Turn-On: The Quickest Cancelled Show in History
There are hundreds of explanations supplied why a TV show gets canceled, but the real reason almost always stems from one or both of two situations: it was not good or people were not watching.
Of course, I can point to a high number of network TV shows that are not good, but people watch (Your Sheldon expanded universe).
And there are plenty of prestige projects that fail to draw an audience but are emphatically good and last longer than they should from a business perspective (Your Arrested Developments).
But (almost) all shows eventually die. Only three shows have lasted 20 years or more, and only of those is still on the air, inexplicably The Simpsons).
Most shows don’t make it to 5 years, and many shows don’t make it beyond the first season. Some get canceled mid-season and a select few only manage to get one episode on air. One of these unfortunate programs was a show picked up by ESPN called Barstool Van Talk, which was produced by an upstart competitor Barstool Sports. ESPN made the decision to partner with Barstool despite its already odious reputation. More on this over here. Other one-hit wonders include an Australian hypnosis show, a variety show by Ozzy Osbourne and family, and an ABC sitcom starring Heather Graham. More on that here.
So if your TV show doesn’t make it to Episode 2, you are in small company, but not alone.
If your show doesn’t even make it through the first episode, you would join only one other show in history: Turn-On. Unfortunately reader, no visual evidence of this episode lives on (or is accessible only); only a short clip from the second, unaired episode.
If you see similarities in format to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, that’s because both are the creation of George Schlatter. The scattered commentary on Turn-On mentions that the show was presented as if it were created by a computer and obsessed with sex. One such scene has a cast member and guest host Tim Conway mugging under the word SEX flashing over and over again. A year ago, the show was heralded as ahead of its time, and you can imagine Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim very much trying to make Turn-On in 1969.
But the gags seem highly regressive, positioning the men as leering and the women taking the brunt of the joke as sex objects without agency. Indeed, Laugh In likewise does not look favorable upon repeat views. It was considered progressive to openly discuss sex, but the spirit and focus on those conversations were retrograde then and even worse now.
Especially in light of the whirlwind three weeks or so since Harvey Weinstein and various other powerful men have been called to account for their multiple misdeeds, the show seems neither ahead or behind the times, but the ID of all times.
Maybe one day, a dusty copy of Turn-On will find its way to the Internet. I’m not sure we’ll learn anything new about it or ourselves. Until then, it remains an island in a sea of bad programming.