Some TV shows inspire repeat viewings with their greatness. Other shows make viewers wonder how they ever got green-lit. Still others are completely unwatchable.
Studios have many reasons to green-light a TV series. According to professional screenwriter Jeffrey Hirschberg, author of The Business of Entertainment, some of these can include the presence of a built-in audience—perhaps due to a popular cast member or a storyline that's a spin-off from an existing franchise, the track record of the directors or producers in churning out hits, and the potential to market the show or film to international audiences.
Whatever the reasons, no shortage of unwatchable TV shows have hit screens over the years–some so bad they never should have been made.
1. Almost Family (2019–2020)
Despite notable names among the cast, including Timothy Hutton, the premise of Almost Family was simply too bad to succeed. The short-lived series follows the problems of a fertility doctor after it's discovered he impregnated dozens of women with his own “materials.” Yuck! The show understandably disturbed viewers, and it was canceled after 13 episodes.
What could have made this work? They had a great star, and the premise of a doctor discovering that he has a large number of children is interesting. The premise might have had more appeal if they had removed Timothy Hutton as the impregnator. Perhaps he could have discovered his now deceased Father had done the impregnating, and Hutton discovered he had a number of siblings he never knew he had. Slightly less gross!
2. Cop Rock (1990)
Cop Rock blended a police procedural and musical into a bizarre series. The show lasted just 11 episodes before it was canceled. In storylines with themed titles like “A Three-Corpse Meal” and “Cop-a-Felliac,” LAPD detectives solved crimes while breaking out into song and dance.
While musicals don't usually make good TV, on occasion, some shows like Glee and High School Musical score big. That said, it's a hard genre to get right and needs the right mix of story, good actors, and music to work. This 1990 drama series went too over-the-top to be successful.
3. Joey (2004-2006)
Who could blame NBC for trying a Friends spin-off featuring Joey? This show just didn't work without the beloved ensemble. Without the iconic cast, the poor writing glares from what the show got right. They also turned Joey from a laid-back, suave idiot into a loser.
Could Joey have succeeded? Maybe. If they'd tried to keep his character the same as he was in Friends, the show may have stood a chance. They also needed another great ensemble but everyone still mourned for the original show.
4. Saved by the Bell: The New Class (1993-2000)
Another terrible spin-off attempt, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, ran for seven seasons. It used the same concept as the original but with a new crop of students.
The saying “They're flogging a dead horse” comes to mind here. This show got a 3.9 IMDb rating but still managed a good run. Still, nothing they could have done to save this one.
5. Supertrain (1979)
With a dismal rating of 4.4 on IMDb, this nine-episode failure aimed to portray the tales of passengers aboard a nuclear-powered high-speed train journeying through the United States. In essence, it used the same premise as The Love Boat, which met with huge success when it aired in 1977.
Supertrain relied too heavily on the sci-fi aspects of the show and not enough on the writing and plot. With a little more effort, it could have rivaled The Love Boat, especially with the amount of money NBC poured into it.
6. My Mother the Car (1965-1966)
Even the name of this one gives viewers a reason to cringe. Someone in the 60s thought this was a great idea. IMDb describes it as “The story of the relationship between a man and his mother, the latter having been reincarnated as a 1928 Porter automobile.”
Jerry Van Dyke, who played Dave Crabtree, had a successful career, mostly as a supporting actor, in comparison to his famous older brother, who rose to fame in Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This show came at a moment in history when comic supernatural stories such as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie were hits. If they had dealt with the mother's reincarnation in a different form, it might have just worked. Today, however, it remains infamous among unwatchable TV shows.
7. Baywatch Nights (1995-1997)
While this spin-off of the drama Baywatch only got a 3.8 on IMDb, it ran for two seasons in the late 90s. In a bizarre twist, the series became a supernatural sci-fi and bore no resemblance to the show it was born from.
Perhaps if Baywatch Nights had stuck to the original formula with action, good-looking actors, and drama, people wouldn't be so turned off by it. However, it seems David Hasselhoff gets what David Hasselhoff wants.
8. Mrs. Brown's Boys (2011)
This comedy show has fans in both Britain and Australia, but American audiences don't enjoy the humor. It stars Brendan O'Carroll as the often crass and outspoken Mrs. Brown.
Sometimes, British humor just gets lost over the pond. Apart from turning this into an American-style sitcom—which would have changed the show entirely—it doesn't really translate to a US audience.
9. The Secret Life of the American Teenager (2008-2013)
Imagine being 15 and getting pregnant and having to go to school with the baby's father. It sounds like a grittier version of Grease. Despite getting poor reviews on IMDb, it ran from 2008 – 2013.
The initial premise might have worked, but this premise couldn't work in the long term. Once the characters leave school, they have no reason to spend time with one another. It may have benefited from being a short-run series with a strong story arch.
10. Melody Rules (1994-1995)
Melody Rules is an early 90s sitcom that is considered New Zealand's worst sitcom of all time. The story revolves around Melody, a serious career woman, and her dysfunctional family. Today, it has a reputation as one of a handful of the most unwatchable TV shows.
Given that New Zealand has given us award-winning classics such as The Lord of the Rings franchise, it seems they definitely have more to offer than shows like Melody Rules. It could have benefited from better acting, a bigger budget, and better writing.
11. What/if (2019)
This mini-series wonder from 2019, starring Jane Levy and Renée Zellweger, wanted to be an enticing thriller. Instead, it's a confusing mess that, to some, has a little bit of charm. Not even an Oscar winner could save this one.
The storyline resembles Sliding Doors and deals with the outcomes of different decisions. Perhaps it could have learned something from the success of that movie to save itself.
12. Sunset Beach (1997-1999)
Sunset Beach, a daytime soap about a woman who catches her fiancé cheating and decides to start over in a California suburb, racked up 755 episodes during its run in the late '90s.
The show attempted to attract a similar following to long-running soaps like Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless. However, it just didn't survive despite some viewers calling it one of those unwatchable TV shows–so bad, it's like watching a train wreck.
13. Hull High (1990)
People have a love-or-hate relationship with musical TV. Despite this being widely considered one of the worst television shows ever released, the musical comedy focused on relationships among teachers and students at Cordell Hull High.
This TV show worked very well for some, while others felt it could go far away—which it did after just nine episodes. Determining which musical shows make it and which don't can be confusing. Why? It's a mystery.
14. Hello, Larry (1979-1980)
The plot of this comedy, about the antics of a radio psychologist and his family, may sound familiar as the storyline in Frasier. While it had a connection to the top-rated 70s/80s sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, the show Hello, Larry did not rise to the popularity of Kelsey Grammer's show.
Frasier made history as a spin-off that overtook its original show in popularity. Hello Larry might have lasted longer if it had a similar ensemble cast to that award-winning show.
15. Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-2016)
Time travel — check! Comedy — check! A time travel comedy about a guy who uses it to cheat on his wife? Maybe not. This British show follows a man with two families attempting to keep them from finding out about one another.
The storyline of Goodnight Sweetheart definitely wouldn't work today…not that it worked back then, either. Perhaps that's why it ended its run in 2016. If the man is unhappy in his 90s marriage, why not just divorce?
16. The Starlost (1973-1974)
Sometimes, when a series starts, the plot makes viewers wonder how far the story can go. In this case, The Starlost lasted one season in the early 70s. The premise follows protagonists exploring a “vast starship to find the controls to save it from destruction.”
A show like this one could have worked great as a mini-series or even a film. Expecting an audience to want to keep watching several seasons might be too much—unless it had gained the popularity of Lost.
17. L.A's Finest (2019-2020)
Starring Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union, L.A.'s Finest got two seasons in before it was canceled. This series spun off from the Bad Boys franchise, where Union's character Sydney Burnett was introduced as Detective Marcus Burnett's younger sister. As we've seen, some spinoffs work, and others completely miss the reason the original show (or movie) was popular in the first place.
It seems the producers expected to piggyback off the original movie's success with its goofy characters but fun-loving characters. At some point, though, the writers need to show that these two are good at their jobs despite the tomfoolery.