TV’s Most Notoriously Short-Lived Shows

While perusing today’s new DVD releases, your film editor was nearly prompted to a coffee spit take by one particular title: Warner Archive’s release of, and I quote, “Emily’s Reasons Why Not: The Complete Series.” You see, I remember Emily’s, ABC’s well-publicized 2006 Heather Graham sitcom that aired exactly one time before being unceremoniously yanked from the air. “Ha ha,” I thought to myself. “31 bucks is a lot of money to ask for a thirty-minute disc,” and I laughed and laughed. That’s not the whole story, of course; there are actually seven episodes of “the complete series” (though that’s still a pretty hefty price tag); six more where already in the bank when ABC pulled the show due to poor reviews and low ratings. (Funny thing: its 6.2 million viewers would be a pretty comfortable debut in today’s slipping TV environment.) But it was far from the first show to get tossed in the dumpster before it could find an audience. After the jump, we’ve compiled just a few TV series that were put out to pasture notoriously early in their runs.

You’re in the Picture (1961)

In the early years of television, networks were less likely to pull the plug on a show early on; ratings were rudimentary, and took some time to turn around, and the investment in a new series was substantial enough to give it time to sink or swim. But a notable exception to this rule was You’re in the Picture, in which one of the young medium’s biggest stars, the great Jackie Gleason, attempted to follow his success in variety and sitcom formats by trying his hand at a comedy game show. Gleason was the host; in each round, his four-person celebrity panel would stick their heads into a large tableaux illustration that they could not see, and would have to ask Gleason questions to figure out what they were enacting. If it sounds less than thrilling, don’t worry: it was worse. Remarkably, Gleason realized it — indeed, you can see him realizing it as the show sputters and fumbles through its only episode. A second show was shot, but it didn’t air. Instead, the following week at the same time, viewers tuned in to discover Gleason seated in a large chair on an otherwise bare stage, a cigarette in one hand, a drink in another, and they witnessed something extraordinary: a thirty-minute mea culpa for the previous week’s disaster. “Last week,” he told the audience, “we did a show that laid, without a doubt, the biggest bomb… this would make the H-bomb look like a two-inch salute.” Gleason proceeded to do a show-length monologue, explaining how the program came to be, and how he’d dealt with other failures in his career. The follow-up program was everything the first wasn’t: it was funny, it was off-the-cuff, and it was entertaining. CBS renamed the slot The Jackie Gleason Show, and he finished out his spring series commitment by turning it into a talk/interview program.