While there have been at least six or seven quality television programs, the telecommunication device has for seventy years or so more often been derided for the lack of quality programming. Whereas US forces regularly play awful music to tortured captives, no one with even the tiniest remaining shred of humanity would force even the worst villain to watch Access Hollywood or Extra so how bad, then, must a show be to be cancelled after a single episode?
Of course, television is valued by network executives less for its artistic quality than its ability to sell advertising space, which is why we have Big Brother. What then would result in the plug being pulled after just once episode? Let’s have a look.
FUN AND FORTUNE (6 June, 1949)
Fun and Fortune was a game show hosted for its only episode by Jack Lescoulie. The object of the show was for contestants to identify a mystery item concealed by a curtain after being given four clues. It certainly sounds no better or worse than most game shows that came before. Perhaps ABC execs, then in their second year of television broadcasting, were merely hoping that something better would come along in its wake.
WHO’S WHOSE (25 June, 1951)
CBS had been around since 1927 and were, as such, veterans of mindless entertainment by the time of Who’s Whose, in which celebrity panelists attempted to correctly pair the three married male contestants with their three female counterparts. It was aired as a replacement for The Goldbergs, which CBS had cancelled after the series’ creator, Gertrude Berg, refused to fire actor Philip Loeb after he was blacklisted. The Goldbergs, which had debuted on NBC in 1929, returned to their old home whereas Who’s Whose was never to return.
YOU’RE IN THE PICTURE (20 January, 1961)
You’re in the Picture was game show hosted by Jackie Gleason who, after a disastrous first episode, returned a week later in the same time slot to apologize. He then proceeded to revive The Jackie Gleason Show in its place.
Turn-On was ABC’s attempt at cashing in on the popularity of NBC’s program, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.
Apparently it Turn-On was too much, and at least one network switched programming after the first commercial break and whereas others in later time zones didn’t air it at all. ABC dropped it after the first episode.
THE MELTING POT (June 11, 1975)
The Goon Show‘s Spike Milligan wrote and starred as Mr. Van Gogh, a Pakistani immigrant living illegally in London. Spike Milligan had earlier been involved in a series with a similar premise, Curry & Chips, which had aired in 1996. However, after the first episode of The Melting Pot aired on BBC1, the remaining five were unaired.
CO-ED FEVER (4 February, 1979)
Co-Ed Fever was CBS’s attempt to ride on the coattails of National Lampoon’s Animal House, which had played in cinemas the previous year. They weren’t alone, ABC had Delta House and NBC Brothers and Sisters, neither of which are fondly remembered but both of which lasted more than an episode. Five episodes of Co-Ed Fever were filmed but only the debut aired in the US. Audiences in Vancouver weren’t as lucky, and they were all broadcast on BCTV.
HEIL HONEY I’M HOME! (30 September, 1990)
In 1990, Galaxy aired a Heil Honey I’m Home!, a spoof of classic American sitcoms depicting Adolf Hitler and Evan Braun living next door to a Jewish couple. Although it sounds a bit like something Trey Parker and Matt Stone would’ve made (or Mel Brooks), it didn’t do well with viewers.
SOUTH OF SUNSET (27 October, 1993)
Glenn Frey of soft rock band The Eagles starred as an insufferable private dick in this series, which only lasted one episodes (although the remaining five that had been filmed later aired on VH1).
PUBLIC MORALS (30 October, 1996)
Producer Steven Bochco worked on hits like Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, Doogie Howser, M.D., and NYPD Blue. He also is remembered for Cop Rock. Less-remembered and shorter lived than even that flop cop musical was Public Morals. Thirteen episodes were filmed, one aired (in markets where affiliates didn’t refuse to broadcast it).
LAWLESS (22 March, 1997)
FOX got into the cancelled-after-one-episode game with Lawless, in which American football player Brian Bosworth played a private investigator. Bosworth had, six years earlier, memorably played a cop who played by his own rules in Stone Cold.
KENNY AND THE CHIMP (4 September, 1998)
Kenny and the Chimp (also known as Chimp -N- Pox) was an animated Hanna-Barbera series created by Tom Warburton. Production was cancelled after the the airing of the first episode, “Diseasy Does It.”
DOT COMEDY (8 December, 2000)
ABC entered the information age — or at least attempted to — with Dot Comedy, a horribly-named series of funny stuff culled from the internet and hosted by the Sklar Brothers. It proved so unfunny that it was cancelled after a single episode and yet eight years later basically spawned the career of Daniel Tosh.
COMEDIANS UNLEASHED (8 October, 2002)
Animal Planet attempted to unleash an animal-themed stand-up comedy show, Comedians Unleashed, hosted by Richard Jeni in 2002. The first episode starred comedian Rick D’Elia and his wooly soul patch. The series was euthanized almost immediately after it was born.
WHO’S YOUR DADDY? (3 January, 2005)
THE WILL (8 January, 2005)
Less than a week after the cancellation of Fox’s Who’s Your Daddy?, CBS’s even tackier series, The Will, followed the hijinks involved involved in participants attempting to be named the beneficiary of a will. Although dead on arrival and cancelled immediately, it did air in its entirety in New Zealand (and later on Fox Reality Channel).
EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT (9 January, 2006)
ABC’s Emily’s Reasons Why Not, starring Heather Graham as a young woman unlucky in love, was cancelled the day after it aired. The claim was later made that ABC had committed to the show (hoping that it would be Sex & the City-style hit) without the benefit of a pilot being screened to executives.
Korgoth of Barbaria was an Adult Swim series parodying post-apocalyptic sword and sandals shows like Thundarr the Barbarian, Blackstar, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and Galtar and the Golden Lance. After the pilot episode aired, it was announced that the series had been picked up to debut on 18 June. However, no further episodes followed, evidence suggests partly because of production costs.
THE RICH LIST (1 November, 2006)
The British producers of Dog Eat Dog and The Weakest Link adapted an ITV series, The Rich List, for the US. The promo advertised it as the “most anticipated game show of the year.” Does anyone anticipate game shows? Maybe not. Two days after The Rich List‘s debut and following low ratings it was cancelled. A version of the series was later revived and adapted as The Money List, but unaired episodes of The Rich List remain unaired.
THE DEBBIE KING SHOW (5 March, 2007)
After hosting Quizmania, Debbie King hosted The Debbie King Show on ITV Play. The debut aired for two-and-a-half hours before it was axed.
QUARTERLIFE (26 February, 2008)
NBC’s Quarterlife was an adaptation of a web series about “a group of twenty-something artists who are coming of age in the digital generation” that debuted on MySpace. It was cancelled after its first episode and the remaining five episodes were a month later aired back-to-back on Bravo.
SECRET TALENTS OF THE STARS (8 April, 2008)
Secret Talents of the Stars, as its name suggests, was a CBS reality talent show in which stars like Danny Bonaduce, Marla Maples, Joshua Morrow, and others attempted to demonstrate their hidden talents. The show, live and previously recorded, required an hour to showcase its secret talents but after one episode, the show was cancelled and to this day most of the participants’ talents remain secret.
OSBOURNES RELOADED (31 March, 2009)
Midlands Mumblecore reality series The Osbournes aired for three seasons. Four years after the end of The Osbournes, Fox unloaded Osbournes Reloaded. It was a departure from the “reality” format that had made Ozzy’s family members inescapable “television personalities” but no one was having it and after it’s loud, obnoxious, and strangely captivating debut, the remaining five episodes were shelved.FORD NATION (18 November, 2013)
BREAKING BOSTON (March 13, 2014)
Boston-loving hip house hitmaker Marky Mark produced Breaking Boston, a reality show concerning four women attempting to “break” Boston. The A&E series didn’t break a second episode, however, but the rest were aired on Hulu‘s website.
Eric Brightwell is a writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities; however, job offers must pay more than slave wages as he would rather write for pleasure than for peanuts. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.