19 Worst Shows of the ’90s
We’re prone to 1990s nostalgia as much as anyone else who remembers Y2K, but don’t forget that this “Edgy Decade” also gave us nu-metal music, the Macarena dance, non-butter butter spray, and the terrible TV shows below.
TV Guide Magazine is preparing to launch its list of the 90 Best Shows of the ’90s, but before we reveal those picks, we’re sharing our selections for the decade’s worst television featuring singing cops, sasquatches in suburbia, and sex-driven presidents not named Clinton. Here is the hall of 1990s small-screen shame.
George Foreman can box. He can sell grills. But can he carry his own sitcom? ABC execs thought so, giving the heavyweight champion a TV comedy about a retired boxer running a youth center for troubled children and teens. The show wasn’t a knockout with audiences, though: It was yanked from the airwaves in 1994 after just two and a half months.
Like Ferris Bueller, Uncle Buck was an adaptation of a John Hughes movie without the movie’s lead star. In this case, John Candy was M.I.A. from the 1991 TV version, which, like its source material, told the story of a slovenly man entrusted with the care of his nieces and nephews. The CBS show was a poor imitation of the film, though, and it got Buck-ed off the air after one season.
No disrespect to Rachel Blanchard, the star of this 1996 ABC-turned-UPN sitcom, but making a Clueless TV adaptation without Alicia Silverstone as Cher really does live up to its title. Even more bafflingly, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, and Breckin Meyer all guest-starred on the show but not as their characters from the hit 1995 film.
A teenager dies after eating a six-month-old hamburger and then becomes his best friend’s guardian angel, mentored by God’s cousin, Rod. If that premise doesn’t scream “Emmy,” then… well, you’re onto something. At least this 1997 sitcom — a short-lived entry in ABC’s TGIF comedy block — lost its wings after 17 episodes.
At least this 1990 NBC show didn’t try to reinvent the wheel: It actually acknowledged the 1986 teen comedy film on which it was based, with Charlie Schlatter’s version of Ferris Bueller claiming he was the basis for the Matthew Broderick character. But Ferris Bueller’s Day Off looms large in our cultural memory; while Ferris Bueller’s biggest claim to fame after its 13-episode run is that it starred a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston.
This 1999 Fox dramedy boasted the talent of Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg but assumed an air of superiority over other teen shows, making onscreen mockery of Dawson’s Creek and My So-Called Life. Talk about hubris! Dawson’s Creek aired for years, while My So-Called Life still ranks as an all-time great. Get Real, on the other hand, didn’t even get through its first season and was quickly forgotten.
What a Dummy
A family finds a talking ventriloquist dummy in a trunk, and all of a sudden, that dummy is a beloved family member? Even though it looks like Chucky and sounds like nails on a chalkboard? More like What a Dud, are we right? This 1990 syndicated sitcom lasted one season, likely to the relief of those involved.
Maury Povich’s namesake talk show — which will end after 31 years in syndication this September — is hardly any more dignified than Jerry Springer. Even CBS Evening News ex-anchor Connie Chung, Povich’s wife, sounds embarrassed about her husband’s line of work. “I’ve asked him, ‘Why don’t you do an intelligent interview show instead of a talk show where you’re determining the paternity of every child in America?’” she told the Los Angeles Times recently.
Unhappily Ever After
Like a bizarro take on the already questionable Married… With Children, this 1995 WB comedy starred Geoff Pierson as an alcoholic father whose mental illness has him conversing with a talking bunny toy and Stephanie Hodge as his estranged wife who gets killed off midway through the series, only to get brought back as a ghost and then ordered back to life by an onscreen WB executive. Another twist? Teen daughter Tiffany (Nikki Cox) became a breakout in Season 3, with stories beginning to focus more on her high school experiences.
Harry and the Hendersons
Of all the Amblin Entertainment films the company could have adapted for syndicated TV — E.T., The Goonies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit — it chose Harry and the Hendersons? That movie — following a family adopting a Bigfoot — got underwhelming box office receipts and worse reviews. The 1991 syndicated version, which critics didn’t like any better, likely lasted three seasons only because stations agreed upfront to air 72 episodes.
This 1991 comedy and other shows on this list continued the embarrassing tradition of taking a popular film — Look Who’s Talking, in this case — and turning it into an inferior TV show. Even with Tony Danza as a talking baby and a mulleted George Clooney as single mother Maggie’s love interest (he was later replaced by Scott Baio), critics and audiences weren’t goo-goo-ga-ga over ABC’s Baby Talk.
Homeboys in Outer Space
With the right comedic bent, this 1996 UPN comedy about two astronauts flying a galaxy-hopping low-rider could have been high camp. Instead, we got a failure to launch, with the second episode following the duo — played by Flex and Darryl M. Bell — as they land on an all-female “pleasure planet.”
It’s a good thing British television has given us Yanks quality TV like Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, because this U.K. children’s series — with its antennaed, gibberish-talking stars — was grounds for another American Revolution. The original series aired from 1997 to 2001, delighting countless young Gen Z’ers and undoubtedly exasperating their parents.
Walker, Texas Ranger
Yes, Chuck Norris has become an Internet favorite, but that doesn’t mean this 1993 CBS action series was any good. Norris’ Texas Ranger character entered every situation with fists flying, while the bad guys just waited around for their faces to be punched.
Midway through Baywatch’s run, the beach-and-bodies drama was joined in syndication by this 1995 spinoff, which initially focused on Mitch Buchannon (David Hasselhoff) as he went from lifeguard to private eye, along with detectives played by Angie Harmon and Gregory Alan Williams. But it’s the second season, when Nights ventured into B-movie sci-fi horror, that earns the show its place in infamy.
The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer
Law & Order alum Dann Florek’s TV career took quite the detour in 1998, when he played a horndog Abraham Lincoln in this UPN comedy, with Chi McBride playing the titular White House butler. Amid protests over the pilot episode’s alleged mockery of slavery, UPN chose to just skip over that half-hour and begin with Episode 2.
The Jerry Springer Show
One of the trashiest of the tabloid talk shows, this long-running syndicated series — with episode titles including “I Had a Threesome with My Sister!” and “Hot-Tempered Hoedown” — was even below its namesake star. “I would never watch my show,” host Jerry Springer told Reuters in 2000, nine years after the show’s debut. “I’m not interested in it. It’s not aimed towards me. This is just a silly show.”
As the co-creator of Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue, Steven Bochco had many fine ideas for TV shows. And then there was his idea to do a musical police procedural, which lasted for all of 11 episodes on ABC in 1990. The show even featured a child trafficker singing the song “Baby Merchant” in an episode that should have been outlawed before it was even aired.