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
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 – 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 – 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.