Television: It's the warm, glowing best friend who tells you stories, keeps you company, and (just like your real-life best friends) is slowly killing you. Also like real best friends, sometimes TV is a little low on cash and has to do some undignified things to get by. The results may be hard to watch -- but on the upside, the stories of how these shows tried to make $10 pass for $10,000 are hilarious in their own right. For example ...
The Walking Dead is the smash hit show America can't get enough of, probably because its annoying cast of characters is constantly in danger of being violently killed. Think of how big the ratings would have been for Family Matters if there was always a lingering possibility that Urkel could be disemboweled at any moment.
The second season found the band of zombiepocalypse survivors holing up in a farmhouse, which seemed like a fun idea at first. But then, like the sad college friend who unexpectedly showed up to your Christmas party, they never left.
In both cases, it started to get stinky after a while.
Despite the fact that the farmhouse originally appeared in only five issues of the comic book on which the series is based, the showrunners decided that we needed to see a whole season of people arguing in a living room. Oh, and the farm is run by a crotchety old man and his hot daughters, meaning the show is cribbing both from a comic book series and your great-uncle's dirty jokes.
As it turns out, the reason behind taking less inspiration from George Romero and more from The Waltons stems from a huge budget cut that the network imposed on the second season, before the pilot had even aired. The studio also provided the note that half the show should take place indoors, presumably to both save them money and make the harrowing, blood-drenched end of human civilization more warm and cozy.
Because that's what people look for in zombie stories: exquisite tablecloths.
And Mad Men is somewhat to blame here -- "entire hordes of zombies" became "maybe a zombie, every once in a while" thanks to Don Draper's love of big budgets, fancy suits, and herbal cigarettes. Arguments over these budget cuts contributed to the show's creator, Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, being fired and replaced by some people whom we're reasonably sure had absolutely nothing to do with The Shawshank Redemption. So great move, AMC; fire the guy who made the most beloved prison movie of all time one year before your show moves into a prison. That's the real river of shit.
The Incredible Hulk TV show is a beloved cornerstone of pop culture. Before the CGI monster we all know today, David Banner (renamed because "Bruce" was apparently "too gay" for the network) transformed into a green half-naked Canadian ex-football player. And that was good enough for 1970s America, goddammit.
Bizarrely, though, the first season looked to save some money (we can only assume after spending most of their budget on green body paint and disposable shirts) by shamelessly using preexisting footage owned by the studio. We're not talking about a two-second shot of a mailbox here; one episode happened entirely on an airplane, and for all the plane footage, they spliced in shots from the blockbuster flick Airport 1975. The plot of the episode was even pretty close to Airport 1975, except with the Hulk ... which, come to think of it, does sound way better.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron ending spoilers.
The plane is especially conspicuous because it belongs to the fictional airline that only showed up in that one hit movie, which was released a mere four years before this episode. This is like if a CSI episode tried to splice in footage from Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire without anyone noticing.
Another episode from the same season was about Banner getting involved in a truck chase ... which some might recognize as being completely lifted from the classic TV movie Duel, about a man mysteriously terrorized on the highway by a tanker truck (which we now know was driven by a gamma-irradiated maniac). They even dressed the bad guy in The Incredible Hulk to match the mustache and glasses of Duel's hero.
Thankfully, it was the '70s. All mustaches looked equally fake.
Again, this wasn't some obscure property; it's one of the most famous, acclaimed TV movies of all time, and it aired only seven years before the Hulk episode. Oh, and it was Steven Spielberg's first film. Yup, they took footage from a Spielberg movie and inserted the Hulk into it -- which he wasn't too happy about. At least no one has had the balls to try it with Schindler's List yet.
Magic numbers, haunted cabins, polar bears -- Lost was a uniquely insane show. Though a lot of people still hate it for the last-second plot twist that the entire series was just a dream Charlie from Party Of Five had after eating some suspicious Chinese takeout.
"And then the magic kid never appeared again, and ... man, my subconscious is a terrible writer."
Lost's creators get a lot of shit for making up the story as they went along, but in some cases, they had no choice. Even the plans they did make in advance sometimes had to change because of real-world interference. One such interference? The smoke monster of capitalism: money.
Fans of the show probably remember that the opening of the third season brought the story to a grinding halt, with several of the main characters jailed in polar bear cages by the mysterious "Others" (who turned out to be nothing but a bunch of jerks with access to polar bear cages). Jack, Kate, and Sawyer stayed trapped in there for the better part of six episodes, with nothing to do but admire their sexy, surprisingly well-groomed bodies.
"At least they left us all these hair care products over here, just out of frame."
But according to Damon Lindelof, the showrunner of Lost and archenemy of the Internet, the reason behind locking up its main characters for several episodes in a row was that the season went overbudget. This isn't a problem in and of itself, except that because they frontloaded the season with the stalling, money-saving episodes, a lot of people assumed the show was out of ideas. Of course, the second half of the season built up to the series' best twist in an action-filled finale that is presumably where they blew all their money ... but unfortunately, by that point they'd already lost a ton of viewers who thought the show was devolving into a less rapey version of Oz.
Season finales are usually reserved for epic, kickass cliffhangers that entice you into tuning back in the next season. Landmark sci-fi show Star Trek: The Next Generation followed this formula multiple times. Has Captain Picard been assimilated by the Borg? Will Worf stop the Klingon civil war? Will Geordi kill himself because every woman in the universe seems to hate his guts for no good reason?
All of those coolant leaks were a cry for help.
The second season, however, was a whole other story. After exciting episodes in which the Enterprise encountered the Borg for the first time and Data cosplays as Sherlock Holmes in the Holodeck, the network forced the producers to end the season with the cheapest goddamn episode possible. The director said he could shoot it in five days. The studio told him to have it in three.
The result was "Shades Of Gray" (not a glimpse into the Enterprise's clandestine sadomasochistic subculture, sadly). It starts with Commander Riker pricking himself on an alien plant, which happens off-screen -- we don't even get to see the most exciting event in the entire episode. The show simply opens with Riker sitting on a tree stump, wondering why the hell Band-Aids don't exist in the 24th century.
"... too bad Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Luke Skywalker couldn't stay longer. Man, what a fantastic adventure that was."
It turns out that Riker contracted some kind of alien virus. While usually the type of viruses Riker contracts are curable with a few dick shots, this one is quite serious. So serious, in fact, that we spend the rest of the episode in sick bay. It's less an episode of television and more like visiting a relative in the hospital. Not only that, but the only way to fight the virus is by stimulating the part of Riker's brain in which previously-shot footage is stored ... turning the season finale of a show that had been on for less than two years into a goddamn clip show.
None of this explains why someone draped a sequined ball gown over Riker while he was asleep.
Even the episode's writer called it a "piece of shit." That's an insult to the integrity and efficiency of our body's waste management system.
In today's genre-heavy pop culture climate, you can't flip the channel without landing on a show about werewolves, vampires, or a zombie-dragon cop partnered with a cyborg from the wrong side of the tracks. But that wasn't always the case. One of the pioneers in mainstream genre television was Dark Shadows, a 1960s soap opera centered around a vampire and other occult figures, which kids today are more likely to recognize as the basis for one of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's recent multi-million-dollar dress-up-time playdates.
Or even more likely to, you know, not recognize it at all.
While anyone with access to a camera and actors who are capable of staring into the middle-distance could throw together a soap opera in the '60s, Dark Shadows was a much more demanding show. They were trying to do an epic horror story with the kind of budget normally reserved for having two people throwing drinks at each other in a dimly-lit apartment filmed through several inches of Vaseline.
Elaborate sets, period costumes, special effects -- all these elements had to come together on a show that was made on a "shoestring budget" and shot live-to-tape. And guess what: It fucking showed.
The only thing more cardboard than the acting were the props.
Most of the scenes were shot in one take, which even forced the actor playing the vampire Barnabas Collins to turn his back to the camera and remove his fangs to deliver his lines. Most noticeably, the set was constantly falling apart -- it's the kind of thing that would make even Ed Wood call bullshit. Figures would often emerge from the shadows, at first seeming like some kind of demon birthed from the hellish netherworld, but a collared shirt and wristwatch are a dead giveaway that a crew member wandered into the shot.
This crew member happens to be a Frankenstein, but still.
Fans have lovingly embraced the low-budget crappiness of the show, and YouTube is littered with compilations of Dark Shadows fuckups. Of course, the biggest Dark Shadows fuckup is still probably that Burton movie.
One of the first and most beloved live-action iterations of Superman was George Reeves in the classic 1950s Adventures Of Superman TV show, the opening of which proudly proclaims that Superman "fights a never-ending battle for Truth, Justice, and the American Way" -- which you'll note doesn't include "Casually Destroying Entire Cities" or "Snapping People's Necks in Front of Children."
Since flying had been added to Superman's roster of powers for the radio adaptation, producers of the TV show were forced to create flying effects with a TV budget. After the first season consistently went overbudget, a new producer was brought in to helm the show. His solution? Recycling the same flying shot with different backgrounds.
His "Woosh! Weeeee!" sounds were different every time, though.
Making the thrifty recycling of flying footage even more noticeable was the fact that these shots were sometimes used to pad the running time when episodes were too short. Shots of Superman flying sometimes lasted as long as 30 or 40 seconds, turning what should be an exciting action scene into the superhero equivalent of watching paint dry.
In another blatantly apparent cost-cutting measure, the actors were forced to wear the same costumes so they could film multiple episodes at the same time without changing, which "irritated much of the cast" -- especially those who were forced to look at Lois Lane's hideous clown-sized bow day in, day out.
"I wanna put as many layers as possible between myself and Kent's X-ray vision."
And hey, speaking of cheap-ass superheroes ...
When he wasn't embarrassing himself at car shows or asking kids to help fund the war in Vietnam, Adam West's Batman actually got to fight some bad guys. However, according to the show's producers, Batman's true villain was money, and "the cost [of the show] was killing us." Rather than write a version of the show in which Batman lives in a trailer park instead of a mansion and fights crime in a costume made out of roadkill and grocery bags, other attempts were made to bring the costs down.
One of the most glaring attempts at (utility) belt-tightening came in the season three episode "The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra," in which the entirety of Batman's rogues gallery is recruited by the titular villain. Since the show didn't have the budget to stage an elaborate fight scene, or even get any of the original actors, they did what any kid too poor to afford action figures would: They had Dr. Cassandra turn all the characters invisible, and pretended that Batman was fighting an unseeable, strangely mute cadre of thugs.
The only actor they could afford was the evil Professor Pinkchair.
Since continuing to do even this probably cost some money, Batman conveniently gets the bright idea to level the playing field by flipping out the lights -- and the audience is treated to a goddamn black screen with the occasional onomatopoeic title card reassuring us that your cable wasn't shut off.
"Cut some exclamation marks from the last card. We can only afford one."
In the end, Batman was cancelled, probably because of budgetary reason, but also probably because three years was more than enough time to beam images of Adam West and Burt Ward's junk into the living rooms of American TV viewers with impunity.
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