Recently, we wrote about shows that were canceled before even airing a single episode — now, we’re back to write about shows that did manage to get on the air, but barely. Here are 13 shows that were quickly pulled due to controversy!
The 1960s variety show Turn-On didn’t make it through a single episode before it was pulled off the air — after only 11 minutes. The experimental show blended (often offensive and raunchy) sketches, stop motion, animation, puppets, and synthesizer clicking — and audiences were not a fan. After one too many phoned-in complaints from miffed audience members, an ABC affiliate in Cleveland quickly cut the airing, infamously telling ABC, “If your naughty little boys have to write dirty words on the walls, please don’t use our walls.” Other affiliates followed suit, and the show was canceled, with an already-filmed second episode never making it to air.
In case you’re wondering how it was offensive…the sketches involved blackface, KKK members in the audience, and a star of David telling a Christian monk, “We’ll forget about Auschwitz if you reduce the charges to manslaughter!” Other sketches joked about foot fetishists, birth control, the upsides of domestic violence, and a woman offering sexual favors to a firing squad about to kill her. Remember, this was 1969 — most of this stuff would be seen as inappropriate for prime-time TV even today.
I’m sure you’ve heard of American’s Funniest Home Videos, and you probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn there was an Australian version — but you’ve likely never heard of its spinoff, Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos. The show followed the same format as Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, except that all the videos were a little (okay, a lot) more explicit. The show only aired one episode*, which was cut off a little over a half hour into the episode, after the network head, Kerry Packer, called and demanded the broadcast be stopped.
One of the videos, just so you can get an idea, showed a man lifting a weight with his penis.
Videos After Dark tried the same thing in America. While the first episode did air in full, it was quickly canceled — apparently, American audiences weren’t any more forgiving than Australian ones.
The 2000s were the decade of the dating show, and not every show was a winner. For example, Playing It Straight followed a woman named Jackie who dated 14 men — only five of whom were straight. Jackie’s goal was to end up choosing one of the straight men (in which case they’d split $1 million) — if she chose one of the gay men, he would win all the money. Critics found the show offensive, and the show stopped airing after three episodes, with the official reason being bad ratings — but Jackie herself said she thought “something deeper” was going on.
A more popular dating show from the 2000s, Rock of Love, produced a ton of spin-offs: including one named Megan Wants a Millionaire, which centered on Megan Hauserman’s search for a rich husband following a stint on a number of VH1 reality shows.
However, only three episodes aired before the show was canceled. Why? Because one contestant, Ryan Jenkins (who was later revealed to have placed third in the show), turned out to be a murderer. After he’d left the show, he’d married Jasmine Fiore, then killed her a few months later. He then died by suicide a few days after her body was found.
Many reality shows center on lifestyles that may be unfamiliar to viewers — like the 2015 show, Neighbors with Benefits, which followed swingers in Ohio. The show was canceled after only two episodes, likely because of backlash from viewers, critics, and the community depicted in the show.
Another controversial reality show from a bit farther back was called Who’s Your Daddy?. In the show, TJ Myers, who had been adopted as a baby, tried to guess who her birth father was out of a number of different men — if she guessed correctly, she’d get $100,000.
The show faced a lot of backlash from adoption agencies, who found it exploitative and trivializing of adopted people’s experiences, calling it appalling and destructive.
The Chop: Britain’s Top Woodworker might have seemed to be an innocuous woodworking show from its title, but made waves when viewers seemed to recognize racist tattoos on one cast member’s face — including an 88, which is widely considered to mean “Heil Hitler.” Darren Lumsden denied this, but the show was still canceled, with A&E UK releasing a statement saying, “A contestant’s tattoos included symbols that could be connected to far-right ideologies and could cause offence; we sincerely apologise for that and we are sorry that our processes did not prompt further investigation at an earlier stage.”
One of the most infamous sitcoms of all time is Heil Honey, I’m Home! which portrayed Hitler and Eva Braun living next to a Jewish family in the suburbs. Unsurprisingly, the British show was super controversial, and only aired one episode (in the ’90s), though seven had been filmed.
A more recent controversial sitcom is Work It, a 2012 comedy about two men who dress as women in order to get jobs after they’re laid off. GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign were so against it, they actually took out an ad in Variety against the show. The show — which had also been panned by critics — was canceled after two episodes had aired.
The Dana Carvey Show made waves in its very first episode when it began with a sketch depicting then-president Bill Clinton breastfeeding babies, puppies, and kittens. In just the first few minutes, millions of viewers changed the channel or turned off the TV.
The show never recovered these viewers, and it was ultimately canceled after seven episodes. You can watch the sketch here.
ESPN took a chance in 2017 by green-lighting the late-night show Barstool Van Talk. Starring Barstool’s Dan “Big Cat” Katz and PFT Commenter, the show featured various ESPN and SportsCenter personalities as guests. The controversy came from Barstool’s history of misogyny, with NFL reporter Sam Ponder calling ESPN out for giving Barstool a larger platform. After the first episode, ESPN president John Skipper canceled the show, stating “While we had approval on the content of the show, I erred in assuming we could distance our efforts from the Barstool site and its content.”
And finally, we can’t entirely blame this one on controversy, but the controversial medical drama, Wonderland, was canceled after only two episodes in 2000, and backlash seemed at least partly to blame. The show, which depicted a psych ward, was criticized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness for portraying patients in psych wards as ”killers, crazies, and freaks.” However, since it also aired at the same time as ER, the network may simply have felt it was going up against too much competition.
What controversial TV show actually outlasted these shows that you can’t believe made it to air? Let us know in the comments below!