It happens every year — a wave of new TV shows arrives on the scene with slick promos and plenty of fanfare. A few of these find an audience and lasting success. But most soon fall victim to the axe, whether after a few episodes, or after one season. The following TV series are remembered as failures. Yet these shows came from producers and directors who created some of the most popular and critically acclaimed series in TV history. Despite their limited initial run, some of these shows have surprisingly found new life today on cable TV or through digital streaming.
5. Cop Rock (1990)
After creating one of the greatest police shows in history, Hill Street Blues, Steven Bochco got the green light to develop Cop Rock. The bizarre hybrid of straight police drama coupled with Broadway-style singing and dancing quickly fizzled with critics and the public; NBC killed it after 11 episodes. Just check out the above video, as the prosecutor and jury sing their ”guilty” verdict of a suspect. Bochco certainly hadn’t lost his touch with police shows — he went on to create N.Y.P.D. Blue.
4. It’s About Time (1966-67)
Producer Sherwood Schwartz brought us two of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Brunch. But he misfired here in this goofy sci-fi/comedy about two astronauts who travel back in time to the days of cavemen and dinosaurs. Watch about two minutes of the first episode above and you’ll see some of the exact same gags Schwartz used in Gilligan’s Island, and the astronauts even have the same Skipper/Gilligan dynamic. The “special effects” of the dinosaur (at 2:40 in above video) are cringe-worthy. It’s surprising that 26 episodes aired before CBS pulled the plug. The show has been airing on Antenna TV.
3. Woops! (1992)
The creative trio of Paul Junger Witt, his wife, Susan Harris, and Tony Thomas had a hand in creating some of the greatest sitcoms in TV history, including The Golden Girls, Soap, Benson and Empty Nest. But Witt and Thomas had a rare flop when they served as executive producers for Woops! Perhaps America wasn’t ready for a sitcom about a post-nuclear apocalypse world. The opening credits in the above video are somewhat amusing, with the lead character’s car protecting him from the nuclear armageddon. “The Volvo proved even safer than advertised,” he wryly notes. It’s mostly downhill from there in the episode, punctuated by a giant house-sized spider. The show lasted only 10 episodes.
2. Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers (1974-75)
James L. Brooks and Allan Burns are best known for creating and producing The Mary Tyler Moore Show and a couple of popular spinoffs (Lou Grant and Rhoda). Friends and Lovers bombed, though, despite the presence of Paul Sand, a Tony Award-winning actor on Broadway. The opening credits, which show the musician star lugging his symphonic bass around town, are boring beyond words; you can’t help but contrast that intro with the dynamic opening of the MTM show, featuring the smiling Mary Richards. The show lasted only 15 episodes, which might be a good thing — had it succeeded, co-star Penny Marshall might have never been part of the classic series Laverne & Shirley that debuted a couple of years later.
1. Harsh Realm (1999-2000)
Chris Carter will forever be remembered for creating and producing The X Files. He also created the critically acclaimed supernatural series Millennium. So Carter’s pitch for the sci-fi series Harsh Realm must have seemed like a winner at the time. Loosely based on a comic book, the series involved characters in a U.S. Army virtual reality simulation in which a nuclear bomb has been detonated in New York City. The Army officer thrust into the simulation to clean up the aftermath didn’t have much time to complete his mission — Fox ran only three episodes before dumping the series.
One More: Manimal (1983)
Producer and writer Glen A. Larson had a hand in creating and/or running several popular series in the 1970s and ’80s, including Battlestar Galactica, Quincy M.E., Magnum P.I. and Knight Rider. Despite an interesting premise, Manimal, about a shape-shifting man who could take on the forms of various animals, did not catch on. NBC dropped it after eight episodes.