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NBC remembers the good, but we remember the rest

Sunday, May 05, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

As NBC celebrates its heritage and acclaimed series such as "Hill Street Blues" and "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" on "NBC's 75th Anniversary Special" (8 tonight), we should also remember other programs, the ones least likely to show up on the network's self-congratulatory hit parade.


"NBC's 75th Anniversary Special"

When: 8 tonight on NBC.

Hosts: Tom Brokaw, Bill Cosby, Katie Couric, Kelsey Grammer and Jerry Seinfeld

NBC, the network of "the quality shows," has a pretty large roster of both embarrassments ("Manimal," 1983) and flops that deserved better ("Cafe American," 1993-94).

But mostly we're interested in the bad stuff. From "My Two Dads" (1987-90) to "The Adventures of Mark and Brian" (1991-92) to "The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo" (1979-81), there's plenty of garbage in NBC's junkyard.

Not that some of these shows weren't enjoyable. As a kid who grew up on "The Facts of Life" (1979-88) and "Gimme a Break" (1981-87), I can appreciate craptacular television as much as the next couch potato.

Here's a Top 10 list of NBC memories least likely to be included in the network's back patting extravaganza:

1. "The Tortellis" (1987): This "Cheers" spinoff followed Carla's ex-husband (Dan Hedaya) to Las Vegas, where he lived with his spacey wife (Jean Kasem). It was dumb and unfunny, and its creation necessitated the cancellation of an excellent Bess Armstrong-Carol Kane sitcom, "All Is Forgiven" (1986) from the same producers.

2. "B.J. and the Bear" (1979-81): Ah, a man and his monkey (chimp, actually). Greg Evigan played a trucker who logged miles with his unusual pet/sidekick and did double duty as crooner of the show's unavoidably catchy theme song.

3. The 1983 fall season: In 1983, NBC's ratings were in the toilet. That may also be where programmers found several series, including "Jennifer Slept Here" (1983-84), Ann Jillian as a ghost; "Mr. Smith" (1983), about a genius orangutan and "The A-Team" (1983-87), a personal favorite when I was 12 that actually premiered midway through the 1982-83 season.

4. "Supertrain" (1979): The bomb to end all bombs, this expensive failure was NBC's attempt to cash in on the drama anthology popularized by "The Love Boat," moving the setting from the high seas to a luxury train.

5. "My Mother the Car" (1965-66): A man (Jerry Van Dyke) goes to a used car lot and discovers his mom has been reincarnated as an automobile. So outrageous, it may well be included in NBC's anniversary special for the sheer kitsch value.

6. Most attempts at sci-fi: With the exception of "Star Trek" (1966-69), has NBC ever put on a decent science fiction show? Heck, this whole list could be nothing but sci-fi stinkers: "Man From Atlantis" (1977-78), "The Powers of Matthew Starr" (1982-83), "seaQuest DSV" (1993-95), etc.

Even when there's a good idea, like the miniseries that spawned the series "V" (1984-85), the network managed to botch it by cutting corners on budget and retooling the series midway through its one-year run. (The network tried to follow a similar miniseries-to-series path three years later with "Something Is Out There." The results were no better.)

Similarly, "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" (1979-81), a decent show, got overhauled after its first season much to its detriment. Hawk (Thom Christopher) was kind of cool, but the new spaceship was a lame "Star Trek" rip-off and the cranky robot Crichton was annoying. And then they went and changed Twiki's voice during a contract dispute with original voice Mel Blanc.

"Earth 2" (1994-95) had an interesting premise about human explorers on a new planet, but inconsistent scheduling and indecision about the show's direction doomed it to a single season.

"The Bionic Woman" (1976-78) lasted longer and laid the groundwork for modern women heroes on "Alias" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

NBC's lighter efforts fared better, particularly "ALF" (1986-90), whose puppet star recently turned up in TV commercials for collect calling. Confession: I even liked the critically derided "Misfits of Science" (1985-86), about a band of superheroes with bizarre abilities.

7. "Rags to Riches" (1987-88): A millionaire bachelor adopts five girls, including one played by Tisha Campbell, who sing '60s-era songs with new lyrics that fit each episode's story.

8. "CHiPs" (1977-83): Ponch and Jon. Jon and Ponch. Together they inspired a generation of boys to pretend to be them while riding bicycles.

9. "Emeril" (2001): Something in the kitchen stinks. Oh yeah, it's the writing, acting and concept for this short-lived series that went over like a fallen soufflé.

10. Family dramas: NBC had a memorable hit in "Little House on the Prairie" (1974-83), but many of their other attempts in the genre failed.

The network missed an opportunity with "Against the Grain" (1993-94), a genial family drama about a small-town Texas high school football coach. It never stood a chance. NBC programmers idiotically put it on the air Friday at 8, just when most people are out at high school football games. The show's cast included a young Ben Affleck as rising football star Joe Willie Clemons.

"Aaron's Way" (1988) was another enjoyable family show that withered on the vine. This one starred Merlin Olsen as an Amish man who moves his family from Pennsylvania to California to be near the pregnant girlfriend of his dead son. Samantha Mathis played one of Olsen's daughters, and she wore her bonnet very well.

Have your own memories of NBC shows, good or bad? Post them under TV Forum at www.post-gazette.com/tv


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