Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Worst TV Show Ever?

Model car kit like the one assembled by the author, ca. 1966

Regular readers of Lugubrious Drollery, if such a class of human beings exists, will be aware that the author has what some might call a disturbing fascination with the contempible. Previous posts have investigated the most boring book of all time, the closely related topic of the weirdest book title, the most hideously decorated cakes, the worst vice-presidential candidate (Sarah Palin), the lowliest weed (burdock), the most maligned mineral (asbestos), and of course, the worst U.S. Presidents, especially that perpetual object of scorn and rebuke, Franklin Pierce.

Recent interactions with fellow bloggers have started me thinking about a television show that has been ranked by TV Guide as one of the worst TV shows ever produced, ranking just above The Jerry Springer Show, which was designated as the worst. Considering the vast collection of dreck broadcast over the airwaves over the last sixty years or so, that's quite a distinction. The show singled out for this dubious honor was My Mother the Car. Thirty episodes were aired in 1965 and 1966, and then it was all over. I don't believe the show was ever brought back in syndication, although a few episodes are now available for viewing on YouTube.

What initially reminded me of MMTC was a post about the fantasy TV shows of the 60s, including The Flying Nun, at the blog of W.Z. Snyder, #167 Dad. He mentioned the premise of MMTC--a guy's mother is reincarnated as a 1928 Porter automobile--which reminded me that one of the many model cars I assembled as a nerdy adolescent was My Mother the Car (shown above). After that, I couldn't get this fragment of the theme song from MMTC out of my head:
A 1928 Porter
That's my mother dear
She helps me through
Everything I do
And I'm so glad she's here
As if that weren't bad enough, Matthew Coniam, at his blog The Marx Brothers Council of Britain, stirred up more memories when his post about director Norman Z. McLeod included a poster for the movie Swing Shift Maisie (1943). The poster features the young and beautiful star Ann Sothern, who went on to have her own TV show, and still later was the voice of none other than My Mother the Car.

Now that MMTC has been forced back into my consciousness, I have done some research and found out the following about the show:
Jerry VanDyke, brother of Dick VanDyke, turned down the part of Gilligan in Gilligan's Island to play Dave Crabtree, the lead in MMTC.

Two cars were used to film the series. Neither was a real Porter. They were assembled from parts of other old cars plus some custom made parts by George Barris, who also created the Batmobile for the Batman TV series, the Munster Koach, and many other cars for TV and the movies. The power train consisted of a 283 cu. in. Chevy V8 and a Powerglide automatic transmission. One of the "Porters" was a stunt car with the floorboards removed and equipped with mirrors so the driver could be out of sight in scenes where Mother was supposed to be traveling around on her own.
Was MMTC really any worse than shows about a witch in the suburbs, a Martian masquerading as an earthling's uncle, hillbillies living in a mansion, etc., etc.? In my opinion, it's a close race.

One thing MMTC had going for it was the fact it was created by Allan Burns and Chris Hayward, who also created The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which usually had great titles for its episodes. Some of this same brilliance shines through in the titles of the MMTC episodes. The complete list follows:
"Come Honk Your Horn"
"The De-Fenders"
"What Makes Auntie Freeze"
"Lassie, I Mean Mother, Come Home"
"Burned at the Steak"
"I'm Through Being a Nice Guy"
"Lights, Camera, Mother"
"The Captain Manzini Grand Prix"
"TV or Not TV"
"My Son, the Ventriloquist"
"My Son, the Judge"
"And Leave the Drive-In to Us"
"For Whom the Horn Honks"
"Hey Lady, Your Slip Isn't Showing"
"Many Happy No-Returns"
"Shine On, Shine On, Honeymoon"
"I Remember Mama, Why Can't You Remember Me?"
"The Incredible Shrinking Car"
"I'd Rather Do it Myself, Mother"
"You Can't Get There From Here"
"A Riddler on the Roof"
"My Son, the Criminal"
"An Unreasonable Facsimile"
"Over the Hill to the Junkyard"
"It Might as Well Be Spring as Not"
"Absorba the Greek"
"The Blabbermouth"
"When You Wish Upon a Car"
"Desperate Minutes"
I've watched part of the first episode, "Come Honk Your Horn" (a takeoff on "Come Blow Your Horn," Neil Simon's first play, later a movie starring Frank Sinatra), on YouTube, and I'd have to say the title is the best part of the show.


Rambling Woods said...

All the shows of my childhood...My Dad always loved to watch "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and the "Fractured Fairytales"..He said they weren't for children anyway .....
Michelle From Rambling Woods

Dan said...

Reminds me of that other bad show...."My Father the Nerd" ;)

David C. said...

Dear Son,

I am reminded of the immortal words of Groucho as Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff in Horsefeathers: "The idea! I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you arrived." Touché!

Su Padre

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan said...

Haha, touché indeed....I should clarify that that was a reference to the "nerdy adolescence" that you described, but "My Father the Nerdy Adolescent" didn't have quite the same ring to it. Love ya Dad.

David C. said...

Yes, your concise choice of words is commendable. Had you been wordier, I might have had to resurrect more dialogue from Horsefeathers:

Zeppo: I'm proud to be your son.
Groucho: My boy, you took the words right out of my mouth. I’m ashamed to be your father. You’re a disgrace to our family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.

Love you too.

David H. said...

It strikes me that MMTC is the Millard Filmore of bad television -- it's famous for being the worst show. Now all we have to do is tease out that Franklin Pierce of TV, the one no one even remembers.

David C. said...

If Mother had been a Pierce Arrow, there is no question MMTC would have cinched last place.


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