Television Shows Someone Took a Mighty Risk Producing
30 Great Odd Ball TV Shows
30 Unusual Television Shows
In the history of television there have always been sure fire programs. If Westerns are popular why not create a new Western? If detective shows are popular why not create a new detective show?
If you can con people into accepting ultra cheap television, such as 'reality' rubbish, or someone has already done it for you then why not another television show based on so-called 'reality'?
A lot of money is poured into the creation of a television show and the people who make television shows are under a lot of pressure to get it right and to make sure there already is an audience for the proposed show even before the first episode hits the airwaves.
So why take chances? Why not go with just another example of what is already out there? Why risk the unknown?
Personally, I can't say why some producers decide to take a chance or why in some instances a big risk is taken except to say that I am usually very grateful when they do.
Sometimes things do go wrong. Sometimes a television show that is off center sees the light of day for only a few weeks or months or one season and then is ripped off the air. Such a show was Captain Nice. It lasted only one season. It was a send up of the superhero and I liked it. Too bad not enough people felt the same way.
Sometimes a show that plays by all the rules such as Arcade, an Australian soap set in an arcade, falls foul of viewers because of poor script writing and ho-hum acting.
Here are some thirty shows that did not play by the rules of their day and most of them did well in the ratings of their day.
1. THE UNTOUCHABLES
Desilu had been doing fine making comedies. This was their first venture into drama and it had to be a detective drama show set some thirty years into America's past.
Could a show set in prohibition America or soon thereafter have any effect on the viewers of American television of the 1960s? Apart from Westerns, shows set in earlier periods didn't always do so well.
Could Robert Stack as Eliot Ness the lead untouchable grab viewers? The answer was yes. There was plenty of action and the sets looked great. There was well earned success here.
Also this prohibition era drama brought up questions about certain illegal drugs in what was then present day USA.
Should marijuana remain illegal? What harm was it really doing? Was it illegal simply because the government said that it should be so? In recent years the long term effects have been more thoroughly explored and found to be devastating but, in the 1960s, people watching The Untouchables did wonder about the sanity of keeping items like marijuana illegal.
The prohibition of drinking alcohol ended when the need to break the gangster's hold on the public came to light and also when the need to tax alcohol to get the economy up and running again became very much a necessity.
The first episode of The Untouchables has Eliot Ness willing to obey and even to enforce the law against the consumption and selling of bootleg alcohol simply because it was the law.
2. STAR TREK
People tend to forget how controversial the original Star Trek was or what a struggle it was to at least complete three of the five year mission of exploration in front of the cameras. At a time when Westerns and detective fiction ruled the small screen someone had the nerve to bring out a show set in outer space.
The pilot was shot and rejected. It was supposed to be a wagon train style Western only set among the stars. It was something else. It was said to be too cerebral. It was too much thinking and not enough fisticuffs. It was shelved and that seemed to be the end of that. Then Lost in Space hit the airwaves and it was a big success. A rival studio had to have SOMETHING to go up against this hit. And so a new pilot for Star Trek was commissioned and the five year voyage began.
Star Trek didn't have much of a budget and the sound stages it was on were old and rundown. They were never meant to be involved in a project so far reaching. Even so Star Trek went out there and the fans grew. Controversy, however, seemed to follow the show everywhere and it wasn't always a bad thing.
On the bridge of the starship Enterprise you had Uhura, an African woman played by an African American. Her job had some importance and it was obvious she was well educated and intelligent. This was something new for American television. An intelligent black woman with an important job to do. As a child of course I didn't know this. American grownup viewers at the time, however, would have.
Martin Luther King even told Nichelle Nichols, the beautiful actress who played Uhura, what an important job she was doing for the freedom movement in America at the time. There were episodes about the foolishness of racism and one episode dealing with the threat of overpopulation. It was cutting edge science fiction and for me it was pure fun. It was a pity the five year voyage at least for television had to be cut back to only three filmed seasons.
3. LOST IN SPACE
Fantastic special effects were used here for a television show. It cost a packet to get up and running but there is little doubt that it was worth it The space family Robinson did well being lost the way they were and the sinister and then silly Doctor Smith became the strangest of strange favorites among viewers. In fact, Doctor Smith was not expected to last in the show beyond season one. There was even a plan to kill him off. But viewer reactions to this terrible doctor meant that he was to stay on for the whole duration of the show,
Will Robinson and the Robot also proved to be very popular.
Lost in Space began as a black and white show. When it moved to color some of the budget has to be allocated to the color process. This meant recycling old props to save money. It also meant leaving any sense of reality behind and going for a more surreal look.
4. THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES
Many a television station head sweated over this one. It was corny and silly. It might actually offend people who came from the part of the USA Jed and his kin apparently came from. Was it even worth putting on the air?
The critics at the time gave it the big thumbs down. Its awful, they said. Well it did go to air and it was a huge success. The chances taken with it paid off handsomely. The Beverly Hillbillies movie made in 1993, however, failed to get the comedy right and so was not a great success.
5. GILLIGAN'S ISLAND
Just about everyone of my generation know the words to the introduction song of this very popular show off by heart. Even so there was a time when the show might not have been made at all.
It was just too different and no one really knew what kind of viewer might be interested in it. Well, the castaways remain popular to this day and in the hearts of old viewers they are going to be there a very, very long time and those who don't like it will have to just make the best of things.
6. ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN
Since the radio serials of Superman and also the movie serials had been well received by the public, it was inevitable that there would be a Superman television show. There's nothing controversial in that. In Lois Lane girls got to see a young eager beaver female reporter in action who could keep up with the guys when it came to doing her job well. This was nice but hardly controversial.
The last 4 seasons of Adventures of Superman, however, were shot in color at a time when very few people had color television sets. This shooting was done for the future. The idea was that the show would be seen longer in syndication that way and so eventually bring in more revenue. This sort of forward thinking was controversial.
Doing a live action show based on a costumed comic book character where there would be an assortment of costumed villains romping around every week was definitely new. With Adventures of Superman you had very few costumed villains. Certainly you did not have a costumed villain every episode.
In Batman you had The Joker, the Riddler and Catwoman just to name some. The show made the greatest use out of the color available in both sets and clothes.
Both Bruce Wayne and Batman could be painfully naive especially when it came to women, especially Catwomen, but that was part of the charm of the show. The cops were definitely bunglers and Robin, Batman's sidekick had to be the boy scout of boy scouts.
It was a send up of the costumed hero and this made it controversial. Kids that had been having serious fun with their heroes in the comics and on other television shows might not want to see this campy version of Batman. Well, as it turned out there was a following and the show was a big hit.
8. CAPTAIN NICE
This was also a campy send up of the costumed hero. Captain Nice, however, didn't last long. I thought he was watchable and that some episodes were wonderful television but, in my opinion, it was canceled too soon. A police scientist discovers a pill capable of giving him superpowers to fight crime. What should he call himself? Well, he likes being nice so he decided to call himself Captain Nice.
9. MR. SQUIGGLE
This much loved and highly acclaimed kids show produced in Australia had a very long run. For generations Mr. Squiggle coming down from the moon to draw for the children with his nose thrilled young viewers. It is unusual in that there had never been anything like it on television before or since.
10. DOCTOR WHO
This show started off as just a children's science fiction adventure but quickly morphed into something else. Oh, it still got the children in but it got the adults in as well. This was a risky thing to do but the risk paid off. In recent times Doctor Who has been revised for a more modern audience. Personally I prefer the original grouch and also Tom Baker's version of the Doctor. The idea of the doctor being able to regenerate and so an actor can retire from the role and someone else can take his place is beautiful science fiction but it was very controversial at the time. Needless to say they got away with it and continue to do so.
11. Phoenix Five
This is the show that may well have made Australian producers think twice about making a science fiction show. It was just plain awful. It is one of the shows one hopes never made it overseas. It was about a crew flying around in outer space and fighting the same villain just about every episode.
It was supposed to be an Australian version of Star Trek but it didn't have any heart or any real reason for being. The sets were cheap looking and there wasn't anything in the drama to make up for this. Whoever took the risk on this one I would say got burnt.
12. OCEAN GIRL
This was an Australian science fiction show that was a big hit in Germany. Of all the shows made in Australia with a science fiction slant this has got to be my all time favorite. Producing a science fiction show is always risky but one with an environmentalist view can be even more so.
Beautiful scenes shot in Queensland coupled with a real care for the way we are treating our planet make this a real winner in my book. You may think this is just made for children and nothing more but do check out an episode or two and you might come to the conclusion that it is for everyone.
13. THE GIRL FROM TOMORROW
This is a low budget kick ass science fiction drama kids show made in Australia and set in Australia. It works and there are some wonderful moments in the show. The special effects are cheap but the acting is good with good moments of humor in many of the episodes.
14. THE SAMURAI
This Japanese show introduced ninjas and the samurai to Australian viewers. Star knives and Samurai swords were so new to Australians, and I take it Americans at the time, that no one could have predicted how a non-Japanese audience would take to these concepts.
Putting Shintaro, the Samurai on Western television was a risk but it paid off handsomely. Ose koichi, who played The Samurai, was shocked, surprised and delighted by his visit to Sydney, Australia which occurred when the show was running red hot there and kids like yours truly were collecting bubble gum cards to do with the show (I still have my cards!).
Ose Koichi was shocked and surprised by his notoriety. He was delighted by how the children of Australia were enjoying the show. He was in Sydney to put on a live stage performance of The Samurai. Unfortunately I never got to see it. My parents just didn't have the money at the time.
15. PHANTOM AGENTS
This was a Japanese show about ninjas only set in modern times with modern as well as ancient ninja gimmicks. It was a hit though not as big as The Samurai. The big risk here was that the ninjas were often in modern clothes rather than the traditional ninja gear Australian and, I'm sure, American fans of ninja action were getting used to.
The Astroboy of the 1960s was a class act of Japanese animation. Except for one episode I have in my collection from this period it was shot in black and white. The sound track made in America was brilliant and the action was marvelous. It was a big hit. Who thought a little atomic powered Japanese robot could do so well in the West?
17. THE MUNSTERS
Whoever thought that grabbing a bunch of universal screen monsters, putting them into a family situation and making this sitcom a weekly experience for viewers would actually work? Well it worked alright and spawned similar shows. It also spawned a movie. Munster Go Home, the movie, took the Munsters to not-so-merry England where they had fun with a cast of both famous and infamous British actors.
18. THE ADAMS FAMILY
Take a comic strip idea straight out of The New Yorker and turn it into a spooky, kooky show and then see what happens. What you have is The Adams Family. It was panned by critics when it first appeared but did well in the ratings. It has also spawned at least three successful movies and a hit musical play.
19. DUE SOUTH
A Canadian Mountie comes to the USA to solve a crime and he ends up staying. This is not your usual crime detective style show and it could have fallen flat on its face. Since I thought the show was marvelous I am glad it found an audience and did well.In the show you have a Chicago detective coming to terms with his overly polite Canadian partner. You also have this Chicago detective's sister infatuated with said Canadian. Plenty of laughs as well as action.
A send up of science fiction television but with enough special effects magic and really good, polished script writing to keep the viewer coming back for more. It primarily sends up Star Trek. In Star Trek you have the best of the best. In Red Dwarf you have the also-rans.
Though the show is a comedy, many of the ideas used are pure science fiction which can only add to viewer enjoyment. Science fiction is rarely sent up successfully on television and so a big chance was taken with the production of this show.
21. FIREBALL XL5
Early British puppetry science fiction. A space ship keeping the peace with a crew which include a grizzly old scientist with glasses and a beeping and buzzing robot. This may be the first example of this sort of thing in puppetry and therefore might not have worked.
British puppetry science fiction about a high tech submarine and her crew. The commander of the submarine base that launches Stingray is rather gung-ho and in some episodes there seems to be a policy of shooting first and asking questions later.The song at the end of the show is rather haunting and seems a little out of place for a kid's show but it works.
Who has not heard and remember the words Thunderbirds are Go! and not felt a tinge of excitement? British puppetry science fiction. Thunderbird 4, the submarine, was my favorite.
Stingray may have paved the way for Thunderbirds but chances were still taken. The crew of the Thunderbirds were American in a bid by the British makers to get the American interested in the show. It worked.
24. UGLY BETTY
This show had disaster written all over it. How can you make a television show with a title like that let alone a television show with heart and unusual sensitivity for various groups and groupings in our collective society? Well, they did it and they did it in style and are still doing it that way. Unusual production techniques go hand in hand with great acting and script writing.
25. THE LONE RANGER
A Western where you have a masked man and an Indian companion? Well it worked on radio and it worked for the movie serials that were made so why not for television as well? Unusual for television but no big risks here. It was, however,originally a big risk for radio.
it came in half hour episodes with a sound track that derived from a classical music piece with oomph. The music piece? The William Tell Overture.
26. DEAD LIKE ME
You kill off your lead actor in the pilot episode and then turn her into an apprentice Grim Reaper. Hmmm! bit of a risk there. Great show and totally weird concept. Humorous moments and special effects make this show worth watching.
27. PUSHING DAISIES
You have a guy who can bring the dead back to life but in doing so must condemn someone or something else to death. He brings the girl he loves back from the dead but he can't touch her because if he does she'll die on a more permanent basis. Hmmm! Great show and definitely weird.
28. FOYLE'S WAR
This show is about a British detective plying his trade in war torn Britain during WW2. Very good acting and scripting. Worth checking out. The risk here is the setting. If you don't get it right you are dead in the water.
A lot of effort including research was put into this show to get it right. This includes the use of radar and Spitfires during the war not to mention the arrival of the Americans to help out.
Take creatures from the past and fling them into modern day England just to see what happens. Great SF and fantastic special effects. Later seasons have creatures from the future also invading the present. Good research done here on prehistoric creatures both great and small.
30. WONDER WOMAN
The first female superhero to be given her own television show. She predates Buffy and all the other super powered females on television. Being the first has its risks.The first season was set during the Second World War. Every other season, probably to save money, is set in what was then the present. Since Wonder woman while she is on Paradise Island remains immortal this change of pace was not a problem for viewers. Batgirl may predate Wonder Woman but she wasn't super strong and she didn't have her own television show. She did, however, have a cool motorbike.
Lynda Carter made a great Wonder Woman. If the right woman had not been found the Wonder Woman show of the 1970s might have turned out to be a dud. One of Lynda's more recent performances was as a mother with special powers in a couple of episodes of Smallville.
There are more examples. Buffy no doubt deserves a place since the original movie was a box office disaster and so to create the series after that and get it to fly right must have taken some doing. And yes I am a long standing Buffy fan.
MASH may also have its place here. It began as a less than brilliant movie and evolved into a wonderful television show. The first season of MASH was not very promising but eventually the actors and script writers were allowed to express their feelings about the futility of war. It was a comedy but a comedy with a message.
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30 science fiction shows I really like. There are some here you will like too. Star Trek, Doctor Who, Space Angel, Doom Watch, Ocean Girl, Sliders, Gigantor, Astroboy, Red Dwarf, Outer Limits, etc.
Hell on Wheels, My Favorite Martian, Sugarfoot, Rawhide, Clint Eastwood, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Ghost Rider, Gunsmoke, John Wayne, Maverick, Roger Moore, Zorro, Deadwood, The Lone Ranger, Mexico.
The 20th Century, Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Cold War, H. G. Wells, A Woman of Mars, The Hulk, Ian Fleming, Tarzan, A Clockwork Orange, Agatha Christie, Biggles.