Bookshelf: TV Turkeys

Bookshelf is a monthly column examining printed matter relating to television. While I love watching TV, I also love reading about it, from tie-in novels to TV Guides, from vintage television magazines to old newspaper articles. Bookshelf is published on the second Thursday of each month.

TV Turkeys: An Outrageous Look at the Most Preposterous Shows Ever on Television
By Kevin Allman
First Published in 1987
Published by Perigee Books
191 Pages

TV Turkeys is not, as the title might suggest, a cookbook. Nor is it a comprehensive analysis of birds on television. The subtitle calls it “an outrageous look at the most preposterous shows ever on television” which isn’t quite true either. I’ll be honest: I don’t like the title. Jokes about poultry aside, I think it strongly suggests that the book will cover only short-lived failures and disastrous flops.

To me, in this context, “turkey” implies a flop, loser, or fiasco. But in addition to discussing a wide variety of true TV turkeys, author Kevin Allman also savages a few long-running TV shows like Knight Rider and Hogan’s Heroes, not to mention incredibly popular game shows and variety shows like The Dating Game, Hee Haw, and Queen for a Day.

The book is split into “channels” with Channel 1 a brief introduction to the book and Channels 2-13 each covering two to five shows. There’s a channel called “False Starts: The Humble Beginnings of Your Favorite Stars” (covering The Flying Nun, Cos, and Thicke of the Night) and another titled “Sick Transit: The Auto-erotic Shows About Cars and Trains” (covering My Mother the Car, Supertrain, and Knight Rider).

Front cover to TV Turkeys
Front cover to TV Turkeys – Copyright 1987 Bob Silverman/Perigee Books

It’s clear that Allman decided to write about TV shows he personally thought were stupid, vapid, insulting, or corny rather than try to actually tackle “the most preposterous shows ever on television.” Some of them are in there: Supertrain, My Mother The Car, Turn-On, and Pink Lady and Jeff are certainly preposterous. But are they any more preposterous than other shows?

What makes The Flying Nun more preposterous than Gilligan’s Island or The Girl With Something Extra? Why slam Knight Rider but not B.J. and the Bear? Me and the Chimp but not The Hathaways and Mr. Smith? Was Misfits of Science really worse than Mister Terrific?

In other words, if you’re expecting more than one man’s opinion about bad television you’ll probably be disappointed.

Back cover to TV Turkeys
Back cover to TV Turkeys – Copyright 1987 Perigee Books

Reading through TV Turkeys two things stuck out. First, Allman spends an entire channel discussing the failed TV shows of McLean Stevenson but devotes just two paragraphs to The McLean Stevenson Show, In the Beginning, and Condo. He focuses primarily on Hello, Larry and America (which Stevenson co-hosted). Either he really hated Hello, Larry or that was the only show he really watched and could write about. If you’re going to tear apart a man’s career, at least have the decency to cover it all.

Second, he attempts in a later channel to argue that NBC was obsessed with trying to make a hit out of superhero TV shows for several years. His evidence? Man From Atlantis (1977-1978), Manimal (1983), and Misfits of Science (1985-1986). I’m not sure three failed shows over the course of eight years means NBC executives were consumed with making the concept work.

Still, even if I can’t totally recommend TV Turkeys, it isn’t a bad read as long as you know what you’re getting. If it were to be written today, it would no doubt be in blog form and there would be plenty to write about. And I’d probably be a fan.


6 Comments

  • rick johnson says:

    I read this book when it came out and I basically agree with your assessment. It surprises me that in later years Hogan’s Heroes has been savaged. It was a popular show with a good cast and fair writing. I suppose it gets trashed because the Nazis were funny goofs, Col. Klink and Sgt Schultz were likable bunglers. It wasn’t that much disliked at the time and was popular (on the air from 1965 to 1971, longer than WWII). I do remember that the Mad Magazine satire was a bit unkind. Originally it was to be set in an American prison. Maybe the producers thought inmates running a US prison with actual criminals would offend people more than POWs.,
    Why did Allman zero in on McLean Stevenson and not Tim Conway. Like Stevenson Tim was great as a second banana but his starring vehicles tanked.
    TV guide did a better job in there July 20th 2002 issue highlighting the worst TV shows of all time.
    In Channel 6 (Chapter 6) covering shows cancelled after one airing Allman left out CO-ED Fever broad cast as a special sneak preview in 1979 and was cancelled before it reached its regular time slot. Or what about the Tammy Grimes Show which only aired four time in 1966.

  • Gail Gauthier says:

    The inclusion of Hogan’s Heroes is odd. While it is preposterous in hindsight and probably wouldn’t hold up well now if rerun, it really was well regarded in its early years, and Bob Crane was considered some kind of break-out star. There was also a very clear connection to the movie Stalag 17, which was also well regarded.

    Yes, I can definitely imagine this kind of personal commentary in a blog..

  • ejp says:

    “Hogan’s Heroes” has gotten a bum rap for far too long from arrogant critics who don’t know or understand the difference between a regular POW camp, which was run by the German Army or Air Force and was *not* a concentration camp. These were the prison camps where there was a scrupulous effort to follow the Geneva Convention because the officers who ran it were generally anti-Nazi from the standpoint of disliking Hitler and his private army of henchmen that the Gestapo and SS embodied. To send up these figures as comical buffoons was quite in keeping with old-style WW2 propaganda.

    • rick johnson says:

      It should be pointed out that Allied POWs under Hitler will more humanely treated than Confederate POWs under Abraham Lincoln.

  • Bob says:

    @Gail
    Hogan’s Heroes is currently running on METV and it’s holding up very well.

  • David says:

    I have never understood why Hogan’s Heroes is lambasted for being in poor taste, yet people adore Mel Brooks’ The Producers. I think they are cut from the same cloth. Brooks always said that his intent was to laugh at Hitler, and thus cut him down to size. Interestingly,many of the actors on Hogan’s Heroes were Jewish. Robert Clary spent time in a concentration camp, and many of his family members died in the camps. Werner Klemperer agreed to do the show only if Klink was always presented as a buffoon and never came out on top. I watched this show as a child, and occasionally watch it on MeTV. I think it holds up well. It is well-written and acted.

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