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In honor of actor Andy Garcia and his (unintentionally) hilarious reaction to Sofia (Mary Corleone) Coppola's death scene in "The Godfather, Part III."
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Tune In to Turn-On...on second thought, don't

Posted 01-31-2010 at 04:47 PM by TommyJohn
Updated 03-13-2010 at 03:19 PM by TommyJohn

There are some more legendarily awful moments in Hofstede's book of bad TV. Some are well known, others famous only to geeks such as myself. There is one particular event that has gone down as such a bad program that I am surprised that he ranked it only number 25 on his list. I have seen others rank it as one of the most wretched moments in TV history.

"Tune in...turn on...drop out." Timothy Leary's famous phrase personified the counter-culture of the 1960's-a signal to forget all of your cares and trip out on drugs, most notably LSD. For one memorable night in February of 1969, viewers were invited to tune in to Turn-On, and once they did, most dropped out.

Turn-On was the brainchild of George Schlatter and Digby Wolfe, the duo responsible for Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, a comedy show with regular performers and guest stars that mixed skits, one-liners, double entendres (about sex mostly) and topical, mostly political humor. It was a huge, ground-breaking hit; hip, with appeal to young and old.

Schlatter and Wolfe used their success with Laugh-In to pitch another concept: Turn-On, which would have much the same format. It was sold as "what Laugh-In was intended to be before the concept changed in development." NBC and CBS passed, but hit-hungry ABC said yes and ordered 18 episodes, sight unseen. Once they saw what had previously been unseen, they wished never to see it again.

The network trusted Schlatter and Wolfe and gave them complete creative control. Bad idea. Turn-On was an example of how maybe a little network interference isn't so bad every now and then. Sure, artists love to yammer on about how the suits stifle their creative expression in the name of what will sell, but sometimes this might not be such a bad thing. At least it might spare us a ton or two of unfunny jokes.

As Hofstede writes "They (Schlatter and Wolfe) used this freedom to tell the kind of snickering sex jokes that were old once most of us graduated from the third grade."

Turn-On bowed on February 5, and before you could recite Timothy Leary's famous phrase, the show was all but cancelled.

The "host" of Turn-On was not two aging comedians trying hard to be hip, but a computer that would flash and pop at intervals and blared synthesized music in what was meant to be an assault on the senses.

A list of the show's lower moments include:

*The computer flashing the phrase "The Amsterdam levee is a dike." Side-splitting.

*A gorgeous lady looking at the camera and purring "Richard Nixon is the TITular head of the Republican Party."

*A buxom blonde is about to be executed by a firing squad. The leader tells her that this time the squad has a last request.

*Turn-On's first and only "guest star" Tim Conway dancing and making goo-goo eyes at a woman while the word "SEX" pulsated on the screen.

This was a bit much to handle-unfunny bits, computerized music and bad one-liners. Affiliates in Cleveland and Denver yanked the show mid-broadcast and put on alternate programming-Cleveland featured a local musician filling the time by playing organ music. Other affiliates told ABC "thanks, but no thanks" to future episodes, and Bristol-Myers pulled its sponsorship within 24 hours. Legend has it that by the time Turn-On was broadcast on the west coast, the suits back east had already decided to cancel it. As the book tells it "just how bad does a show have to be to get cancelled while the first episode is being broadcast?"

Well, legend may be a bit exaggerated. Turn-On was cancelled, but no announcement was made. According to one source, local TV Guides advertised the second episode slated for February 12, to be hosted by Robert Culp of I Spy fame. But it didn't happen. The other finished episodes were sealed up in a vault, never to see the light of day. Turn-On was tuned out.



Believe it or not, a few of the cast members' careers survived the disaster that was Turn-On. Chuck McCann went on to star in another series. Hamilton Camp had a servicable career as a character actor. Mel Stewart was later cast as George Jefferson's grouchy brother Henry in All In the Family. Teresa Graves was later cast in Laugh-In and played super ladycop Christy Love in a movie and a short-lived TV series. She died tragically in a fire in 2002.
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