originally published August 1, 2012
Last month I picked on three films from Wikipedia’s list of movies considered to be the worst. Today we’re shifting to the small screen. It may surprise you to know that, in among those quality hours of flipping houses, making over ugly people, and voting top chefs off the island in an amazing race down a runway filled with top models and idols, occasionally something less than magnificent finds its way onto the air.
We’re going to start out by picking on Jackie Gleason. I know, I know, he’s Jackie Gleason. He’s the Glease. He was the Elvis of the television world, the guy who planted his flag and founded the independent nation of funny TV. The Honeymooners should be taught in schools.
But while he may have helped to invent the sitcom, let it never be said that The Glease could do no wrong. I present exhibit A: You’re In The Picture.
At 9:30 on January 20, 1961 – the same day JFK was sworn in as President – You’re In The Picture premiered on CBS. It was a panel show. Four celebrity panelists would stick their heads through a scene like the one above, then take turn asking Gleason yes/no questions to try and guess what the scene was. Panels included Pocahontas saving John Smith’s life, a high school track meet, and a depiction of four herpes blisters. The end result was outrageously non-entertaining.
Panelists included Schneider from One Day At A Time, Shirley Feeney’s mother, Merv Griffin’s announcer and a lady named Jan. There were no stakes; if the panelists guessed correctly, 100 CARE packages were donated in their name. If they were stumped, the same 100 packages were donated in Gleason’s name. There was literally no point to this show.
The series aired exactly one episode. During the same spot on the following Friday, Gleason appeared on a stripped-bare set and addressed viewers directly, offering an apology for the immense flop that had aired the previous week.
This is the greatest thing ever. Can you imagine if the creators of every rotten TV show or movie took the time to create a public apology for their mess? Sure, the apologies would take up roughly a third of a network’s broadcast schedule, but I still think it’s a great idea.
Gleason turned the show into The Jackie Gleason Show, an interview-style talk show. That show got off to a bad start because of an off-hand joke Gleason had uttered during his apology – referring to his cup of coffee as “Chock Full O’Booze.” Kellogg’s was offended by the idea that booze exists (I guess), and pulled their sponsorship from anything touched by The Glease.
One of the worst ideas to venture onto British television in the past decade was 2002’s Shafted, a game show based on the idea that if you piss contestants off, viewers will tune in. Here’s how it worked:
Six players enter the game. Each one is told to declare how much money (up to £25,000) they would like to win. Whoever selected the highest amount is immediately eliminated. Okay, fuck you Gordon Gekko, greed is not good here in England. The remaining five contestants are assigned whatever amount they asked for, and can bet on a series of questions. Whoever stakes the most money on a particular question gets to answer it. After five questions, the player with the most money picks another player to be eliminated, because this game wouldn’t be interesting unless the contestants turned on each other.
Once the game is down to two players, Robert Kilroy-Silk (your delightful host, also a long-serving English politician) delivers his famous line: “Their fate will be in each other’s hands as they decide whether to share or to shaft.”
The final two contestants are literally given that choice: share or shaft. If they both choose ‘shaft’, they both walk away with nothing. If they choose ‘share’, they split the winnings. If one chooses ‘share’ and the other ‘shaft’, the one who picked ‘shaft’ gets everything. Let that concept settle in your blood for a while.
People hated this show. ITV yanked it after four episodes. It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t riveting, it was just watching a bunch of people suffer, and not even people you dislike, as you’ll hopefully see in the pilot I’m currently pitching to MTV for the 2013-14 season: Jersey Shore…Dismembered!
Even I’m having trouble believing what I’m writing here. But I’ve checked elsewhere in the web-world, and yes, Naked Jungle was a real show. It only aired one episode (apparently to commemorate World Naturist Day in 2000), and will probably never see a North American adaptation. Not on any network, anyway.
Channel 5 in the UK was not concerned about the backlash when they broadcast this obstacle-course game show featuring ten fully nude contestants. There were no black dots, no blurred-out smudges. Tallywackers and fannies were center-stage; the idea was to have a light-hearted chuckle at the concept of naked people climbing over stuff, but the world wasn’t ready for this in 2000. I’m still not convinced the world is ready for this:
That concerned-looking (but thankfully, not over-excited) bloke on the right is host Keith Chegwin, who volunteered to host the show clad in the same wardrobe as the contestants. While he later dismissed this experiment as “the worst career move” he’d ever made, at the time it probably garnered him more press than any other work he’d done. Up to that point, Chegwin had become a household name in England as a popular game show host. This would be like seeing Bob Barker’s uncensored unit on prime-time TV. There’d be a lot of talk about spaying and neutering after that broadcast, I’m sure.
The press attacked the show the next day. The Daily Mail said it had “plumbed new depths” of indecency on television. The House of Commons singled it out as an abomination on British culture.
It’s funny to me how television can show a person’s head crushed by a falling ATM (thanks for that indelible image, Breaking Bad), as well as endless misogyny, violence against women, idiot pregnant teenagers that we’re told we’re supposed to care about, and vacuous fluff like the Kardashians, but flash a little pubic hair and our society is three heartbeats away from imminent destruction.
Presumed moral high ground aside… yeah, I still wouldn’t watch this show.