The start of every new TV season brings a new wealth of series, a good chunk of which will be justifiably cancelled in less than a year. But for all the weird premises and misguided concepts that get the can every season, it’s even more interesting to see which ones attract enough attention to continue, because as we all know, ratings and quality aren’t necessarily related. These seven shows all managed to last for several seasons and find varying degrees of success, despite boasting some of the most outlandish concepts in history. For somebody, somehow, for some reason, these bad TV show ideas made millions.
ABC took the familiar working class family sitcom template laid out by The Simpsons and Roseanne, then added some of the most unsettling-looking puppets ever created in Hollywood. The premise of Dinosaurs is so spectacularly generic the decision to make the characters off-putting dinosaurs just seems like a poor attempt to do the same thing in a slightly different way, while allowing for way too many prehistoric puns. The baby dinosaur is particularly terrifying, and the show wrongly tried to embrace darker elements on occasion, as in its bizarrely tragic finale.
2. Mork & Mindy
Perhaps the most bizarre spinoff of Happy Days one could ever imagine, Mork & Mindy concerns an alien from a planet where humor isn’t allowed who is sent to Earth to study its inhabitants for no clear reason and starts rooming with a surprisingly understanding young woman named Mindy. The series is built around Mork’s inability to understand American culture and social norms, but it relies so heavily on the surreal manic humor and incessant catchphrases of a young Robin Williams that it seems bizarre to see such storylines played off like normal sitcom business.
Unlike Mork & Mindy, Alf didn’t even have the comedic skills of Robin Williams to endear audiences to its titular alien. No, somehow people just accepted the character of Alf on his own merits, never mind that he’s a phallic-nosed alien with the cynical humor of Rodney Dangerfield and the bad habits of barging in on humans while they’re in the bathroom and eating cats. Yet somehow America fell in love with this offputting sitcom star and the bland San Fernando family he lived with, enabling the show to last four seasons during which time merchandising featuring Alf was inescapable.
4. Yo Gabba Gabba
Equally likely to delight kindergartners and nostalgic hipsters from Generation X and onward, Yo Gabba Gabba is a wildly successful children’s show built around a collection of colorful costumed characters and their human leader DJ Lance Rock. The typical trappings of an educational kid’s show are all here, from bright colors and audience participation to singalongs and non-confrontational life lessons, but with an indie aesthetic that seems downright strange given the context. The show has indie cartoon segments (clean but weird enough to appear on Adult Swim), characters like “Foofa the pink flower bubble,” and performances from artists most adults haven’t heard of, let alone most kids. But for incorporating real artists into an accessible kid’s show, Yo Gabba Gabba is a bizarre triumph.
5. Finding Bigfoot
All I can think of when I read about this show is The Simpsons episode “Mr. Plow” from 1992 that invented an outlandish reality series called “In Search of Bigfoot.” As always, The Simpsons was strangely prophetic, and the real-life equivalent started in 2011 on Animal Planet. It’s actually been a hit by that network’s standards, in spite of the fact that they’re never going to find the fictional creature they seek and the host’s name is seriously Matt Moneymaker.
6. Max Headroom
Max Headroom was the world’s first computer generated TV host, a truly bizarre cult icon of the ’80s that was actually created using makeup applied to actor Matt Frewer who was then placed in front of hand-drawn cyberspace backgrounds. You might have spotted the unsettling, stuttering creation in Back to the Future Part 2 or last year’s Pixels, but in the ’80s, he starred as the host of a British music video showcase that doubled the usual ratings for its time slot and then a sci-fi satire TV series named after the character about a world where TV networks hold all the power. You probably already knew this, but it bears repeating: The ’80s were a weird time.
7. The Flying Nun
A sitcom about a convent of nuns could actually work, in the right hands, but not when the humor comes almost entirely from the outlandish ability of one of the new nuns to fly. Sally Field played Sister Bertrille, the newest addition to a Puerto Rican convent with a tendency to be swept up by strong winds due to her light weight and oversized habit headpiece. The series often had Sister Bertrille explain that “When lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly.” Sorry, we’re not buying that and neither were critics at the time the show premiered in 1967. It lasted for three seasons and 82 episodes before being cancelled.
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