Whether you’re a GM on draft day or a wheeler-dealer in a gold-plated record executive’s office, one bad decision or minor oversight could end up haunting you forever. And since hindsight is 20/20 (and a lot more entertaining), we’ve decided to pass retroactive judgment on those sorry schmucks who lacked the ability to see into the future. Here are the 12 worst mistakes management has made over the years.
12. DECCA DROPS THE BALL
New Year’s Day, 1962. An English record label exec named Dick Rowe, who worked for Decca Records, was given a demo tape from a Liverpool-based band seeking a deal. He passed on the “Silver Beatles” and instead opted for a band called The Tremeloes who were sure to be huge. The dejected Liverpudlians promptly dropped the “Silver,” went with the simpler name “The Beatles” and signed with EMI. They went on to be kind of a big deal. The Tremeloes? Well…
11. UNIVERSALLY SHORT-SIGHTED
Consider this the movie equivalent of the Decca Records fumble. In 1973, Universal Pictures was pretty proud of their newest discovery – a film school geek named George Lucas – who had just delivered a surprising hit called “American Graffiti.” Unfortunately, the kid’s follow-up – some hokum about space monks and metal planets – sounded stupid and they passed on it. Lucas would shop the concept to 20th Century Fox, and they would greenlight “Star Wars.” Not only did the Fox Fanfare go on to become as synonymous with "Star Wars" as John Williams’ score, Lucas would further reward Fox’s loyalty by letting them distribute the hugely profitable prequels at a point where he could have taken them anywhere (they were funded by Lucas himself with no studio money).
10. DON’T PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM
At the 1984 NBA draft, the Portland Trailblazers were sitting pretty with the #2 overall pick. Perhaps the big Center-craving Blazers were so blinded by jealousy that the Houston Rockets nabbed Hakeem Olajuwon with the #1 pick that they got flustered and took 7’1” future NBA footnote Sam Bowie rather than the small fry North Carolina guard Michael Jordan. So instead of, you know, winning an ass-load of NBA titles in the 80s and 90s, Portland…um….made it the finals a couple times. Right? Huh?
9. REJECTUS REGRETTIUM
Usually, children’s book authors don’t make a ton of money, which could partially explain how no less than 12 publishing houses in the UK decided to pass on struggling newcomer J.K. Rowling’s book about a pre-teen wizard attending boarding school. Nearing the end of her rope, Rowling submitted the first chapter of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” to London-based Bloomsbury Publishing. Bloomsbury’s chairman reportedly gave the chapter to his 8 year-old daughter, who immediately clamored for the rest of the story. Suitably impressed, he gave it a go. Billions later…
8. CALL US WHEN YOU HAVE A REAL PRODUCT
You can forgive Western Union for being a little cocky in the late 1870s. After all, they were pretty much the only telegraph name in town and were one of America’s most profitable companies. So when a wealthy early-adopter named Gardiner Greene Hubbard approached them with a new invention he was backing called a “telephone,” they balked. In fact, they even reached out and touched the inventor, a barely 30-year-old Alexander Graham Bell, just to tell him they weren’t impressed with his “electrical toy.” Instead of continuing to rule communication, Western Union would see Bell’s company, AT&T, wipe them off the map.
7. HOW YOU SAY, “NO”?
Sometimes you can lose just as much saying “Yes” as you can saying “No.” Case in point: Director, Producer, Writer, Coffee Achiever Guillermo Del Toro. The Mexican perpetual motion machine never met a project he didn’t like, and has yet to learn how to turn something down. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but his career ADD is starting to cost him more than it’s gaining him. He was handed the keys to the Shire by no less than Peter Jackson himself, but his myriad other commitments eventually forced him to drop the sure-to-be-billion-dollar-box-office-smash “The Hobbit” (Jackson himself took over). Although he’s finally getting his long-in-gestation monsters vs. robots actioner “Pacific Rim” off the ground, the mothballs on his “Hulk” TV series kept it from cashing in on Big Green’s scene-stealing in “The Avengers,” and will he even get to his proposed takes on “Frankenstein” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in time for anyone to care? The guy is all ideas, very little follow-through.
6. MURPHY’S LAWTON
Pro sports drafts are a goldmine for bad decisions (there’ll be one more coming) but sometimes the “couldas” reach almost absurd levels. Such was the case with the 1983 NHL entry draft. The woeful Minnesota North Stars had the coveted #1 pick, and used it to take American phenom Brian Lawton. “Who?” you ask. Exactly. Lawton being a bust was one thing, but a look down at the rest of the picks reveals a cornucopia of future Hall of Famers. Who could Minny have taken instead? <deep breath> Steve Yzerman, Pat LaFontaine, Cam “Sea Bass” Neely, and Dominik Hasek (although, to be fair, clearly no one foresaw Hasek becoming one of the all-time greatest goalies – he was taken 199th overall).
5. NO SUGAR-COATING THIS
In 1981, Universal Studios approached Mars, Inc. with a little product placement deal for an upcoming family-friendly science fiction film being helmed by a young Stevie Spielberg. They wanted to use M&Ms in a key scene, but Uni was unwilling to show Mars the complete script so the candy company said no. The studio then knocked on Hershey’s door, and they not only said yes, they suggested the studio use their newest creation – an M&M-alike called Reese’s Pieces. “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” went on to be a cultural touchstone, and sales of Reese’s Pieces (now billed as “E.T.’s favorite candy”) skyrocketed 65 percent almost immediately upon release of the movie.
4. THE ABCs OF PREJUDICE
Before “The Cosby Show” would go on to stranglehold #1 Nielsen Ratings slot for five consecutive years on behalf of NBC, creator Bill Cosby actually offered the sitcom to ABC. Claiming the series lacked edge and fearing that audiences wouldn’t buy an upscale, wealthy black family, ABC passed. This was in 1984. How long did it take for ABC to finally admit they blew the proverbial pooch on that decision? ABC President Lewis Erlicht was publically admitting his failure less than a year later.
3. WHEN IT RAINS…
Sure, Britney is enjoying something of a comeback right now, but wouldn’t she have preferred a resurgence in her music career rather than having to settle for being a glorified Gong Show judge? She had her chance. Producer Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, concerned that his one-time collaborator was shaving her head and attacking paparazzi with umbrellas, decided to offer her a new song he had co-written in the hopes of getting her career on track. Sadly, Britney and her people turned it down – maybe because its title, “Umbrella,” brought up painful recent memories? Whatever the reason, Tricky then turned around and gave the song to a young up-and-comer from Barbados named Rihanna and the rest is pop music history. Rihanna is touring, and Britney is sitting behind a table judging bad karaoke.
2. COUCH SESSION
We promised one more draft day fumble, and this one still chaps the ass of Cleveland Browns fans. Gifted with the #1 pick in the 1999 draft, the Browns doubled-down on a quarterback prospect named Tim Couch who would eventually…have a fairly middling and inconsequential career. It wouldn’t be so bad if, say, that year happened to be fairly bereft of good QB’s, but a few picks later named like Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper were announced at the podium. In fact, the first round was loaded with other future Pro Bowl-ers like Torry Holt and Edgerrin James. Any one of them would have done a lot more to help the Browns than poor hapless Tim.
Next: The Biggest Movie Flops Ever
1. SEE JANE GOOF
While doing a recent radio interview, Jon Hamm revealed that he wasn’t the producers’ first choice to play the mysterious, hard-drinking, preternaturally-suave ad man Don Draper on “Mad Men.” It seems unfathomable now that anyone else could have played the role, and it, of course, launched Hamm into the stratosphere. No, the producers originally wanted one-time Punisher Thomas Jane for the part. After being scooted away with the condescending “Thomas Jane doesn’t do TV,” (clearly ignoring the fact the he did some hilarious guest stints on “Arrested Development” – maybe he needs new agents) they went with the then-unknown Hamm. Instead of becoming a superstar, Jane remains “that guy” in various forgettable movies.