December 29, 2009 / 9:00 AM / in 8 years

The top 10 biggest TV blunders of the decade

<p>Members of the Writers Guild of America carry signs on the picket line at NBC studios in Burbank, California February 8, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Perhaps executives toiling in the TV industry should get a pass given all the competitive distractions dwindling their audience, from video games to social networking. And yet, some of their decisions were so memorably boneheaded that we must celebrate these milestone mishaps. Let’s start with...

10. FOX CANCELING “FAMILY GUY” (AND, SURE, PERHAPS “FIREFLY” TOO)

Axed TV shows usually stay dead, yet two titles canceled by former Fox chief Sandy Grushow in 2002 refused to go quietly. One was Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy,” which was moved around the schedule and even put opposite top-rated hits “Survivor” and “Friends” before getting yanked. After the show’s repeats got strong ratings on Adult Swim and netted big DVD sales, the comedy made its way back to broadcast in 2005. “Family Guy” is now Fox’s second-highest-rated scripted series and has produced a successful spinoff (“The Cleveland Show”). As for “Firefly,” the show lived on as a theatrical movie (“Serenity”) and to this day, no TV series cancellation inspires louder fanboy wails.

9. NBC HIRING BEN SILVERMAN

If you have a great dentist, you shouldn’t assume he can perform heart surgery. If your gardener is fantastic, they aren’t necessarily a good hair stylist. You know where we’re going with this? Silverman was a fine agent and accomplished dealmaker (“The Office,” “Ugly Betty”), but NBC chief Jeff Zucker falsely assumed Silverman could therefore run NBC and fit with the network’s corporate environment. Coming off a devastating writers strike, NBC needed a General Patton. It got Hulk Hogan (“American Gladiators”) and KITT (“Knight Rider” remake). The executive Silverman essentially replaced, Kevin Reilly, moved on to Fox, which is having its strongest fall season in years.

8. ABC‘S OVERLOAD ON “WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE”

After a surpassingly strong summer run in 1999, the U.S. version of the British quiz show exploded during the next season. Emboldened by “Millionaire‘s” success, which catapulted ABC to the top of the ratings, executives increased the frequency of the show’s airings to four times a week, and dramatically cut development for the 2000-01 season. “Millionaire” quickly fizzled and by November 2000, ABC had dropped from first to fourth in the ratings and had gaping holes on the schedule. Recovery took years.

7. THE CASTING OF RYAN JENKINS

There’s been a slew of reality-show blunders over the past decade. But it’s pretty tough to beat failing to uncover in a background check the disturbing criminal history of a man cast on a VH1 dating show who ended up murdering his wife. Ryan Jenkins was a contestant on two series produced by 51 Minds Prods., “Megan Wants a Millionaire” and “I Love Money 3” (the latter he supposedly won). Jenkins was then charged with the murder of his spouse and took his own life. The shows were canceled, and the casting process for reality shows are undergoing heightened scrutiny.

6. DUMPING JAY LENO FROM NBC‘S “THE TONIGHT SHOW”

Leno’s new primetime show is like New Coke: A product nobody wanted replacing a product everybody liked. There are many reasons why NBC moved Leno to 10 p.m. to honor an agreement to give Conan O‘Brien “The Tonight Show.” But none of the explanations add up to a convincing excuse for ousting a talk show host who dominated his time period every night.

5. ELECTION NIGHT COVERAGE IN 2000

The evening not only went down as TV news divisions’ biggest blunder in recent memory, it also led to sweeping changes in how networks announce election results. At 8 p.m. ET on November 7, all major networks called Florida for Al Gore, then moved the state back to the undecided column at 10 p.m. At 2 a.m., Fox News Channel, with George W. Bush’s first cousin John Ellis running its election desk, was the first to project Florida -- and the presidency -- for the Texas governor. All networks followed suit until that call, too, was retracted and the state was pronounced again “too close to call” at 4 a.m. “We don’t just have egg on our face,” NBC’s lead anchor Tom Brokaw said that morning. “We have an omelet on our suits.”

4. MYNETWORKTV

It was bad enough combining UPN and the WB into one new network -- the CW. But the biggest misstep was what happened to stations that did not join the CW. Regrouped by Fox Entertainment Group into a sixth broadcast network called MyNetworkTV, the company launched a bizarre plan to stock the network exclusively with original low-cost English-language telenovelas. The programing flopped out of the gate, and today MyNetworkTV largely airs syndicated programing and repeats.

3. JANET JACKSON‘S SUPER BOWL NIPPLE SLIP

The biggest problem was that it looked intentional. When Justin Timberlake ripped off fabric covering Janet Jackson’s right breast for a half-second on live TV during CBS’ Super Bowl halftime show, the resulting firestorm saw CBS get slapped with a record $550,000 fine from the FCC -- about a dollar for every complaint the commission received from viewers. The “wardrobe malfunction” led to increased worry about FCC fines and pre-emptive editing of risque content on scripted shows, as well as more vigilance on live telecasts.

2. ABC PASSING ON “CSI”

In the fall of 1999, ABC was pitched a new forensic drama from writer Anthony Zuiker, Disney corporate sibling Touchstone Television and studio-based producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The network passed. Then, in the summer of 2000, when “CSI” went into production as a new series for CBS, Touchstone, which was a 50/50 producing partner on the show, dramatically pulled out, not wanting to finance a show for a rival network. So far, the “CSI” franchise has generated $6 billion for CBS. What’s more, the “CSI” snafu prompted Bruckheimer to leave Disney’s TV divisions for CBS and its sister studio, generating billions more for them with a string of long-running procedurals such as “Without a Trace” and “Cold Case” and the Emmy-dominant reality veteran “The Amazing Race.”

1. WRITERS STRIKE

Has there ever been a longer 14 weeks? The 2007-08 walkout was a largely avoidable mutually destructive act that occurred at exactly the wrong time. In addition to almost wiping out an entire pilot season, the strike sent shows into repeats, driving a ratings crash that broadcasters have not been able to recover from thanks to increased DVR use and viewers fleeing to cable. In the end, writers outmaneuvered the studios, but few felt as if they actually won.

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