After this dud list, can a sequel be far behind?

TV Guide names the creme de la crud - a mere 50 shows

Television

July 21, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

The 50 worst TV shows of all time? Oh, that the list could be stopped at a mere 50.

For that matter, that the worst shows of the past five years could stop at 50.

OK, maybe that's an exaggeration. Truth is, I'd probably have trouble naming 50 shows from the past five years. But I think that's proof not so much of my fading memory as of the distinct lack of memorable programming.

True, TV in the last half-decade has given us The Sopranos and The West Wing, 24 and Freaks and Geeks (even if it did last a single season), The Lot and Six Feet Under. But it's also given us Chains of Love and Emeril, Bob Patterson and Fear Factor, Big Brother and Ally McBeal. All were atrocious, oftentimes redefining the limits of bad TV, and yet none of them made the list of 50 worst shows published this past week by TV Guide.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Arts & Society section mistakenly included Ally McBeal in a section on some of the worst television programs of the past five years. The reference should have been to Ally, a re-edited half-hour version of previously aired hour-long Ally McBeal episodes that aired on Fox in 1999. The Sun regrets the error.

Not that I have any real argument with the list the incessant list-makers at TV Guide did come up with. It's hard to argue against calling The Jerry Springer Show the worst example ever of how bad television can be. It has gone beyond being a television perversion to being a cultural perversion, with societal ramifications we'll be regretting for decades.

The rest of the Top 10 includes (in order): My Mother The Car, XFL football, The Brady Bunch Hour, Hogan's Heroes, Celebrity Boxing, AfterMASH, Cop Rock, You're in the Picture and Hee Haw Honeys. Save for a lingering, pre-adolescent fondness for Hogan's Heroes - which did, after all, feature the great John Banner as Sgt. Schulz - I wouldn't choose to watch any of them ever again. Nor would any sane person.

The should-haves

Like any TV junkie, I can name all sorts of programs that should have made the list. Where are such screechingly bad '60s sitcoms as It's About Time, The Good Guys or The Mothers-in-Law. The first ran from 1966 to 1967, featured Imogene Coca and Joe E. Ross as prehistoric cave people who didn't know what to make of two time-traveling astronauts, and was about as funny as your average rock. The second, with Bob Denver and Herb Edelman as lifelong friends who richly deserved each other, (dis)graced the airwaves from 1968 to 1970. The last, in which Kaye Ballard proved that constant screeching is no substitute for good writing or acting, assaulted audiences from 1967 to 1969.

None are likely to enter any television Hall of Fame anytime soon.

Then there are such disparate groaners as Fridays (1980-82), ABC's unendurable answer to Saturday Night Live, which only proved that no actor's career is beyond redemption (cast members Michael Richards and Larry David would later emerge as keys to the Seinfeld kingdom); Moloney (1996-97), with an obviously desperate Peter Strauss as a police psychiatrist for whom no obstacle was too great; and Nightingales (1989), sort of a cross between Charlie's Angels and Medical Center.

As Saturday Night Live's resident critic Leonard Pinth-Garnell would have put it: "They weren't very good now, were they?" But compared with some of the dreck of recent years, they'd be downright watchable. Mostly, that's because of two genres that have come to dominate TV in ways no one can be happy about: reality television and trash-talking talk shows.

TV Guide put Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? at No. 25, but any number of similar shows deserved to make the list. UPN's Chains of Love featured groups of men and women chained together, until the "winners" were paired off on a date. NBC's The Weakest Link gave host Anne Robinson carte blanche to humiliate people. Court TV's Confessions gave real-life murderers the chance to air their sordid laundry on-air.

And as far as sleazoid talk shows are concerned, which one doesn't belong on a worst-of list? Jenny Jones' preference for on-screen histrionics once led to a court trial, when she was sued after one of her guests killed another after their "shocking" secret was revealed (one man revealed he was gay and had a crush on the other). Maury Povich, Rikki Lake and Sally Jesse Raphael routinely have brought on troubled teens and their parents, lascivious relatives and other unfortunates to be hooted at by studio audiences.

And who can forget Roseanne's train-wreck of a talk show? In its latter incarnations, the thing was practically impossible to watch, as an increasingly annoying and addled Roseanne held court in what amounted to a freak show of mythic proportions.

This is not a rant against television; without a doubt, when television is good, it is very good, and when television is great - The Twilight Zone, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Hill Street Blues, My So-Called Life, Homicide: Life On the Street, Buffy the Vampire Slayer - it's as close to fine art as any other popular entertainment medium.

But too often, it doesn't even qualify as entertainment. And these days - whether it's because the broadcast networks are so panicked over audience erosion that they don't know what to do, or because, with so many channels out there needing to fill the programming hours, there simply isn't talent enough to go around - dreck is what you get.

Next time there's a worst-of list for TV, 50 may just qualify as the first installment.

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