8 fascinating, failed TV shows that flopped in 1980

By: H&I Staff    Posted: September 4, 2019, 1:47PM

Television in 1980 delivered some classic shows like H&I's own Hill Street Blues. But many, many more shows did not make it to rerun immortality. In facts, several failed to make it to a second season. Such is the dog-eat-dog world of TV production.

Below, we've gathered eight series that bombed in 1980 for various reasons. Despite their Nielsen ratings failures, they all have something of interest to TV historians and pop-culture junkies such as ourselves. Let's take a dive.

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1

Breaking Away

"Hollywood is out of ideas." People have probably been spouting that complaint since, oh, The Great Train Robbery (1903) was remade in 1904. In the 1980-81 season, the trend of movie adaptations swept through television, for whatever reason. Walking Tall, Foul Play and Private Benjamin are a few examples in addition to the two on this list. Heck, there was even a TV show based on a movie based on a hit song, Harper Valley PTA. Breaking Away somewhat fused the worlds of cinema and pop music, as it cast teen idol Shaun "Da Doo Ron Ron" Cassidy as the lead in this cycling-addicts-coming-of-age-in-Indiana tale, based on the popular 1979 film.

Image: The Everett Collection

2

Freebie and the Bean

Here you go — another movie adaptation, albeit a more head-scratching one. The playful name likely stuck in people's mind better than the plot of the 1974 flick. The big-screen version stocked a wonderful cast — Valerie Harper, Loretta Swit, Alan Arkin, James Caan — and pioneered the buddy-cop action-comedy genre that would dominate 1980s Hollywood. The Héctor Elizondo CBS version might have been too little, too late, but the more likely reason for it's flopping was ABC's The Love Boat plowing through anything else in its timeslot.

Image: The Everett Collection

3

Games People Play

Bryant Gumbel hosted this quirky sports reality competition, which sounds like something found on today's network television. Average Joe and Jane competitors would battle in events like the belly flop and beer guzzling. Beyond paving the way for shows like Holey Moley and American Ninja Warrior, Games People Play was best known for its "America's Best Bouncer" competition — a contest won by a certain Chicago fellow named Mr. T. He became quite famous afterward. We pity the fool who doesn't know that.

Image: The Everett Collection

4

Ladies Man

This somewhat so-so sitcom about a divorced dad working at a women's magazine featured a couple of future minor Golden Girls characters and feminist themes. But the most interesting thing about the show happened during its sixth episode, on December 8, 1980. During the West Coast broadcast, CBS interrupted "The Mugger" with a news bulletin to announce that John Lennon had been shot.

Image: The Everett Collection

5

Marie

The variety-show phenomenon was certainly a Seventies fad and started to fade from popularity by the end of that decade with flops like Mary Tyler Moore's Mary (1978). That did not stop networks from trying to blend celebrity-branded comedy sketches and musical numbers in the early 1980s. After all, similar syndicated shows such as Sha Na Na were still pulling in viewers. Marie Osmond was coming off a hit variety series with her brother, Donny & Marie, when she opted to go it alone with Marie in 1980. Her brothers were noticeably absent here, replaced with guest stars along the lines of Bob Hope, Andy Gibb and Tony Orlando. Couple that with musical numbers like a Judy Garland melody, and this show just seemed old fashioned for the new decade.

Image: The Everett Collection

6

Pink Lady

The shows so far on this list were either too far ahead of their time or too behind the times. Pink Lady was somewhere in between. It was a variety show in the dying embers of the format, as we just mentioned. But this take on the familiar formula, from the minds of Sid and Marty Krofft, starred two Japanese women, Mitsuyo Nemoto and Keiko Masuda, better known as the pop duo Pink Lady. "Big in Japan" (naturally), the group scored a one-hit-wonder with the disco-fied "Kiss in the Dark." It would take another four decades for J-Pop and K-Pop to fully break into the American mainstream with groups like BTS. It started here.

Image: The Everett Collection

7

Secrets of Midland Heights

Scandalous teen soaps like The O.C., Gossip Girl and Riverdale can thank Midland Heights for blazing a trail. An attempt to make a "Dallas for high schoolers," this short-lived drama was set in a fictional Midwestern college town, riddled with love triangles and back-stabbing. Lorenzo Lamas, honing his chops for Falcon Crest, played the jock who dated the awesome Linda Hamilton. You know, perhaps it's a good thing the show flopped. Had it lasted four, five seasons, we hate to think that Hamilton might not have been available to film The Terminator.

Image: The Everett Collection

8

When the Whistle Blows

A forgotten sitcom about construction workers, headlined by soap-opera star and character actor Dolph Sweet, might not seem very pioneering, but When the Whistle Blows was one of the early brave television comedies to film with a single camera (think Modern Family, not Family Ties) and no laugh track. That's the norm today, but at the time, three-camera studio sitcoms sprinkled with laugh-track "sweeteners" were the standard.

Image: The Everett Collection

9

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