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If It’s Bad TV, It Must Be Good

June 26, 2008

By Ken Hoffman, Houston Chronicle

Jun. 26–There’s a revolutionary idea for television — a station that puts on crummy shows.

Wait, I know what you’re saying.

They all put on crummy shows.

But here’s the difference.

This one is doing it on purpose.

“We’re going to call it a night of Bad TV, and we’re going to run it for three hours, maybe four, on Saturdays starting in October,” said Channel 55 president Matt Reiff.

“Whether it’s three or four hours depends on how successful we are getting the rights to these shows. We’re in the process of buying shows now for the fall. We’re looking for the worst shows, I’m talking sitcoms and movies, in the history of television.”

That’s the tricky thing about bad old shows — they’re hard to find. And once you find them, they’re not so easy to buy.

Seinfeld is a terrific show. There are 200 episodes. You want to buy it for your station, here’s the phone number.

But here’s the problem. Other stations, especially those with slightly bigger budgets than little Channel 55, have locked up all the good shows. Channel 39 has secured Seinfeld probably forever. Relatively recent monster hits such as Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men are out of Channel 55′s reach.

Really awful shows typically don’t stick around long enough to make enough episodes to go into syndication. Take The Mike O’Malley Show from 1999. It lasted one episode. There is debate in TV land if this was the fastest cancellation in history. Some insist it was canceled after five minutes, while the premiere was still running.

Of course, this raises the question, didn’t NBC executives take a look at this show before airing it?

The Mike O’Malley Show isn’t available in syndication.

When a show is canceled after one or two episodes, and there are plenty of them, the tapes often are destroyed after the producers sue each other in court.

TV executives make excellent salaries. One of them thought a sitcom starring a TV chef with no acting experience was a good idea. The chef would go for laughs half the show and make leg of lamb with mint sauce the other half. It was spectacularly lousy.

I’m talking about the comedy. The leg of lamb was delicious.

Emeril lasted 10 episodes in 2001.

Emeril is a not big hit in syndication, either.

“That’s the problem: If a show is available in syndication, that usually means it was good enough to hang around for a while,” Reiff said.

“But there’s still plenty of bad shows out there. We could do Bad TV two nights a week if we wanted, but viewers will only put up with so much bad stuff. We will find the worst of the worst and keep it to Saturday nights.”

Reiff said Bad TV will consist of sitcoms and movies — no hourlong dramas.

“For some reason, the bad drama shows aren’t fun to watch,” he said. “It’s the opposite with bad sitcoms. It’s the strangest thing: Watching awful comedy is pretty funny.”

Calling all viewers Reiff needs your help. If you remember a show that was so bad you couldn’t tear yourself away from the TV … click on www.houstons55.com and leave him a message under “viewer comments.”

He will keep fans of the absurd up-to-date as he buys the rights to awful shows.

I know, that sounds weird. It’s like the Astros sending e-mails to fans about their latest pitching acquisition.

“When people think of bad TV, the shows that come to mind are usually My Mother the Car, where a guy’s mother dies and is reincarnated as a car, and Supertrain, which was Love Boat on tracks. We’re considering everything. I actually think My Mother the Car and Supertrain are available. I have a long list of shows that we can get our hands on, and we’re going over them all.

Pink Lady and Jeff is not available. That’s when NBC thought it was a good idea to pair a young American standup comic named Jeff Altman with two Japanese singers, known collectively as Pink Lady, who didn’t speak English.

The women performed comedy on the show, with their lines written phonetically on cue cards.

It was a disaster. Six weeks and out.

That’s my vote for Worst TV Show of All Time that I wish I could watch again — Pink Lady and Jeff.

“You need to know that many of the truly bad shows from the ’60s and early ’70s are tied up in court over legal rights. With DVDs of old shows coming out, people are fighting over these shows to see who owns them for DVD sales. Everybody wants their paycheck,” Reiff said.

And how do you present a night of lousy TV?

“Each night, we’ll have three lousy hosts introducing the lousy shows, and we’ll let viewers vote off one of the hosts,” Reiff said. “We don’t know if we’re going to vote off the best host or the worst host.

“Oh, and we’re going to give away prizes to viewers throughout the show. Prizes will be trips to exotic places, like Paris.”

He means Paris, Texas.

“And we won’t send them to Paris without spending money. How’s $55 sound?

“Bad TV, bad hosts and bad prizes … this is going to be great.”

ken.hoffman@chron.com

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