We don't envy network executives and showrunners. It's not easy to make good TV! For every "West Wing" or "Homeland," there's a "Tarzan" or a "Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer"; a lot can go wrong between that first inspiring pitch meeting and the show viewers end up watching (or…not watching), and every year, it goes terribly pear-shaped for a handful of shows and specials.
The top five TV flops of 2012 didn't all fail for the same reasons, and a couple of them "shouldn't" have gone awry, but the pre-emptive cancellation earlier today of NBC's controversial "Munsters" reboot, "Mockingbird Lane," prompted us to take a look back at the five biggest televised debacles of the year.
A few critics enjoyed the weird comical/creepy hybrid from "Pushing Daisies" creator Bryan Fuller. Starring Jerry O'Connell as Herman, "Arrested Development" vet Portia de Rossi as Lily, and Eddie Izzard as Grandpa, "Mockingbird Lane" aimed to reboot beloved vintage sitcom "The Munsters" for a modern audience…forgetting that the original isn't very good, and that not everyone enjoys Fuller's brand of whimsy. The $10 million pilot was gorgeous to look at (Bryan Singer of "The Usual Suspects" directed, and made the homage to Tim Burton explicit) – but tonally confusing, sometimes sweet, sometimes gory. It was hard to see where a series order would have taken this particular sitcom reimagined as a dramedy, and it seemed like the creators hadn't given that much thought themselves. It got burned off as a Halloween special on a Friday night, generally a ratings graveyard, and rumors of the show's demise had been swirling for a month by that time. Fuller confirmed in a tweet today that NBC has passed on the show.
Watch the failed "Mockingbird Lane" pilot in full right here:
[Related: Read Yahoo! TV's (positive!) review of "Mockingbird Lane"]
"Brand X With Russell Brand"
Everything about comedian/Katy Perry's estranged husband Russell Brand's FX talk show was awkward: the format, which Brand seemed to chafe at; the studio audience, which was often silent; wingman Matt Stoller, who proved there's an exception to the "opposites attract" rule; and Brand himself, who couldn't recover when jokes bombed (which was often) and evidently wasn't enjoying himself. A recent retooling hasn't improved matters, possible because it sprang from the very desperation that made the show so uncomfortable.
"Liz & Dick"
In fairness to "Liz & Dick," Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were pretty darn campy in real life. The "Cleopatra" period alone is so over-the-top, you can't believe it actually happened, so a movie about their great affair was never going to be long on nuance. But a movie starring Lindsay Lohan as La Liz needn't have bothered with trifles like dialogue or set design; casting Lohan at this point in her "career" guarantees your project won't be taken seriously, and most viewers only tuned in to see the train wreck. That's exactly what they got, but what's worse, the wreck occurred in slow motion; clunky exposition and hungover editing made "Liz & Dick" more boring than bad. Lohan scarcely resembles Taylor, and the days when she could smooth that over with her acting are behind her. Casting one tabloid icon as another doomed the movie from the start.
[Related: The most shocking TV moments of 2012]
"Dancing With The Stars: All-Stars"
Tons of reality shows have done an all-stars season (or more than one) and gotten great ratings, so no doubt the "DWTS" producers figured their own all-stars go-round as a slam dunk. It didn't work out that way. Ratings dropped, occasioning a behind-the-scenes scramble to liven up the season, and its numbers, midstream. Host Tom Bergeron admitted to Yahoo! TV in the fall that he loved the all-star idea, so he hadn't considered that inviting experienced contestants back might take some of the fun out of the show: "People like to see people learn, and have an arc, and kind of struggle a bit." Whether it's the format, the particular stars asked back (how much more Bristol Palin can we take?), or simply bad counterprogramming luck, it was "DWTS" itself that wound up struggling.
"Jersey Shore" spinoffs
If you already had a case of "Jersey Shore" fatigue in, say, 2010, last year was rough for you. The flagship show itself finally drew the curtains a couple of weeks ago, but MTV treated the series finale like a Viking funeral, AND ignored obvious oversaturation levels by spinning off not one but two shows from the original: "Snooki & JWOWW," and "The Pauly D Project." Despite featuring one of the more likeable folks in the house, "The Pauly D Project" felt airless and even more contrived than "JS," with forced catchphrases and "surprise" job offers in Vegas galore, and each half-hour episode seemed to go on for a week. "Snooki & JWOWW" is agonizingly slow roommate B-roll of the girls retailing dated ideas about heterosexual relationships, punctuated by the occasional belch. It could be worse – if Mike Sorrentino gets a talk show called "The Situation Room," we're quitting TV forever – but we can't miss the "JS" cast if they won't go away. And…maybe not even then.
[Photos: The Situation Leads Our List of the Year's Worst Reality TV Stars]
Dishonorable mentions: Britney Spears joined "The X Factor" and ratings dropped; Dane Cook's NBC sitcom got canned before airing an episode; "Work It" was a tone-deaf workplace spin on "Bosom Buddies" that made us hate Amaury Nolasco; "Animal Practice" and "Emily Owens, M.D." wasted the respective talents of Justin Kirk and Mamie Gummer in dull, whiny scripts; "Bristol Palin: Life's a Tripp" existed.
Honorable mentions: "The Good Wife" writers miscalculated big-time with Kalinda's husband Nick; the cheesy subplot took screentime away from Kalinda at work, and made her seem like a simp. But showrunners realized their mistake and got rid of the guy in a rare successful course correction.
What do you consider the biggest TV flameouts of 2012? Tell us what we missed in the comments.