They say we are in a second, or even third Golden Age of Television, when TV has eclipsed movies — Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and before them The Sopranos and The Wire — with the rise of cable TV and the explosion in television channels resulting in unprecedented opportunity for writers and producers to push boundaries and experiment.
Depending on whom you ask, the first Golden Age occurred in TV’s early years, the 1940s through 1960s, with shows like The Life of Riley and The Honeymooners (both staring Jackie Gleason), The (George) Burns and (Gracie) Allen Show, I Love Lucy, Alfred Hitchock Presents, and The Twilight Zone. The second great age of television ran through the early 1970s, when networks aired shows like All in the Family and Mary Tyler Moore.
But for every great TV series there are dozens of forgettable ones that never quite catch on. I’m not talking about reality shows. That’s a separate category. I’m referring to scripted series, and over the years some have been really bad.
Usually, it boils down to their premise. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been in the pitch meeting for The Flying Nun?
OK, so we have this nun at a convent in Puerto Rico, only, see, she can fly, right? We’ll cast that girl from the ‘Gidget’ movies, what’s her face? Sally Field, yeah, yeah. And we’ll get a handsome Latin guy to be her friend. I hear Alejandro Rey is available.
Or how about My Mother the Car, which starred Jerry, the younger brother of Dick van Dyke and was predicated on an automobile that channeled the spirit of the main character’s dearly departed parent. Much later the Geico Neanderthal television commercials led to an absolutely awful show titled Cavemen that somehow managed to bore and offend at the same time.
More recently, however, social media has begun to fuel the plot lines of failed TV shows. And that brings me to the news that ABC has picked up a pilot for a new show called Selfie, which its creator described as:
Comedy inspired by My Fair Lady tells the story of a self-obsessed 20-something woman who is more concerned with ‘likes’ than being liked. After suffering a very public and humiliating breakup, she becomes the subject of a viral video and suddenly has more social media ‘followers’ than she ever imagined — but for all the wrong reasons. She enlists the help of a marketing expert at her company to help repair her tarnished image.
As The Verge pointed out, it’s no surprise that social media trends are inspiring TV shows, and just because ABC ordered a pilot doesn’t mean the show will actually get made. If it becomes a series it could easily fail, since social media trends are so short we may all be on to something different by the time the first episode airs.
Still, Selfie isn’t the first show to spring from social media. That honor belongs to Shit My Dad Says, or, as CBS called it, $#*! My Dad Says, pronounced “Bleep My Dad Says.”
Starring William Shatner, the old guy from the original Star Trek and Priceline commercials, Shit My Dad Says started as a Twitter feed by Justin Halpern, who at 29 moved in back with his parents in San Diego. The feed, which amassed more than a million followers in Twitter’s early years, was a mash up of often profane mutterings his father made, like:
See, you think I give a s**t. Wrong. In fact, while you talk, I’m thinking; How can I give less of shit? That’s why I look interested.
Don’t focus on the one guy who hates you. You don’t go to the park and set your picnic down next to the only pile of dog shit.”
Engagement rings are pointless. Indians gave cows…Oh sorry, congrats on proposing. We good now? Can I finish my indian story?
No. Humans will die out. We’re weak. Dinosaurs survived on rotten flesh. You got diarrhea last week from a Wendy’s.
Funny, right? Unfortunately the humor that suffused the Twitter feed didn’t translate to the sitcom, and the show came across as a poor copy of Everyone Loves Raymond without the wit. Part of it, I guess, was that you can’t say “shit” on network television. Reviews were negative, with Metacritic, which rounds up critics across several publishers, scoring it a dismal 28 out of 100.
$#*! My Dad Says feels hopelessly old school. It relies on a stock sitcom character–the crabby dad–that we’ve seen over and over. It mainly anchors itself to a claustrophobic sitcom-y living room, and it relies too heavily on a tired, rat-a-tat setup/punchline delivery.
$#*! My Dad Says is a dismal show, harboring the worst qualities of every lame, four-camera, laugh-tracked sitcom on television. The jokes are painful, the acting is hammy, the characters are flat, and it simply isn’t funny. Ever.
CBS pronounces $#*! as “bleep,” although the Twitter account that inspired the show uses an actual profanity. Either works as a short critique.
Still, it won a People’s Choice Award for best new comedy that year, so there’s that.
The show was cancelled after one season, a development TV.com critic Tim Surette welcomed:
The cancellation of $#*! is a win for creativity. CBS was eager to cash in on the Twitter feed, but never quite found a groove for the show other than ‘William Shatner plays a cranky man.’ Hopefully the show’s failure will keep others from trying to make shows based on blogs, Twitter feeds, tumblr pages, match.com profiles, email addresses, and Friendster pages.
It’s possible “Selfie” will surprise. After all, “The Good Wife,” about a woman who remakes her life after her politician husband becomes embroiled in a sex scandal, is a top-rated, well-written and acted show with a passionate following.
Somehow, though, I think Selfie will endure about as long as an Instagram photo. Which is to say, not long.