10 Of The Most Outlandish TV Concepts Ever
Originally Published January 1st, 2004
Television programs with outrageous premises have been around practically as long as television itself. One could argue that I Love Lucy was a bit on the absurd side due to the wacky situations Lucy always managed to get herself into (Vitameatavegamin, for example). And then came the 1960s, a decade that saw the rise and fall of "fantastical" sitcoms like I Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian and Bewitched. But outlandish television isn't confined to a single genre or decade. And even science-fiction and fantasy programs have on occasion crossed the line that allowed viewers to willingly suspend their disbelief. This article covers ten outlandish television concepts, ranging from the infamous My Mother, The Car to sitcoms like I Married Dora and Occasional Wife, the basic plots of which were just outlandish enough to confound viewers.
Television shows go off the air for a number of reasons. A competitive time slot, for example, means viewers are more likely to be watching other networks. Poor writing, bad acting or abysmal directing can all turn off viewers. But in general, the success of any television show rests on its concept, on what it's about. If the premise isn't appealing, even the best time slot and wonderful acting can still sink a show. With that said, however, some of the most outlandish concepts have led to successful shows.
One of the most famous shows with a downright outrageous concept is Gilligan's Island. For decades, fans have mulled over the fact that despite only packing for a three-hour tour, Gilligan and his pals all had plenty of clothing (especially Ginger). Not to mention the Professor being able to cook up all manner of contraptions using just a coconut and a piece of bamboo (but the S.S. Minnow couldn't be repaired). And don't even get us started on all the characters who stumbled upon the island and then managed to get off, leaving everybody's favorite castaways stuck alone, at least until next week's episode.
In spite of these unusual aspects of the show -- or, more likely, because of them -- Gilligan's Island ran for three seasons before moving on to a long afterlife in syndication. Other equally outlandish shows have had successful runs on television, somehow striking the fancy of millions of viewers despite their crazy concepts. But not all of them.
How is it, for example, that a show about a talking horse can run for five and a half seasons (the first in syndication, the rest on CBS) but a show about a talking orangutan only lasts thirteen episodes? What is it that made The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman successful when Holmes and Yoyo failed? Both Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie had lengthy runs, while The Girl with Something Extra only ran a season. Is there any explanation for the popularity of Doogie Howser, M.D.?
The preceding titles are offered as examples of popular, long-running shows contrasted with short-lived ones, all with unusual and/or outlandish concepts. Television audiences can be fickle -- both Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie were off the air by the time The Girl With Something Extra debuted, their time in the limelight passed -- and even the best network executives are sometimes left scratching their heads when a particular show attracts a large audience while another fails to win over viewers.
The following ten shows are among the most outlandish to ever air on television. They are presented randomly for your consideration.
Critics likened it a to Gilligan's Island, only with gigantic mutated bugs and even more outrageous storylines. Woops! was set in the aftermath of accidental global nuclear war, started when two boys playing with a toy at a parade set off a nuclear missile.
When the radiation cloud settled, only six people remained, including a hobo, a doctor, a school teacher and a feminist. They all survived for different reasons; the hobo was under a bridge, the teacher was sitting in his Volvo (plenty of jokes about that one).
Although originally developed by Touchstone Television for NBC, that network passed after seeing the pilot and the show moved to Fox, which ordered thirteen episodes . The series premiere ranked 94th for the week and later episodes barely improved . The network cancelled the series in late November .
I Married Dora starred Elizabeth Pena as Dora Calderon, a Salvadoran housekeeper (and illegal immigrant) facing deportation. In order to keep Dora with the family, widowed architect Peter Farrell (Daniel Hugh Kelly) marries the housekeeper. The sham wedding led ABC executives to worry about the legal ramifications of such an act and prompted a disclaimer [4, 5].
Although a "sneak preview" of the series, which aired on a Tuesday at 9:30PM, ranked 13th for the week, a second episode in its regular Friday night timeslot fell to 60th . The series was cancelled after only thirteen episodes in December of 1987, although repeats returned in the summer .
The memorable conclusion to the final episode involved the cast acknowledging the show's cancellation followed by one final curtain call for the cast.
View The Final Scene From I Married Dora
Being partnered with Detective Holmes (Richard B. Shull) was a dangerous job, one that turned to be just a bit too dangerous for humans. So Holmes was given a robot partner named Gregory "Yo-Yo" Yoyonovich (John Schuck).He looked exactly like a man yet weighed over 400 pounds, could eat and digest anything in his own internal trash compactor, take and develop photographs, and do any number of robot-y things. New York Times critic John J. O'Connor called Holmes and Yo-Yo "still another variation on the tedious and silly bionic theme," as well as "dumb" and "probably harmless" . Despite hopes that the two stars would become the next great comedy duo, Holmes and Yo-Yo lasted a mere 3 months before getting canned . The series ran regularly from September to December 1976, with an additional two episodes burned off in August 1977.
Unable to get ahead at Brahms Baby Food because his boss won't promote unmarried men, Peter Christopher (played by Michael Callan) strikes a deal with a pretty young woman named Greta Patterson (played by Patricia Harty) who wants to be an artist but is currently employed as a hat check girl. She'll pretend to be his wife and he'll set her up in an apartment two floors above his and pay for her art lessons.
Bryan O'Byrne appeared as the aptly named Man-in-the-Middle, who lived between Peter and Greta and watched the two as they continually ran up and down the fire escape outside the building. Episodes typically dealt with the two having to keep the facade of their fake marriage intact under the scrutiny of family, friends and co-workers (and bosses).
View NBC's 1964 Fall Preview For Occasional Wife
Critics were low on the series itself but high on star Patricia Harty, with New York Times critic Jack Gould arguing that it was her "totally becoming naturalness and winning appeal" that allowed viewers to enjoy the premiere episode . Washington Post critic Lawrence Laurent called the series "a sure cure for insomnia" . Ouch.
The series enjoyed initial ratings success, with the first episode tied with The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for 18th in the Nielsen ratings . The arrival of The Invaders on ABC and increasing competition from The Red Skelton Show on CBS doomed Occasional Wife. Overall, the series ranked 64th for the 1966-1967 season .
Critic Kay Gardella of The New York Daily News called My Mother, The Car "a professionally mounted and produced bomb," setting the tone for the vast majority of critical response to this most unusual of sitcoms . Jack Gould of The New York Times was slightly less vicious, writing that "the unseen mother's intrusion on normality is a very strained device" .
The premise behind My Mother, The Car was a strange one, even when measured against other "fantasy" shows of the 1960s: Dave Crabtree (Jerry Van Dyke) is a happily married man who buys an old junker of a car and is startled to discover that the car talks. He is even more amazed when the car claims to be the reincarnation of his mother (voiced by actress Ann Sothern).
Hilarity supposedly ensued as Dave and his mother, the car, got into weekly adventures, all the while being beseeched by car enthusiast Captain Manzini (Avery Schreiber), who wanted to purchase the car, a 1928 Porter. Maggie Pierce co-starred as Dave's wife Barbara, and Randy Wipple and Cindy Eilbacher were the Crabtree children, Randy and Cindy.
In its premiere outing (Tuesday, September 14th, 1965), My Mother, The Car easily beat its 7:30-8PM competition, Combat on ABC and Rawhide on CBS, with a 20.6/44.1 26-city Trendex rating and a 17.3/35 national Arbitron rating . In national Nielsen numbers averaging the first two weeks of the 1965-1966 season, however, My Mother, The Car failed to crack the Top 40 .
Based on national Nielsens combining October through December 1965, My Mother, The Car ranked a dismal 66th . In announcing the show's cancellation in May of 1966, Chicago Tribune critic Clay Gowran called My Mother, The Car "a horror that defies description . In the decades since it went off the air, My Mother, The Car has become for many the measuring stick against which all other horrible television programs are compared.
Amazingly, Cop Rock was not the only musical series to bow as part of the 1990-1991 season. NBC's Hull High, set in a high school and integrating music into every episode, was given a special premiere in August of 1990, ran for three episodes, was pulled off the air in mid-October, and then returned for an additional two episodes in December.
But it was Cop Rock that had the critics buzzing as the new fall season approached. Steven Bochco, the man responsible for the critically-acclaimed Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law (plus Doogie Howser, M.D.), was behind this merger of drama and melody for ABC. The network hoped it had a creative hit on its hands: each episode featured five original songs, sung by the cast, melded into an otherwise typical storyline. Randy Newman wrote the songs for the pilot plus the show's theme song .
Within the course of the premiere episode, viewers witnessed a jury breaking into a gospel song about finding a man guilty, a young mother giving away her baby for $200 (and singing about it), and a police officer gunning down a cop-killer in cold blood. For ABC, Cop Rock was an expensive gamble. Eeach hour-long episode cost quite a bit more than the $1 million price tag for most dramas, with the actual cost somewhere between $1.2 and $1.8 million per installment , .
With all the hype, ABC must have expected more than 14.3 million viewers to watch the premiere episode on Wednesday, September 26th. Cop Rock barely drew more viewers than a Mike Wallace special on CBS and was easily beaten by Hunter on NBC. It also lost more than four million viewers from its lead-in, Married People , and tied for 56th for the week . The following week it sank to 79th (tied again) .
Despite early assurances that the network intended to stick with the series, ABC announced in mid-November that Cop Rock was getting the axe , . Only eleven episodes of the original thirteen episode order were produced and aired, with the final episode broadcast on December 25th, 1990.
View A Scene From Cop Rock
In the above scene, notice that the guilty man's own lawyer has joined the rest of the courtroom in song. Also, after the song has ended, the members of the jury revert back to their street clothes -- no explanation given. Nominated for five Emmy Awards, Cop Rock brought home two, including one for lyricist Randy Newman.
In this so-called sitcom, Larry Burton (Bronson Pinchot) is enjoying his honeymoon in Africa when suddenly he is set upon by baboons and dragged off. His pregnant wife Sally (Shanna Reed), presuming her husband to be dead, remarries. Some ten years later Larry returns and moves in with his ex-wife and her family.
Perry King played Boyd Flatt, Sally's husband. Courtney Cox appeared as Gabriella, Sally's now-grown sister and Larry's sister-in-law. She became the object of his affection as he attempted to write his memoirs.
Critic Charlie Masson, writing for The Times-Picayune, lamented the fact that star Bronson Pinchot was trying to be "the new Robin Williams" in a series "that's more outlandish than Mork from Ork" . Frazier Moore, in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was less kind: "'The Trouble with Larry' is a sitcom so feeble yet brazen in its humormongering that it nearly takes the viewer's breath away" .
The series premiered on August 25th, 1993, ranking 63rd for the week . Two additional episodes would be broadcast before CBS pulled the plug, giving The Trouble With Larry the distinction of being cancelled before the official season began .
Critics agreed that the premise of The Second Hundred Years -- a man frozen in 1900 and thawed out some seventy years later -- was a bit of a tough pill to swallow. Peggy Constantine of The Chicago Sun-Times called it "frothy nonsense" and Dean Gysel of The Chicago Daily News wrote that the series had "old sight gags, silly dialogue, and tried and tired situations" .
Those situations arose because Luke Carpenter, at the turn of the century, left his family to prospect for gold in Alaska and was frozen solid. In 1967 he was found, thawed out, and reunited with his son and his grandson Ken, who was now 33. Monte Markham played both Luke and Ken, with Arthur O'Connell as his son.
The premiere episode drew a strong 47.2 Trendex share on Wednesday, September 6th, opposite a repeat of The Virginian on NBC and a new installment of The Beverly Hillbillies on CBS . The following week, however, all three shows were within five-tenths of a ratings point of one another . National Nielsens gave the first episode a rank of 34; by the first week of October, the series was among the bottom 25 programs , .
View A Scene From The Second Hundred Years
The series ran for a full season on ABC between 1967 and 1968, first on Wednesdays and later on Thursdays. Starting March 21st, 1968 the series replaced Batman on Thursday evenings; the network cancelled the series only days earlier , .
Along with Blondie on CBS, The Ugliest Girl in Town went up against Daniel Boone on NBC beginning in September of 1969 and both were off the air in January of 1969 (The Ugliest Girl in Town was cancelled by ABC in November of 1968). Although not the first television series to deal with cross-dressing, The Ugliest Girl In Town is probably the one with the most camp.
Milton Berle and later Flip Wilson both slipped into pumps and high heels on their respective variety shows and Jamie Farr spent the Korean War in a variety of dresses on M*A*S*H. But in September of 1968, it was Peter Kastner who graced the small screen decked out in a wig and dresses, pretending to be a female model named Timmie in order to be close to his British girlfriend, played by Patricia Brake.
When you combine the hip Sixties, the austere British, and a cross-dressing male model it's only fitting (and natural) that you'll end up with The Ugliest Girl In Town. Critic Richard F. Shepard, writing in The New York Times, wondered why an entire series was being made out of a concept that could barely fill a single half-hour episode. He also stated that the series "relied on lingering looks, false ebullience, charmless humor and canned laughter that sounded as though it was elicited at pistol-point to tell its story" .
Mr. Smith starred an orangutan named C.J. as the title character, a run-of-the-mill orangutan who gains the power of speech and an IQ of 256 thanks to a lab accident.
Now smarter than most humans, the orangutan was given the name Mr. Smith and a job with the United States government as a consultant. Leonard Frey appeared as Raymond Holyoke, who worked as Mr. Smith's attaché/secretary.
Although he advised top-level politicians on the most classified of subjects, Mr. Smith's real identity was obviously kept secret from the general public and most of the government. Produced by Ed Weinberger and Stan Daniels, who worked on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi, the series was ridiculed by critics.
Despite quite a bit of media attention and much publicity on the part of NBC, this imaginative sitcom failed to attract viewers. The premiere episode ranked 47th out of 56 shows and ratings only got lower as the season progressed . NBC cancelled Mr. Smith as part of a schedule overhaul in mid-December .Works Cited:
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