Not every TV show can be a hit, but some are just downright awful. All genres fall victim to rotten production, from reality shows to sitcoms, and have aired across decades of television history.
Our ranking takes critic and viewer response into account, as well as ratings, in order to give a complete picture of how much these series truly bombed. According to a list compiled by TV Guide, these shows are considered the 21 worst of all time.
21. Baywatch (1989–2001)
Long before the 2017 film starring Zac Efron and The Rock, there was a long-running TV series. Baywatch had a fairly simple, yet unfeasible premise: A bunch of beautiful Los Angeles lifeguards were somehow able to run in slow-motion constantly and have dramatic relationships, while saving beachgoers from constant peril well beyond the usual drownings.
The David Hasselhoff-led show was actually canceled by NBC after one season due to poor ratings. But Hoff and company were determined, and managed to bring the series back for 10 more successful seasons in syndication. The hour-long drama racked up quite an international audience, who are hopefully able to see the humor in a parody comedy 16 years later.
20. The Phyllis Diller Show (1966–1967)
Originally titled The Pruitts of Southampton, this ABC sitcom aired for one 30-episode season. The premise saw comedian Phyllis Diller as the matriarch of a formerly wealthy family struggling to stay afloat in their Hamptons mansion.
Mid-way through the season, the network changed the title of the series to The Phyllis Diller Show, hoping the star power of her name would increase ratings. Clearly, this did not go as planned, as the series was canceled that same year.
19. The PTL Club (1974–1989)
Occasionally, it’s hard to determine which is a show’s downfall: the terrible programming or the drama behind-the-scenes. Early televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker hosted The PTL Club, which stands for “The Praise the Lord Club.” The series was a two-hour long talk show with strictly Christian guests and subject matter.
But in the 1980s, everything fell apart. Jim was accused of rape, and was later convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy. The pair got divorced, and Tammy later died after a long battle with cancer. Jim is still raking in profits from his business, but is no longer the face of televangelism.
As for the content of the show? That depends on your perspective, but viewers have called it everything from “a load of garbage” to “the funniest show on TV in its day.”
18. The Ugliest Girl in Town (1968–1969)
Awful name aside, this ABC sitcom had its issues from the very start. The fact that it didn’t even air in London, despite being filmed there, may have been one, but more likely, the subject matter had something to do with it.
The series follows a man, Tim, who is mistaken for a woman and lands a modeling gig, which he takes in order to stay in England with an actress he loves. Just 17 episodes of the 20 filmed were ever aired.
17. Casablanca (1955–1956)
The number of successful TV adaptations of films (or vice versa) is a small one. More than a decade after the Oscar-winning classic was released, ABC aired the TV show, Casablanca. Though the characters and themes were based on those in the film, the series was set in the Cold War era, in hopes of capturing the timely reaction of its inspiration.
But the show just didn’t have the right mix of elements for a hit, and only 10 episodes were produced before its cancellation. Shockingly, this wasn’t enough of a warning to stay away from the title, as five episodes of a 1983 NBC series with the same name were shot.
16. The Chevy Chase Show (1993)
This late night talk show was an infamous disaster. With an intriguing concept, The Chevy Chase Show could have been a great variety show, as the star initially wanted. But Chase stumbled through his monologues, and a failure was born.
Here’s an example. In one oft-recalled incident, Chase conducted a boring interview with Goldie Hawn, which he followed up with an awkward dance breakout. Unsurprisingly, the series was canceled after just five weeks on air.
15. Manimal (1983)
Manimal had almost nothing going for it. A terrible title, a time slot opposite beloved drama series, Dallas, and a laughable premise that was taken seriously. The basic idea was that a British professor has the ability to morph into any animal, and used this power to solve crime.
The series is perhaps best remembered for its complicated practical effects surrounding the man-to-animal transformations of the lead character. Manimal lasted for just eight episodes on NBC before it was canceled.
14. Baby Bob (2002–2003)
This CBS sitcom was inspired by the Baby Bob character from commercials for FreeInternet.com. In Baby Bob, the infant was played by actual babies, who were edited to look like they were talking. The show revolves around Bob, whose parents discover their baby can talk like an adult.
However, the series was destroyed by critics and the show’s run ended after Season 2. The Baby Bob character returned to television where he starred in a series of commercials for Quiznos.
13. Twenty One (1956–1958)
This 30-minute game show was originally hosted by Jack Barry. The show had two contestants put on headphones and enter separate isolation booths. One at a time, their booth would be opened and they would be asked a series of questions with a goal of reaching 21 points. The two contestants were not aware of their opponent’s score or performance.
Even if the game itself was fine, the show was shrouded in scandal as Twenty One was completely choreographed with contestants cast like actors. The show was investigated and canceled without advance warning.
12. Hello, Larry (1979–1980)
The sitcom aired for little more than a year between 1979 and 1980 on NBC. The show stars McLean Stevenson as the titular Larry Alder who leaves his job as a radio talk show host in Los Angeles to move to Portland, Ore. with his two daughters.
Even with Stevenson, who was associated with M*A*S*H, in the lead role, the series struggled to make the lead character — or the series itself — likable to a broad audience. The majority of viewers found it poorly written and unfunny.
11. The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (1998)
This American sitcom aired on UPN in 1998. The story follows a black English nobleman named Desmond Pfeiffer (Chi McBride) who was chased out of the country after accruing some serious gambling debts. In the U.S., Desmond becomes President Abraham Lincoln’s valet. The show gives a glimpse into a Civil War-era White House that is full of drunkards.
However, before the series even debuted, it was surrounded in controversy because of its lighthearted take on the topic of American slavery.
10. Hee Haw Honeys (1978–1979)
There are a lot of spinoffs on this list, as spinning off formerly beloved television series is what can sometimes make a bad show even more hated than it would be if it wasn’t ruining material and characters that viewers liked. This spinoff of the country music show Hee Haw features Kathie Lee Gifford and Misty Rowe as sisters running a roadside diner where, like on the original program, many popular country artists stop by to perform a song or two.
The show features the original’s hillbilly cornpone humor and country, bluegrass, and gospel music, embracing southern, rural, and country culture. It’s based on the sketch “Lulu’s Diner” and is named after the scantily clad buxom farm girls called the Hee Haw Honeys (pictured above) from Hee Haw, but never gained the popularity of that show.
Musical guests included Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, and Ronnie Milsap, among others. Hee Haw regulars featured on the show include Rowe, Gailard Sartain, Lulu Roman, and Kenny Price. While the original Hee Haw is considered important despite its corniness due to the caliber of its musical performances, Hee Haw Honeys never obtained that distinction. The show ran for just one season, from 1978 to 1979.
9. The Jackie Gleason Show (1952–1970)
The Jackie Gleason Show existed in various iterations between 1952 and 1970. It was at different times a variety show, a game show, and a talk show, all run by host Jackie Gleason. The longest-lasting version of the show was the variety show, which saw him playing different comedic characters and was influenced by vaudeville. The most famous version was the game show called You’re in the Picture, which was so bad it only lasted one episode and prompted Gleason to issue an apology to his viewers the following week.
On that episode, a panel of celebrities stuck their heads into cardboard cutouts of a famous scene or song lyric, then had to ask Gleason yes or no questions to figure out what it was. The game show was an attempt by Gleason to demonstrate versatility after his success with the variety show and Honeymooners. Needless to say, it failed. Time magazine ripped the show apart and later cited it as an example of why the 1960–1961 TV season was the worst in TV’s history thus far.
8. Cop Rock (1990)
This show made it onto an earlier article of the worst TV shows of the 1990s. The 1990 series was part police procedural and part musical, but with none of the parody or irony necessary to pull off such a weird combination. The series got terrible reviews when it came out and is generally thought to be one of the most bizarre shows of all time.
It attempted a serious tone regarding some heavy subject matter, but then the characters would randomly break out into song at the strangest of moments. Even more embarrassing for ABC was the high production cost of the show, as creator Steven Bochco had been very successful with the cop show Hill Street Blues, so the network was willing to throw a lot of money his way for this one.
“What did I learn from that experience?” Bochco said in a telephone interview with The New York Times after the show was canceled. “Don’t put music in a cop show. Don’t have characters burst into song.” The series was canceled after 11 episodes. During the last episode, the cast broke character and joined the crew in performing the closing song.
7. AfterMASH (1983–1985)
Here’s another spinoff for the list, this time of a show that has time and again been voted one of the best television shows of all time. This one made it onto a previous article of the worst shows of the 1980s.
M*A*S*H is considered one of the most beloved shows of all time, having been voted the 25th greatest TV show of all time by TV Guide, but after 11 seasons, that ended. After all, the show lasted longer than the actual Korean War, and most of the players involved felt it was time to hang it up.
Unfortunately, a few involved felt that a spinoff was necessary, and of course CBS wanted to keep profiting off the massively popular show. AfterMASH was set at a veteran’s hospital after the war was over and featured just three members of the original cast: Harry Morgan (Colonel Potter), Jamie Farr (Klinger), and William Christopher (Father Mulcahy).
Similar themes of the ethics of war were discussed, but this was basically just M*A*S*H running on fumes. Somehow it kept going for two seasons right after the original show ended in 1983. It ended up not only on TV Guide’s list of the worst shows of all time, but also on Time magazine’s list of the 100 worst ideas of the century. Ouch.
6. Celebrity Boxing (2002)
This Fox special only aired two episodes in spring 2002. It is what it sounds like: D-list celebrities who need the attention boxing each other on TV. In the first episode, Danny Bonaduce beat Barry Williams, Todd Bridges beat Vanilla Ice, and Tonya Harding beat Paula Jones. Episode two featured four fights, while in the interim, many celebrities declined to appear on the show.
Darva Conger beat Olga Korbut, Dustin Diamond beat Ron Palillo, Manute Bol beat William Perry, and Joey Buttafuoco beat Joanie “Chyna” Laurer, whom Weird Al Yankovic had been approached to fight but had decided not to because he didn’t think fighting a woman on television would be a good career move. It’s also possible that the former WWF superstar, bodybuilder, and porn star Chyna would have killed Weird Al.
ESPN listed 20 reasons why this show turned out unintentionally hilarious, embarrassing, and cringe-inducing. It stopped production likely as much because it couldn’t find D-listers willing to embarrass themselves on it as because of how bad it was. It’s really saying something when a show is so bad even waning celebrities won’t go on it to get some more attention.
5. Hogan’s Heroes (1965–1971)
The tagline of this World War II POW comedy is, “If you liked World War II, you’ll love Hogan’s Heroes!” Just let that sentence sink in for a moment. This comedy set in a German POW camp during WWII was on air from 1965 to 1971, and it was generally well-received and even won two Emmys.
But it landed deservedly in the fifth spot on TV Guide’s list for grossly trivializing German prisoner of war camps, the Holocaust, and the atrocities of World War II in general for the sake of pretty offensive comedy, given the context. The show starred Bob Crane as an Allied colonel coordinating an international Special Operations group within the camp. The Germans running the POW camp were portrayed as being hilariously inept and incompetent.
The Allies are essentially using the entire camp as a base of operations for the Resistance and are aided greatly by the stupid Germans running it. While the show might’ve been funny enough to get Emmy nominations for best comedy series and acting, it’s hard for that really politically incorrect premise not to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth.
4. The Brady Bunch Hour (1976)
When the members of The Brady Bunch got their own variety show, it ended up being one of the most awful moments in ‘70s pop culture history. The Brady Bunch was so popular that ABC wanted to make money off it any way possible, even though most of the actors had little experience with singing or dancing.
Sid and Marty Krofft, the producers behind the super successful variety show Donny & Marie, weren’t even enough to save this, though their clout was what convinced many of the cast members from The Brady Bunch to sign up. The premise is that when the Brady family is chosen to star in a new show (a show within a show) for ABC, family patriarch Mike Brady (Robert Reed) gives up his career as an architect and moves the family to Southern California to pursue show business.
Each of the variety hour’s nine episodes had song-and-dance numbers, as well as a storyline about the show within a show’s production. Even most of the people involved could see how bad this was, but participated for the cash and to keep audiences interested in the original show.
Star Robert Reed was infamously dissatisfied with all the Brady spinoffs, but for some reason really embraced this hour of awful with gusto. “The Brady Bunch Hour was incredibly bad,” Barry Williams, the actor who played Greg Brady, writes in his memoir Growing Up Brady, “but even more incredible was the fact that Robert Reed (who you’d expect would be foaming at the mouth about this mess) really enjoyed being on it.”
A lot of people, including Reed’s own co-stars, have made fun of his passionate attempts at the song-and-dance thing on this production.
3. X.F.L. (2001)
This wasn’t a TV show, per se, but an attempt to make a new sport out of a combination of football and professional wrestling. World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon attempted to make this alternative to the NFL in 2000. X.F.L. combined the regular football of the NFL with the theatrics of the WWF.
The show was heavily promoted, but ratings were low, and it was canceled after one season. McMahon’s company lost $35 million from the attempt at creating a new sport, and the league disbanded in disgrace, with McMahon admitting it was a failure. It didn’t help that McMahon doesn’t have the best reputation in the sports world, so X.F.L. was widely mocked by sports journalists throughout the entire effort.
NBC’s Bob Costas said to Conan O’Brien, “It has to be at least a decade since I first mused out loud, ‘Why doesn’t somebody combine mediocre high school football with a tawdry strip club?’ Finally, somebody takes my idea and runs with it.” The whole thing was viewed as a big joke.
2. My Mother the Car (1965–1966)
This 1965 fantasy series has one of the most bizarre premises of a TV show of all time. My Mother the Car tells the story of a man whose mother dies and is reincarnated as a 1928 Porter automobile. While now the show is widely cited as one of the worst of all time, it was actually ahead of its time in terms of the quirky sitcoms that came after it like I Dream of Jeannie, My Favorite Martian, or Mister Ed, all of which are comedies with kooky premises.
The show’s co-creator Allan Burns actually went on to have a very successful TV career, helming acclaimed series including The Mary Tyler Moore Show, among others. The main character of the series is an attorney who needs to buy a second car, when he discovers the dilapidated Porter at a used car lot.
It begins speaking only to him in his mother’s voice via the car’s radio; cue the insanity jokes. He purchases the car and has it restored so he can have his dead mother close to him, but an avid car collector is constantly trying to trick him into selling it. There were three cars used in the filming of the show. Two of the cars are in Edmonton, Alberta, and Gatlinburg, Tenn., at the Star Cars Museum.
1. The Jerry Springer Show (1991–present)
And the worst, most hated show of all time is one that just keeps going. The daytime talk show is the epitome of all things tasteless and trashy, with Springer’s guests often breaking out into fights as they debate the paternity of their children or whether to pursue sexual relationships with their relatives.
The studio audience makes for the loud hum of an angry mob rather than a laugh track, and that noise is interspersed with bleeped-out profanities every other second. People with sad and pathetic lives go on the show to scream at each other, air their dirty laundry, and not solve their problems in the slightest. Springer has been referred to as the anti-Oprah, and as long as there are people who want to scream and fight on television, this show will, unfortunately, probably stick around.
Additional reporting by Evie Carrick, Michelle Regalado, and Becca Bleznak.
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