30 Most Questionable TV Shows of the 1980s, Ranked  main image
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30 Most Questionable TV Shows of the 1980s, Ranked

30. Casablanca

30. Casablanca

Ok, maybe Casablanca wasn’t the absolute worst TV series of the 1980s, but when you try to create a prequel to something so beloved and revered as an Oscar-winning classic, you automatically set a high bar for yourself. This show wasn’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination. It was gone after 3 episodes.

Interestingly, this was not the first time that a Casablanca TV series had been attempted. There was also a 1955 series. While it didn't do that well either, it did manage to stay on for a full ten-episode season. I think at this point, it's probably best if people just leave this classic movie alone. 

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29. She's the Sheriff

29. She's the Sheriff

This series served as Suzanne Somers’s return to TV after her part on Three’s Company. It was initially plagued by production issues; CBS passed on the pilot until it was retooled. While it lasted two full seasons, She’s the Sheriff was never a bona fide success or found favor with critics.

Like most sitcoms, She's the Sheriff was based on a wildly improbable premise. Somers played Hildy Granger, a widowed mother of two who takes her deceased husband's place as sheriff of their small town. While the show made it to season two, a move to a weekend time slot was the kiss of death for this short-lived comedy. 

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28. Small Wonder

28. Small Wonder

Small Wonder ran for four seasons, so it found somewhat of an audience. However, the series was never a critical darling. Instead, it was described as a cookie-cutter sitcom and a “one-joke” creation about a robot child, basically a modern update of “Pinocchio.”

Despite bad reviews from critics, some audiences absolutely loved Small Wonder. In particular, the show really took off in several international markets, including Saudi Arabia, China, and Brazil. This success has led to the series being dubbed into several different languages. It can't be that bad with this many fans can it? 

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27. Galactica 1980

27. Galactica 1980

After the cancellation of the original Battlestar Galactica at the end of its season-long run, a massive letter writing campaign by fans prompted ABC to reconsider their decision. Their solution was this 1980’s spinoff that was poorly received by viewers and critics. Ten episodes later, it followed the original’s fate.

The show picked up a generation after the original series in the year 1980. In it, the human fleet has finally discovered Earth, but, because the earthlings aren't as advanced, they can offer no help in the fight against the Cylons. While the premise might be great, the execution was far from it. 

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26. Life With Lucy

26. Life With Lucy

After The Cosby Show became a comeback hit for NBC, they tried to replicate the formula again with then 75-year-old icon Lucille Ball. When it aired against The Facts of Life, however, it could never overcome the competition in the ratings. After 8 airings, ABC pulled the plug.

This was the only sitcom starring Lucille Ball that didn't air on CBS, so maybe that was the problem with it. However, a "CBS curse" probably isn't what did this one in. Rather, it was more likely the poor ratings and the fact that everyone, from critics to normal viewers, hated it from the get go. 

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25. One of the Boys

25. One of the Boys

Looking at the cast list, one might wonder why this wasn’t a hit: Mickey Rooney, Meg Ryan, Dana Carvey, and Nathan Lane. This should have been comedy gold, right? Perhaps the premise of a grandfather moving in with his college-aged grandson and grandson’s roommate was just a little too much.

Thankfully, this dreadful series didn't manage to ruin the careers of any of the great actors that participated. Like several of the other TV shows on this series, its awfulness is not just contained to one decade. In 2002, TV Guide declared One of the Boys to be the 24th worst TV show of all time. 

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24. AfterMASH

24. AfterMASH

AfterMASH picks up at the end of the Korean War with everyone from the original M*A*S*H series returning home. While it finished in the top 10 during its first season, it was trounced by competition on NBC (The A-Team) in its second season. Subject to negative critical reviews, it was promptly canceled.

It never seems like Hollywood is ever able to leave a successful property alone, and that's exactly what happened here--since it was M*A*S*H related, they just assumed that people wanted more and would take whatever was given to them. It was so bad that Time magazine declared it one of the worst ideas of the 20th century. 

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23. Private Eye

23. Private Eye

Though it aired in 1987, the TV show was about a cop in 1950s Hollywood. Twelve episodes were produced, however, after only airing seven, the series was canceled due to low ratings.

While most people have forgotten about this dud of a show, America definitely hasn't forgotten about one of its lead actors--Josh Brolin. Since his time on Private Eye, Brolin's career has thankfully improved dramatically. It can be easy for a bad role to kill a career, but thankfully that wasn't the case in this instance. 

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22. Automan

22. Automan

Listen to this synopsis and take a guess if it lasted very long. A police officer and computer programmer create an AI system to fight crime that generates a hologram capable of leaving the computer to fight crime. After a 12 episode first season, ABC shut it down.

You might be able to blame some of Automan's poor performance on the fact that it had to compete against highly rated shows airing at the same time, but something tells me that there's not a time slot in the world that would have saved this disaster. However, the show did end up having a second life when its reruns were aired on the Sci-Fi Channel. 

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21. The Nutt House

21. The Nutt House

With Mel Brooks as an executive producer, you’d think you’d have funny sitcom on your hands. However, The Nutt House relied on very broad satire that was interrupted by surreal shorts and background gags. It’s unfixed airtime (usually late at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time) probably didn’t help things. It only lasted a month.

It's a real shame that this show was a failure, because it featured two hilarious actors known for their comedic chops--Cloris Leachman and Harvey Korman. Leachman was famous for roles like Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, while Korman spent a decade doing sketch comedy on The Carol Burnett Show

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20. B.A.D. Cats

20. B.A.D. Cats

B.A.D. Cats was one of Michelle Pfeiffer’s first starring roles, but the role didn’t last very long. 10 episodes were produced, but only 4 were shown before ABC yanked this series off the air due to low ratings.

The show followed two former race car drivers as they joined B.A.D. C.A.T. (Burglary, Auto Detail, and Commercial Auto Thefts) squad of the LAPD. Like every police drama out there, the two had to find a balance between doing things by the book and going rogue to get the bad guys. 

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19. Beyond Westworld

19. Beyond Westworld

Beyond Westworld picks up where the two feature films, 1973’s Westworld and 1976’s Futureworld, left off. While garnering two Emmy Award nominations (for makeup and art direction), the other production values were lacking. It was canceled after 3 airings.

The TV series fared just a little bit better in the United Kingdom--at least there all five episodes of the show managed to get aired. However, they were sometimes aired out of order, and the response from viewers wasn't much better across the pond. If you really need to get your hands on it, it was inexplicably released on DVD in 2014. 

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18. Breaking Away

18. Breaking Away

Based on Peter Yates’s 1979 coming of age film, Breaking Away the series was a prequel that followed a young Shaun Cassidy and his character's affinity for bicycle racing. While heavily promoted by ABC, the TV succumbed to low ratings after seven aired episodes.

Unlike some of the other shows on this list, Breaking Away did get to experience a small bit of a second life. After its original airing in 1980, ABC decided to air the show in reruns starting in the summer of 1981. It was additionally aired in reruns on A&E from 1984-85. However, it didn't fare any better the second time around. 

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17. Concrete Cowboys

17. Concrete Cowboys

Originally a 1979 film starring Tom Selleck, CBS optioned the story as a TV series starring Jerry Reed and Geoffrey Scott in 1981. After seven episodes, and not even two months on the air, the network canceled the show due to low ratings and poor critical reception.

In the 1981 TV series, Tom Selleck was replaced with Geoffrey Scott for the role of Will Eubanks. While losing the movie's main star probably didn't help the success of the show any, it suffered from way more problems than a lack of Tom Selleck. It seems like nothing went right with this forgotten relic. 

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16. Ace Crawford, Private Eye

16. Ace Crawford, Private Eye

Tim Conway starred in this parody of the detective genre about a bumbling P.I. who somehow always seemed to solve crimes. The slapstick humor wasn’t for everyone, though. After airing 5 episodes, CBS ended production on the series.

Despite the show's mystery based nature, Tim Conway's unique and hilarious brand of slapstick comedy featured heavily in each episode. But unfortunately, one funny man wasn't enough to keep this sinking ship afloat. Thankfully, Tim Conway continued to do just fine in the acting world, even with this stain on his record. 

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15. The Powers of Matthew Star

15. The Powers of Matthew Star

This series followed the struggles of Matthew Star who was just trying to be a teen like any other. The only problem is that he is an alien from outer space and has special powers. Oh, and the government is trying to track him down. Oh, and he has to dodge assassins, too, because he was an alien prince. Obviously, this series didn’t last long.

Obviously, this series didn’t last long, but it did manage to make it a full season--which is not an accomplishment all the shows on this list achieved. However, in addition to being one of the worst shows of the 1980s, this show was also declared one of the worst shows of all time by TV Guide in 2002. 

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14. The Devlin Connection

14. The Devlin Connection

This 1982 series starred Rock Hudson, famed for leading male roles in the 50s and 60s, as a former military intelligence office turned director of a performing arts center. Along with his son, he solves weekly crimes. Even though the stories underwent a stylistic change, only 12 episodes were aired.

While production for the show began in 1981, it later had to be delayed for a year due to Rock Hudson experiencing heart problems. Once filming picked back up, it was decided to make several major changes to the show and give episodes a more upscale feel, as opposed to the gritty early episodes. 

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13. Hardball

13. Hardball

This 1989 “buddy cop” TV series was seen as NBC trying to copy the success of the Lethal Weapon franchise. Though it churned out a good number of episodes (18), the series of a veteran cop paired with a young hotshot didn’t nab a second season.

The show starred John Ashton and Richard Tyson--neither of whom were strangers to the world of action adventure acting. Ashton is most famous for his roles in Beverly Hills Cop, as well as the sequel, while Tyson was popular at the time for movies like Two Moon Junction and Kindergarten Cop

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12. Fathers and Sons

12. Fathers and Sons

If you can’t quite put your finger on this unmemorable NBC sitcom, it’s probably because it only lasted 4 episodes. This story of a father who was also a baseball coach for his sons brought nothing new or interesting to the genre. As a result, production ended after less than a month.

Why NBC thought this show would be a hit is beyond us. It's a big risk to cast a football player in your lead role, and clearly this was one risk that didn't pay off. This is one show that's been completely forgotten over the years, and if we're being honest, that's probably for the best. 

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11. Gung Ho

11. Gung Ho

Gung Ho was a mediocre film in 1986, so, of course, Hollywood decided to try it as a TV series as well. The mediocrity continued. Viewers didn’t respond positively to the culture class concept of a Japanese company taking ownership of an American car plant. Nine episodes later, it was shuttered.

While the show was a total miss, its cast of actors contained a few really big names. These included Scott Bakula (most famous for his time on the TV show Quantum Leap) and Clint Howard, brother of Ron Howard--who just so happened to direct the movie that inspired the series. 

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10. The Last Precinct

10. The Last Precinct

The Last Precinct had two great things going for it. Firstly, TV veteran Adam West (of Batman fame) starred as Capt. Rick Wright. Secondly, the series debuted right after the Super Bowl, the most-watched TV event every year. It wasn’t enough, however. After 8 episodes, NBC cancelled the series.

There was no shortage of cop shows airing in the 1980s, which automatically makes breaking into the market that much harder. However, stiff competition is far from the only thing that held this show down. Even if there wasn't another police show in sight, the TV series would still flounder. 

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9. The Phoenix

9. The Phoenix

Bear with us. The Phoenix was about an ancient alien uncovered in Peru and woken up in 1982. Oh, you’ve already tuned out? So did viewers. Preceded by a TV movie in 1981, only five episodes aired.

The TV show and the movie both had some pretty far out creative influences. These included famed occultist Aleister Crowley's text The Book of the Law, as well as Chariots of the Gods--a nonfiction book from the 1960s that claimed that aliens visited ancient civilizations and were the source of those civilizations' technological advances. 

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8. The Highwayman

8. The Highwayman

Set in the immediate future, The Highwayman was essentially a combination of Mad Max and Knight Rider. After an extended pilot in September 1987, nine episodes followed in the spring of ‘88. Perhaps long stretches of boring driving wasn’t the best plot point for a TV show.

The show was created by the team of Douglas Heyes and Glen A. Larson--with Larson being the famed creator of the original Battlestar Galactica series of the late 1970s, which didn't fare much better than The Highwayman. However, while BSG has developed a cult following over the years, there's still no one with any love for this series. 

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7. Maggie Briggs

7. Maggie Briggs

This comedic workplace sitcom starred Suzanne Pleshette (of The Birds) as a feature reporter who is demoted to human-interest story writing. The series, itself, was demoted after six episodes, lasting just only a month on air.

It's clear that producers were hoping to draw in an audience by plastering the famous lead actors name right in the title, and it must have been a real honor for Pleshette for them to do so. However, there was no amount of star power that could have saved this terrible series. 

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6. Nero Wolfe

6. Nero Wolfe

Based on the detective character stories created by Rex Stout in the 1930s, Nero Wolfe the series tried to update the detective for modern offices. The updates were universally panned as stripping the character of his eccentricities and making him just a bland, bumbling private eye. Only 14 episodes aired.

While this particular TV series did not fare well, the character of Nero Wolfe has been depicted many times through the years, usually with much more success. However, despite how bad the 1981 show was, it still managed to nab two Emmy nominations--one for cinematography and one for sound mixing. 

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5. Blacke's Magic

5. Blacke's Magic

A magician who solves crimes with the help of his con-man father doesn’t sound like the recipe for a hit show, but more popular series have been built on less. Starring Hal Linden of Barney Miller fame, audiences were unmoved by the 13 episode first season.

 

It's a shame that the show was so poorly created, because its lead actor, Hal Linden, was a Hollywood giant in his own right. He's most well known for his lead role in the 1970s comedy show Barney Miller, for which he received a whopping seven Emmy Award nominations and three Golden Globe nominations. 

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4. Misfits of Science

4. Misfits of Science

When any show is placed on the schedule to compete with mega-hit Dallas, it better be good. Misfits of Science just didn’t know what it wanted to be, however. Following superpowered humans, the Misfits included a shrinking man, telekinetic teen, and “electric” man. It was sci-fi..ish. It was comedy...ish. It was a mess.

The idea for the show came from then-president of NBC entertainment Brandon Tartikoff. He envisioned using tabloid headlines to inspire the episodes--"We'll rely on the National Enquirer for story ideas. It's loosely inspired by the dynamics we saw in Ghostbusters... sort of a kick-back, Friday type of show." Unfortunately for him, that didn't work out. 

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3. A.K.A. Pablo

3. A.K.A. Pablo

Seinfeld wasn’t the first series to follow the daily exploits of a comedian. A.K.A. Pablo also did so in 1984. While it might have had some good things to say about a Hispanic American trying to maintain and celebrate some of his heritage while trying to be successful in predominantly white showbusiness, the show was ultimately too crass and stereotypical for viewers. It was cancelled after 6 episodes.

Strangely enough, this terrible show had a high-profile executive producer attached--Norman Lear. He was responsible for major TV hits like All in the FamilyMaude, and Sanford and Son. However, this was a big swing and a miss for such an important Hollywood mogul. Some ideas just can't be salvaged, even by brilliant television producers. 

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2. Hell Town

2. Hell Town

Hell Town premiered in the fall of 1985 and followed along with a Catholic priest who led a parish in a high-crime area of Los Angeles. But he wasn’t a normal priest. He was a “cool” one who was a former criminal himself that could connect with the community. 

He didn’t connect with TV audiences, though, as the series didn’t return for the second half of the ‘85/’86 season. That might have been for the best, though. You know that, considering the sensitive religious subject matter, this show would have fallen prey to an angry letter-writing campaign eventually. 

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1. Manimal

1. Manimal

Having a man with the ability to transform into any animal so he can help solve crimes every week sounds like a winning formula for a TV series right? If you guessed not, you were correct. After only four episodes, Manimal was placed on hiatus and is often listed as one of the worst sci-fi shows ever.

This largely had to do with the fact that viewers felt misled by the premise of the show. He was billed as being able to turn into any animal he chose, yet for some reason,  he almost always transformed into a hawk or a black panther. What's the point of having that power if you're not going to make full use of it? 

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