The 1970’s was the hangover decade from the 1960’s in America: the groovy aesthetics and drug-fuelled sensibilities were still present but had become somewhat mainstream and bland by this decade. As a result, American television was reflective of the sort of random, chaotic whims that the previous decade’s flower children embraced. Only since television was now trying to appeal to this rapidly ageing demographic, the shows produced at this time were…well, strange.
For the purposes of covering awesome garbage, here are 10 completely shit ideas that could have only come from writers and producers who took a few too many trips in the 60’s and thought their inane, insane ideas would somehow work on television. After all, this is the decade that brought us incredible crap like The Gong Show, and that was a hit! So why not these shows? We’ll find out in just a moment. And yes, these are all actual shows that aired on television in America in the 1970’s.
Holmes & Yoyo
So it’s the 1970’s and special effects and the general understanding of technology isn’t exactly sophisticated. Why not make a buddy cop show about a clumsy cop and his new partner, an android that nobody knows is an android?
Despite not making much logical sense, Holmes & Yoyo became a show that was scripted, cast, and aired on television between 1976 and 1977, the most 70’s of years. Yoyo has super strength, of course, but also speed reads and has a built-in Polaroid camera that is triggered whenever his nose is pressed.
In short, it’s fucking stupid. Its delivery is similarly stupid, as a half-hour single-camera comedy at the time would be. The internal logic of the show falls apart at every moment, as well: although Yoyo appears to be an average-sized man, he’s over 400 pounds, which would mean every time he sat on a chair, in a car, or hit someone, he would destroy everything. But instead, he functions like a person and despite his robot-like behavior deceives everyone….somehow. Maybe there was a lot of lead in the water in the 70’s. Anyway, it was cancelled after 13 episodes, which was 13 episodes too much for this incredibly dumb show.
Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp
Hey, you know what people don’t like? Shows that are strictly starring chimps who “talk” via voiceover. Even children wouldn’t watch this kind of crap. But it was the 70’s and many drugs that are now illegal were openly available to people so crazy garbage like Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp was produced as a result.
Literally a show that depicted dressed-up chimps being, you know, mindless chimps but with overdubbed voices that gave their actions a semblance of a narrative plot, this show aired on Saturday mornings to the enjoyment of nobody. People dumber than the chimps on-screen realized this was nonsensical garbage and tuned out. Even the chimps seem put-out from having to involve themselves with this level of stupidity. As a result, it ran for 13 episodes before being put out of its misery.
Me and the Chimp
What was with the 1970s and chimps? Was the idea of primates inherently hilarious to stoned TV writers? My guess is yes. Created by Garry “Happy Days” Marshall, this series follows the many, many, many, many misadventures a married dentist has when one of his kid brings home a chimp.
TV execs must have been wacked out on goofballs when they greenlit this project. What the hell do you mean, “A married dentist has misadventures when his daughter brings home a chimp”? That sentence is nominated for Worst Sentence Ever. Idiots. All of you that were involved in this dreck are all idiots. Like so many of the series on this list, after its 1972 run it ended after 13 episodes. Did I mention idiots yet? Idiots.
If there was enough time in life and I had nothing better to do, I would maybe never stop talking about Supertrain. Epic ballads would be written about it, plays would be enacted, and (hopefully) a shot-by-shot remake would be mounted. There is simply nothing better for fans of complete and utter garbage from America’s pop culture past than Supertrain.
What’s a Supertrain, you may ask? Why, it was a TV series that aired in 1979 for a whopping 9 episodes, including its 2-hour TV movie premiere. Focusing on the titular “Supertrain” that was as big as The Mall of America inside and with all the amenities a gigantic luxury cruise liner could offer, Supertrain was like Fantasy Island on the rails. And it made no sense.
What kind of vehicle is this? How big would the rails have to be to accommodate such a train? Did they lay brand-new tracks for this monstrosity? Who is rich enough to ride this line? And if they were rich enough, why would they waste their time on a train? It’s a delicious series for the analytically minded who enjoy puzzling over the logical inconsistencies of pop culture artifacts.
Besides this, why is so much happening on this train? Why so much murder? Why are the commoner workers on the train line so invested in any potential intrigue? And how the hell does this thing exist in the first place? What do you mean, it’s run by nuclear power?!? My mouth is salivating at the intricate logic knot this show creates.
As stated, it ran for nine episodes and was one one of–if not the–most expensive TV series ever made. Gigantic sets, detailed miniatures, and complex special effects sunk tens of millions of NBC’s dollars. Facing a doubled loss of the US boycotting the 1980 Olympics, which was aired on NBC, Supertrain nearly derailed the entire network.
But Supertrain is also a fascinating train wreck to watch: firmly set in 1979, Supertrain details a completely unrealistic and overall nuts concept in 45-minute increments. It’s just the worst best thing you could imagine. The two-hour pilot episode is available online, which shows you exactly why this show never took off, but besides that it’s a mess beyond all messes. Please watch this awesome garbage–it’s totally worth the time for fans of camp and so-bad-it’s-good TV.
Brothers and Sisters
Animal House was a huge hit at theaters and TV networks were desperate to somehow replicate its success with audiences on the small screen. But ABC got the rights to Animal House (renamed Delta House) for a sitcom, so other networks created replicates hoping to gain the audience that loved the idea of wacky college students in fraternities.
NBC created Brothers and Sisters to challenge that other show, previewing an episode directly after the Super Bowl in 1979 and three days after Delta House premiered. Brothers and Sisters didn’t leave an impression on audiences that the network hoped–mostly because it was a corny, watered-down rip-off from the original source material but also because no regular primetime audience would watch such a show. After all, the success of Animal House came from the crude and lewd audience that enjoyed their comedy with an edge, not a neutered concept that vaguely resembled the original on TV. It ran for 12 episodes before being expelled from the schedule.
Yet another crummy TV show trying to cash in on the Animal House craze, this 1979 series was so bad it was cancelled after one episode and never even made it to its regular time slot, instead having the first episode air as a “special preview” the night before. That’s right: it was so bad that it was cancelled between its preview episode and the next day.
Following (or would have been following) the adventures of a group of wacky students who get into all sorts of shenanigans when an all-female college goes co-ed, the 6 episodes that were filmed eventually ran on Canadian TV on late afternoons on the weekend, presumably to make sure as few people saw it as possible. But hey, its set was later re-used for the first season of The Facts of Life, so that’s something notable about this barely-seen sitcom.
NBC was in trouble in the late 70’s: being a TV network with perpetually the lowest-rated shows will do that to you. So when the network thought it might have an actual decent show on its hands, it did everything it could to keep it alive. This is evident in Hello, Larry, a sitcom starring McLean Stevenson, an actor that left the highly successful show M*A*S*H* for greener pastures but found nothing but failure. Already having crashed and burned two other shows before Hello, Larry, and with NBC desperate for anything resembling a hit, the network and star did everything they could to make this show work.
And it didn’t: initially about a radio talk show host who gets divorced and moves to Portland, Oregon with his teenage daughters to start anew, the show started in 1979 with a lot of promise and quickly sank like a stone. The network rejiggered the show a number of ways to make Hello, Larry successful: frequent crossover episodes with its lead-in, Diff’rent Strokes, didn’t help; shifting the show’s focus to Larry’s home life didn’t work; adding a boatload of new characters didn’t work; nothing could make this show work.
Instead, Johnny Carson frequently mocked the show on The Tonight Show, and Hello, Larry became shorthand in the industry for terrible television. Reflective of the dire straits NBC was in at the time, this show ran for a remarkable 35 episodes before being cancelled. While NBC would eventually have a hit show about a divorced radio host in the Northwest and his wacky family, that wouldn’t be for another 14 years and it would be called Frasier, not Hello, Larry.
One of the worst ideas ever for a TV show, Turnabout is one of those high-concept ideas that seems like something a writer would pitch and then be immediately laughed out of the room for bringing it up in the first place. But NBC in 1979 was taking any idea anyone pitched and turning it into TV, so Turnabout was made into a show–for 7 episodes.
This series was about a husband and wife who find themselves inhabiting each other’s bodies after a gypsy curses them and…that’s pretty much it. The epileptic trees that sprout from this idea alone is enough to comprise a forest. Here’s the literal description of the third episode, and you tell me if this isn’t one of the more creepy concepts ever for a show: “Penny informs Sam that her former body’s “monthly visitor” is late; Sam goes to the gynecologist to find out if “he’s” going to become a mother.”
I mean, holy shit, what? That’s completely insane. This show is insane. The people that made this show were certifiable. Do they still have sex? How does that work? Are they still attracted to each other? Because that means they’re attracted to themselves. It’s such a bonkers concept that they must have canceled the show to avoid having a hole open up in the earth and swallowing the entire network as an act from a vengeful god.
Now for a show that actually had a really cool concept that couldn’t have possibly worked, especially in 1979: Cliffhangers. This hour-long anthology series would tell three separate stories in its hour–a mystery, a sci-fi/Western, and a horror story–that would then be continued in the next episode. This serial-like show sounds like a good idea, only it’s also a terribly confusing idea, as well.
This Too Many Cooks-esque show may have even worked were its timeslot not against the two most popular shows on television at the time–Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. Instead of becoming a format-bending breakout hit, Cliffhangers hopelessly muddled its way through 10 episodes before ending with only one of the three stories concluded.
Listen: New Jersey has a lot of great places to set a TV show. The Jersey Shore, for example, and other places I’m sure. But a terrible place to set a show is Passaic, New Jersey. Another terrible idea for a show is to center it around a fad that would soon disappear forever and be looked back upon with scorn by its previous audience. Yet Makin’ It decided that setting a disco-themed show in Passaic, New Jersey was just fine, and for 9 episodes in 1979 the life of Billy Manucci, a disco-loving young man who worked at an ice cream parlor by day and danced away the night at the local disco club, was essayed.
Of course, disco was on its way out by 1979, to the point that in America a violent backlash occurred where the now-infamous “Disco Demolition Night” in the summer of 1979 ended with a near-riot at a White Sox game.
Oh, and Makin’ It was low-rent garbage. Ostensibly a Saturday Night Fever knockoff but a comedy, the characters were somewhat terrible people, the plotlines were banal, and all the glamour of Passaic, New Jersey was on full display. But at least its theme song had a long shelf life? It was featured in Meatballs, so that’s something. As for the show itself, Makin’ It obviously didn’t, and like the long national nightmare of disco, Makin’ It died an ignoble death by March 1979.