I've been a "talking head" or "pop culture pundit" on many television shows, but I must say that the "25 Biggest TV Blunders" that will air this Sunday, February 28th at 8pm (EST) on the TV Guide Channel was by far, one of the most interesting shows I have ever participated in.
Throughout the history of television, we've seen some pretty amazing things from Diane Carroll being the first African-American actress to star in her own television series, Julia to the reuniting of Luke and Laura on General Hospital. There are too many golden moments on TV to name them all but some of my favorites were JR getting shot on Dallas, Buckwheat getting shot on Saturday Night Live and when Duane Wayne and Whitley Gilbert finally fell in love on A Different World.
Yes, we all love when great things happen on television, but it's the mistakes, the bad decisions, and the blunders that keep us all intrigued.
I mean, where would television be without Janet Jackson's "Nipplegate" scandal? Who knew that one little black breast could destroy a nation?
My personal favorite blunder was when the Jeffersons changed from the light-skinned "Lionel" to the dark-skinned "Lionel" as if no one would notice! (This, however did not make TV Guide's list.)
A horrible blunder that did make the list was The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, an historical sitcom about Abraham Lincoln's slave butler that premiered in 1998 on UPN. I'm still trying to figure out what the pitching session for this show was like: "OK, see, let's take a slave, give him a diary (even though it's against the law for him to read and write), and watch the magic happen!" This show idea was almost as ridiculous as the slaves on Roots having houses fully equipped with a fireplace, dining room set and beds.
Not only did shooting "25 Biggest TV Blunders" give me a chance to re-live some of the craziest things that have ever happened on network television, it afforded me the opportunity to speak with TV Guide Network's head of programming Diane Robina. I've never met anyone like her. She knows everything that there is to know about television! She is a highly respected veteran television executive as well as a television junkie who offers a fresh perspective on change and its effect on the television landscape.
I could not pass up the opportunity to ask Diane about the TV Blunders that made it on the show... and beyond.
What was the inspiration for this show? How did you come up with the list?
Honestly, the recent Conan vs. Jay situation really made us think about the way in which talent is treated today and has been throughout the history of television. I was a huge Tonight Show fan, it is the gold standard in television. Seeing that the first 3 years of Johnny shooting the show in NYC was erased, made us want to take a closer look at things-- and we realized this could be something. The list was fun to do! Things that I would have personally put on the list as a executive, such as HBO passing on Mad Men, did not make the list because we wanted to focus on things the viewer and fans would want to see.
Now-a-days it seems that blunders can be a good thing for all parties involved because everyone loves a good scandal. What have been some long range effects of TV mishaps?
These blunders can have good and bad outcomes. Two great examples of long range effects are The Quiz Show scandal and the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. People should be able to trust networks, and the Quiz Show cheating scandal enhanced rules for game shows, in a positive way. On the other hand, Janet Jackson's Superbowl performance mishap lead to FCC decency rules that had a negative effect on live television because now everything must be shot on a seven-second delay.
We all know that when a TV show is losing some steam, they add a random cute kid to the show to boost ratings. Different Strokes did it with cousin Sam, and Gimme a Break did it with little Joey. What do you think about this?
There have been shows that go this route because as the kids get older, some viewers lose interest. That's why Family Guy is a brilliant show because little Stewie will never grow old, neither will the kids on The Simpsons. But, on The Brady Brunch, adding Cousin Oliver to the show was a blunder that they could not recover from. However, when the Cosby Show added little Olivia it worked incredibly well.
You know that I am a comic, so I have to ask you about TV blunders that involve funny women. Any favorites?
I adore Lucille Ball. I Love Lucy is one of my top 10 favorite shows of all time. It was pure comedy. It's not dated and will stand the test of time. Life With Lucy, her 4th sitcom which premiered in 1986 was a blunder because she was this grandmother doing physical slapstick comedy, and it did not translate well. Two other instances that really stick out was Roseanne's last season, which was challenging and Shelley Long leaving Cheers. It was just too soon.
I am a TV fanatic just like you, but lately I've been a little bored. Shooting this show has gotten me excited about TV again. What would you like to see more off on television?
I would love to see more sitcoms on TV and I believe that scripted television will make a comeback. You have great shows like Family Guy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office and 30 Rock. Hopefully more amazing scripted series will come as well.