10. "Father of the Pride" (NBC, August 2004)The brainchild of Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg, this prime-time CGI cartoon sitcom came with a huge ad campaign during the Summer Olympics, Emmy-winning voice talents such as John Goodman and Carl Reiner, and the likenesses and endorsements of magical Germans Siegfried and Roy. What could possibly be missing? Humor.
Although nearly derailed by Roy Horn’s near-fatal ironically-getting-eaten-by-a-tiger incident, the production soldiered on at reportedly $1.6 million per episode to produce a completely unremarkable cartoon about celebrity cartoon lions. The show isn’t really that bad (except for the opening sequence where somebody thought it was a good idea to have John Goodman sing “Viva Las Vegas”), but the amount of money and time spent on a show that didn’t even make it through a full season is frankly sort of absurd when you consider that each episode of FX’s brilliant "Louie" costs a mere $300,000.
9. "The Rosey and Buddy Show" (ABC, May 1992)At the height of her power and at a relatively low ebb of her mental illness, Roseanne Barr commissioned an ABC Saturday-morning cartoon titled "Little Rosey" that was supposedly based loosely on her childhood (thankfully omitting her later claims of sexual and physical abuse). Generally inoffensive and notable only for Barr’s limited involvement (there were rumors that she would be a voice actor in the second season), the cartoon had one season before being cancelled over apparent differences of opinion between Barr and ABC executives. In a sane and logical world, that would be the last time we’d see a tiny cartoon version of Roseanne Barr.
Since we do not live in a sane and logical world, and Roseanne Barr is one of the least sane or logical parts of our world, two years after Little Rosey was cancelled, "The Rosey and Buddy Show" showed up on ABC primetime in a weird flurry of bad jokes, inexplicable cartoon cameos (“Look! It’s Droopy Dog for no reason at all!”) and spite. The plot? Roseanne Barr and “Buddy” (voiced by and obviously representing Tom Arnold) travel to Cartoon Land to wreak terrible vengeance on the TV executives who cancelled their earlier show and who are apparently cartoons. The premise? Roseanne and Tom are such self-evidently horrible people (even in cartoon form) that everyone and everything is desperate to escape them. Not even the Care Bears like them! After one episode of this bizarre, confusing exercise in self-referential humor and self-loathing “adult animation” it was cancelled and hopefully sent to Barr’s psychiatrist.
8. "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos" (Syndication, September 1986)Chuck Norris Fact: Chuck Norris is a crazy old guy who spends his time writing articles about how the President is a Martian communist. Additional fact: he created and starred in his own hilariously inept cartoon/toy commercial. "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos" was made for syndication rather than for a specific network, much like "Thundercats" and "Transformers," and also like those shows, it was created to showcase a line of action figures.
One can argue all day about the ethics behind creating children’s entertainment explicitly to sell toys, but that’s boring, so we’ll just say that "CN:KK" was fundamentally no better or worse than virtually every other '80s cartoon on that front. What made this show stand out was how the character/vehicle/weapon design appears to have just been copied from the actual action figures. Swords and nunchucks and laser guns are enormous compared to the characters’ actual hands (just like on a cheaply produced toys) and are the same sort of weird colors and designs you could stamp out on a conveyor belt for a thousandth of a cent per unit. One character wields what we swear is a tiny golden Christmas tree. At any rate, that and other issues (even cheaper animation than usual, plot and dialogue that sound like they’re from some kind of fever dream) ensured that the cartoons languished in some vault for decades until a bunch of pesky hipsters dug it out and YouTubed it, earning it a part in one of Adult Swim’s April Fool’s Day pranks.
7. "Yo! Yogi!" (NBC, September 1991)"Yo! Yogi!" was the 1991 cartoon that took the familiar version of Yogi Bear who talked like Art Carney and committed picnic-related crimes in Jellystone Park, and "updated" him to a teenage bear who wore every item of clothing possible except for pants and solved crimes in Jellystone Mall, although he still sounded a lot like a TV character from 1955. Because if there were three things kids in the '90s loved, they were outre fashions, shopping malls and references to seminal sitcom classic "The Honeymooners."
Hanna-Barbera executives weren’t entirely sure that making all the characters hip teenagers and dressing them like idiots were novel enough ideas to fully bring Yogi Bear into modern times, so they went the extra mile by incorporating sixties-era 3D technology into the cartoon through a partnership with Rice Krispies. If a child forced its parents to buy the 3D-glasses-equipped box of cereal, and then waited through the episode until Yogi whimsicially spun his hat around in preparation for a zany chase, they could be treated to an entire new dimension of banality. Unfortunately for Hanna-Barbera, the once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching a pantsless bear chase a cartoon wolf through a 3D mall food court was not enough to save the series, and it petered out after a single season.
6. "Darkstalkers" (Syndication/USA, September 1995)Back in the mid-'90s, the USA network decided to take a somewhat late shot at Saturday-morning and weekday-afternoon cartoons with a handful of action cartoons based on obscure comics ("The Savage Dragon," "WildC.A.T.S."), toys ("Exo-Squad," "Mighty Max") and fighting games. Alongside cartoons based on megahit franchises "Street Fighter" and "Mortal Kombat" appeared "Darkstalkers: The Animated Series," allegedly based on the Capcom fighting series known for its lush production values and fluid animation, but more likely based on some blurry pictures of "Darkstalkers" characters that the show’s animators had briefly seen under the influence of an enormous amount of cheap liquor.
"Darkstalkers" really knocks it out of the park in terms of how little the show’s producers cared about any aspect at all of their product. No character is drawn the same way twice (sort of a noticeable problem in animation), clothes and colors change from scene to scene, voice actors have little or no idea what sort of terrible accent they’re supposed to fake and characters are animated in ways that make you think that not only have the artists never seen animation before, they may not have ever seen anything move at all. "Darkstalkers" is so poorly done that you'll start thinking it’s some kind of subtle parody of the genre, or at least that the creators are deliberately messing with your head.
5. "Napoleon Dynamite" (Fox, January 2012)If there’s some sort of checklist for terrible cartoon ideas, we would imagine “based on a movie from eight years ago that everyone is already sick of quoting or referencing or even thinking about” would be one of the first checkboxes on the list. The "Napoleon Dynamite" TV series can also check the box for “mid-season replacement for some other terrible cartoon idea” as it was rushed to Fox’s Sunday animation segment to fill in for the universally reviled "Allen Gregory," the Jonah Hill cartoon that no critic enjoyed and no regular person bothered to watch.
Husband-and-wife creators Jared and Jerusha Hess -- who apparently hadn’t earned enough money selling Vote for Pedro shirts yet -- reunited the original film cast for the TV series, and Fox aggressively promoted the show on regular cable broadcasts and unskippable/unbearable minute-long commercials inserted into on-demand cable downloads of "Family Guy" and "American Dad," often featuring actors such as Efren Ramirez (Pedro) and Tina Majorino (Deb) trying gamely to pretend they were excited about the project and not at all disappointed that their careers peaked in 2004. After finishing its duty to fill the hole that Allen Gregory left in Fox’s schedule, "Napoleon Dynamite" went gracefully into its good night, finally allowing its hilarious and criminally under-promoted stablemate, "Bob’s Burgers" to enjoy the pre-"Simpsons" limelight.
4. "Family Dog" (NBC, September 1987/CBS, June 1993)In 1987, the Steven-Spielberg-helmed anthology series "Amazing Stories" aired their first and only animated episode, “The Family Dog,” featuring the work of the-third-string animation director and artist Brad Bird. The idea of high-quality animation matched to intelligent and “grown-up” jokes was completely new to TV at the time, and Spielberg took an enormous gamble on dedicating an entire half-hour of valuable NBC prime-time real estate to what nearly everyone considered to be meaningless crap for kids. The gamble paid off. The fluid animation, crisp editing and great storytelling of episode became a touchstone of modern American animation along with "The Little Mermaid" and "Oliver and Company." Brad Bird went on to supervise the transition of "The Simpsons" from brief animated shorts on the Tracey Ullman show to its own massively successfully series, and from there to work on "The Iron Giant," "Ratatouille" and many other well-regarded American animated features.
But this isn't about “The Family Dog.” This is about “Family Dog.”
In 1991, the Big Three networks found themselves desperately trying to counter the surprise runaway success of a weird little animated sitcom on also-ran loser network Fox that was based on the absurdist scrawlings of outsider comic artist Matt Groening. Trying to understand the appeal of "The Simpsons," execs at CBS and the others somehow managed to miss the show’s subversive political humor, genuine and touching sense of family, and striking insight into the absurdity of modern life, instead decided that "The Simpsons" was a hit because it was a cartoon. Someone at CBS remembered that through some weird convoluted merger deal, they had the rights for a hugely popular animated mini-feature that could totally be turned into a zany animated sitcom. Unfortunately for CBS, writer/director/chief artist Brad Bird, tangled up with several other animation projects, was unavailable for their primetime project. Producers Spielberg and Tim Burton made a good effort, managing to wrangle veteran comic actor Martin Mull for the lead voice role, but the sitcom-style “Family Dog” didn’t have the same magic of the original.
3. "Capitol Critters" (ABC, February 1992)The 1992 television mid-season produced a bumper crop of poorly-thought-out prime-time cartoons among the established networks trying to find a counter to "The Simpsons," and Steven Bochko’s "Capitol Critters" was the best that ABC could offer.
The overall plot is sort of a version of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” but translated to mice, rats and cockroaches. Max, the idealistic Nebraskan mouse, goes to Washington in search of real change, but finds only rats that speak in terrible generic Bronx accents and roaches that are apparently supposed to represent the black citizens of the city. "Capitol Critters" half-assedly tried to address controversial national issues in their 13-episode run, but nobody bothered to watch the show to learn whatever important lessons it had to impart.
2. "Fish Police" (CBS, February 1992)CBS was really determined to beat upstart Fox and its underground-comics-related cartoon sitcom, but production delays on their trump card, "Family Dog," meant that the first quarter of 1992 would be a battle between ABC’s "Capitol Critters" and Fox's "The Simpsons" unless there was some sort of animated series CBS could toss out into Sunday primetime. Unwilling to forfeit this ultimately meaningless battle, CBS suits latched on to a newly revitalized Hanna-Barbera, which at the time employed a host of future animation stars like Craig McCracken ("Two Stupid Dogs," "The Powerpuff Girls"), Genndy Tartakovsky ("Dexter’s Laboratory," "Samurai Jack") and Seth McFarlane ("Family Guy" and a zillion other cartoons). From that fertile field of creative talent, CBS managed to retrieve "Fish Police," based on an obscure but generally well-received underground comic by artist Steve Moncuse.
Presumably, CBS was hoping "Fish Police" would capture some of the same outsider sensibility that "The Simpsons" had by virtue of its creator, but just to make sure, they stuffed the voice cast with as many recognizable names as they could (John Ritter, Ed Asner and a young Megan Mullally). While "Fish Police" gamely attempted to capture the hard-boiled film noir atmosphere of the original comic book, audiences were generally not prepared to enjoy or care about anthropomorphic fish-people, and "Fish Police" closed its last case after only six episodes.
Next: 10 TV Shows Canceled After 1 Episode
1. "The Jackie Bison Show" (NBC, July 1990)Are you capable of imagining a TV show -- not just a TV show, but an animated TV show -- that was so universally reviled and ignored that it doesn’t even have an article on Wikipedia? A cartoon so banal and stupid that even the obsessive-compulsives in charge of the Internet’s largest repository of useless information refuse to acknowledge it? A pilot program for one of America’s top three largest TV markets that was so embarrassingly awful that absolutely everyone involved refuses to even talk about it? Then you have just imagined NBC’s "The Jackie Bison Show," and god help you.
Absolutely the worst and most embarrassing of the major networks’ attempt to combat the edgy adult humor of "The Simpsons," "The Jackie Bison Show" did literally everything wrong. Where "The Simpsons" had stylized human characters, JBS had the anthropomorphic animals that everyone was already tired of. Where "The Simpsons" had timeless satire and cutting-edge wit, "The Jackie Bison Show" started as a lazy joke about actor/comedian Jackie Gleason and went absolutely nowhere with it. Where "The Simpsons" pioneered a new era of simple but aesthetically satisfying animation, "The Jackie Bison Show" signed off on animation so lazy and inept that it almost hurts to watch. "The Jackie Bison Show" was the absolute last dying breath of a decrepit comedic and artistic tradition, and there’s really no reason to watch it than to celebrate its death.