The TV Comedy That Got Canceled Mid-Show Returns After 50 Years
According to television legend, no show in the history of the medium was canceled faster than Turn-On, a 1969 comedy showcase that didn’t last long enough to air an entire episode. Amazingly, ABC stations turned off Turn-On only 10 minutes into its initial broadcast.
Here’s the story: In 1968, producer George Schlatter was red-hot thanks to the success of his hip comedy show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Eager to strike while the iron was hot, Schlatter dreamed up a new concept full of short clips, quick cuts, and controversial topics. Viewers saw two computer operators in charge of ‘programming’ the different pieces that would appear in the show, a pretty mind-blowing concept in the late 1960s. Music was generated by a synthesizer at a time when most people had never heard one. Sketches were shot on a completely white backdrop so that images could appear and disappear like magic.
In other words, it was Laugh-In but even faster, more innovative and more outrageous.
ABC wanted in. It picked up the show for a run of 13 episodes, then bought four more after advertisers got a look at the first episode. Schlatter already had three episodes in the can before the show’s scheduled premiere. Comedian Tim Conway was the show’s first guest, with Albert Brooks pitching in on the writing.
Turn-On aired its first episode on the evening of February 5, 1969, replacing the drama Peyton Place. But it wasn't on for long. A programmer at WEWS in Cleveland abruptly cut off the show after just 10 minutes, stating that the rest of Turn-On would “not be seen this evening…or ever.”
“He then put on a test pattern, then a black screen with live organ music, and spent the next three hours calling all the other ABC affiliates to convince them to cancel the show as well,” recalls Schlatter in his memoir Still Laughing. ABC pulled the plug on the show before the episode could even air a minute on the west coast, a feat that Schlatter says put Turn-On into the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest television run in history. “And you thought cancel culture was bad in 2023.”
Why did the Cleveland programmer do such a dastardly deed? “This schmuck had not even watched any of the show. He claimed he had been swamped with calls from viewers saying how terrible the show was, but I still don’t believe him,” Schlatter wrote. “He just wanted Peyton Place back.”
Due to Schlatter’s buy-out agreement with ABC, Turn-On has gone unaired in the 50+ years since that abbreviated premiere. But after online pirates posted the show recently, the 94-year-old Schlatter decided to beat them at their own game and give the show an official release. A new intro from Schlatter and the two existing episodes will premiere tonight (4PM PT/7PM ET) on the Clown Jewels YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/clownjewels).
It’s been a long wait, but we’re finally going to get a chance to tune in to Turn-On.