he was done producing all of those thoughtful explorations of family and race, he got friggin' hammered and crapped out a sitcom that opened on four people in dog suits doing a musical number.
Which is more poorly choreographed than a dance number involving a real dog.
The protagonist in A Dog's Life was an old dog named McGurk, played by Barney Martin, and all the action took place in the backyard of his owner's home.
"You know why no one had really heard of me before Seinfeld? This."
McGurk's love interest was the next-door neighbor's dog, Iris, the mother of a young pup named Camille, whom the producers decided to make "the slutty one."
We're afraid to look up the arrest records for this show's writing staff.
That's right: A whole roomful of people sat down at some point in history and not only greenlit a sitcom about actors in shitty dog costumes, but they requested -- nay, demanded -- that one of them have prominently highlighted tits. It was immediately canceled, of course, because the world is not as bad a place as it seems sometimes.
But at other times, it totally is! Because A Dog's Life wasn't the only talking-dog-themed sitcom ever produced ...
In 1990, NBC greenlit a pilot for Poochinski. The series starred Peter Boyle as your stereotypically gruff, no-nonsense cop, Poochinski, and his pet bulldog. While the idea of a grizzled police officer teaming up with a dog to solve crimes may sound labored, Turner and Hooch rocked, and Peter Boyle was a pretty gifted comic actor, so maybe he could turn the premise aro-
They just killed off Peter Boyle. Seven minutes into the program.
But don't worry, Boyle's still the main character of the show! He's going to stick around, because his soul is immediately transferred into his pet bulldog ...
You may recognize this as the exact method by which Chucky was created.
... aaaand it looks like this:
Truly, death would have been a kinder option.
Hey, hold on! Put the matches down! We know, we know: It's a perfectly natural knee-jerk response, but burning your monitor won't actually purge that thing-which-should-not-be from the annals of history. Just calm down. It's actually not as bad as you think once you see it in motion:
It is oh so very much worse.
Poochthulhu up there winds up partnering with a younger cop named McKay and they both spend the run time of the show working together to track down Poochinski's killer while spitefully spitting one-liners about crotch sniffing and drinking out of the toilet right into the audience's unsuspecting faces.
"Crotch! Haha, it's a dog-eat-dog world! It's raining cats and dogs out there! Screw humanity!" -TV executives
Poochinski was promptly canceled just as soon as the pilot aired, but the network learned a very valuable lesson from the experience: Always use the buddy system, because it is totally possible to write, produce and turn around a complete pilot before the cocaine has a chance to wear off.
Robin Warder is the co-owner of a pop culture website called The Back Row.
For more ridiculous ideas Hollywood crapped out, check out 9 Absurd Movie Premises That Actually Happened and The Pitch Meeting Behind The Worst Movie Idea Ever Approved.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Actors Who Went Through Physical Torture for Stupid Movies.