Once upon a time, there were only three major broadcast networks (believe it or not, the television landscape wasn’t always this crowded). That all changed in 1986, when an upstart network named Fox launched. In the past 30 years, the channel has risen to one of the more popular ones on the dial, even in the face of additional major players like The WB and UPN (which ultimately combined their programming to form The CW). Classic shows like The Simpsons, Beverly Hills, 90210, and In Living Color helped establish the network in those early years, but its future hasn’t been all bright.
Just as Fox has seen many hits cross its airwaves, it has faced more than its fair share of epic fails in the process. For this list, we’re looking at some of the biggest missteps the network either took or very nearly put on the air. More than mere disappointments, these are the kinds of shows that were such massive embarrassments that Fox executives are likely still having nightmares about them.
1. The Wilton North Report (1987-88)
Hosted by Phil Cowan and Paul Robins, this show only lasted four weeks before Fox pulled the plug. Ironically, its central concept — which combined elements of news, talk, and variety shows — resembles the formula that Comedy Central would later implement for The Daily Show. With better execution and the right timing, this could have worked.
2. The Chevy Chase Show (1993)
Chevy Chase was already a proven star who had appeared in countless films and had a popular run on Saturday Night Live. So a late night talk show seemed the perfect fit, right? As it turns out, the funnyman was ill-suited for the format, and his show lasted a mere five weeks before it faced the chopping block.
3. Models Inc. (1994-95)
After Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place became established hits, it was only natural that Fox would want to continue building that franchise with a third series. Alas, Models Inc. was one step too far for the producer Aaron Spelling, though it at least made it (mostly) through its first season.
4. Pauly (1997)
Another example of Fox trying to cram a proven commodity into a time slot, this one sees comedian Pauly Shore — who starred in comedies like Encino Man and Son in Law — play a slacker hellbent on ruining his father’s marriage. It’s a dreadful premise that effectively pushed Shore’s waning mainstream popularity past the breaking point.
5. Ally (1999)
David E. Kelley created a hit comedy/drama in legal series Ally McBeal, but someone at Fox got the terrible idea to air a 30-minute comedy-only version of the show. Comprised partly of re-edited existing footage, the companion series aimed to focus solely on the main character’s personal life. Naturally, it didn’t last long.
6. That ‘80s Show (2002)
When That ’70s Show demonstrated the necessary stability, Fox moved forward with a second series following the same structure and tone as well as some of the same staff. However, That ’80s Show was only tangentially related to its parent series and came across as exactly what it was: a desperate attempt to cash in on the first show’s success.
7. Celebrity Boxing (2002)
Modern society is so obsessed with fame and relevance that some ridiculous programs have been in development over the years (more on that in a moment). This, however, has to be one of the most egregious, as its mission statement is essentially to pit washed-up stars against each other for our amusement. Really?!
8. If I Did It (2006)
The most controversial (and heavily publicized) trial of the last several decades is undoubtedly that of O.J. Simpson. However, though Simpson was acquitted of murdering his wife in criminal court, he still planned to release a book and companion TV special explaining how he would have done the crime. Thankfully, both were scrapped.
9. Osbournes Reloaded (2009)
Celebrity reality shows were huge in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and one of the biggest was The Osbournes, the MTV reality series centering on rocker Ozzy Osbourne and his family. Fox tried to basically revamp that show with this bizarre variety show incarnation, which lasted only one episode. Good call.
10. Our Little Genius (2010)
Comedian Kevin Pollak was set to host this game show that would have pitted child prodigies against each other, giving them the chance to win money for their family. Luckily, the whole endeavor — likely deemed too exploitative — was pulled before it ever had the chance to hit the air.
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