After Hours

The worst science fiction TV shows

Jerry Taylor invites your comments on the worst of science fiction television.

While you can start a friendly flame war online by posting your list of the very best science fiction TV shows, to fracture friendships, start bar fights, and generally cause a hellacious ruckus, all you really have to do is tell someone their favorite cult TV show is trash. I pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious forgotten VCR tape in building this list of the absolute best of the utter dreck to have crawled out of Hollywood.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Voyage was broadcast on ABC from September 14, 1964 to March 31, 1968, and was the product of the science fiction schlock master Irwin Allen. The series tells the adventures of the crew of the Seaview, a nuclear powered submarine designed by Admiral Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart) and commanded by Captain Lee Crane (David Hedison).

Renowned for featuring such villains as Nazi werewolves, talking puppets, the occasional foreign spy (always implied to be one of those evil Russian communists), a disembodied brain from outer space, flame men, frost men, fossil men, and even lobster men, this series almost plays out like the revenge of every hack sci-fi writer who ever was turned down for publication. What is truly amazing is that this show was the longest running science fiction series of the 1960s on American television. And lest we forget, Allen also made those fine science fiction series Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants. Manimal The creation of Glen Larson, this series features our action hero Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale), who for reasons never quite explained, can turn into animals to fight crime. Usually it is either a hawk or panther with the same exact backdrops every time, but when he changed into a bull, a dolphin, and a horse, it was off-screen. The one time he changed into a snake convinced me that Lucifer threatened to cancel the contracts of the writers and take them all to Hell early. Thankfully, this nightmare of cheap special effects only lasted from September 30 to December 17, 1983, before NBC gave us all an early holiday gift and canceled the series. Larson was also responsible for those excellent serious series offenders such as Knight Rider, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the original BattleStar Gallactica, and Night Man. Airwolf

Donald Bellisario told us of the adventures of series protagonist Stringfellow Hawke (Jan Michael Vincent) and his crew chief Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine) tooling about in their an advanced supersonic helicopter with stealth capabilities and a formidable arsenal.

Hawke is a world-weary loner hanging out on the dock of his remote cabin serenading eagles with Prokofiev and doing an occasional test pilot job for a US intelligence agency, known as the FIRM. Having killed off the interesting arch-villain and all around American utter bastard Dr. Charles Henry Moffet (David Hemmings) in the series opener, it quickly devolved to flying Airwolf around, blowing up stuff, and then flying home. One of the best TV series lines of all times is Moffet's "There's nothing wrong with a little perversion, Mark," said to a crew person, "so long as you don't hurt yourself."

Bellisario later went on to make Quantum Leap, which more than makes up for this show.

Star Trek: Enterprise

The brain child of Brannon Braga and Rick Berman, we follow the adventures of Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) depicts the mostly human crew zipping about the galaxy at Warp Factor 5. The crew faces situations that have been encountered numerous times on other Trek series, but are new for them, which has to make the whole series the longest running fanboy joke of all time. The producers had the final laugh when it was revealed the last episode, These Are The Voyages… (and possibly the whole series) was a holo desk presentation being watched by Commander Riker and Deanna Troi! Low ratings killed the series after four seasons and may well have finally made any potential new Trek show in the future impossible — an ugly, ugly end for the franchise.

Paramount Studio Security should Nerf bat Braga and Berman if they ever dare to show their faces on the lot again!

Holmes and Yo-Yo

Brought to us in 1976 by ABC, Holmes and Yo-Yo is the tales of Detective Alexander Holmes (Richard Shull), a NYC detective who is constantly getting his partners injured, so the department assigns him Gregory Yoyonivich (John Schuck), a good natured, slightly clumsy sidekick, who just happens to be a robot. The series featured a set of jokes about Yo-Yo's constant malfunctions and inability to fully comprehend humans, while they treated the depicted crimes seriously. Not to be confused with the John Amos and Ernest Borgnine's Future Cop, which managed to earn distinction when Harlan Ellison successfully sued it for stealing ideas from his work, this series well earned its place on the list.

Automan

A rip-off of the ground-breaking Tron in the early 80s, Automan (The Automatic Man) featured police officer and computer expert Walter Nebicher (Desi Arnaz, Jr.), who had created an artificially intelligent crime fighting program that generated a hologram (Chuck Wagner) able to leave the computer world and enter reality to help fight crime. Automan could turn into all manner of everyday objects such as a Lamborghini Countach, helicopter, 18-wheeler, etc. (ever wonder where the Japanese got the idea for Transformers?), while surrounded by a nimbus of wonky blue light and totaling violating all known laws of physics. This disaster ran for 13 episodes before being condemned to the dust bin.

Space 1999

Not to be outdone by their American counterparts and in spite of a tradition of the excellent Dr. Who, ITC Entertainment and RAI gave us the tale of Moonbase Alpha stuck on the moon, which has been blown out of Earth Orbit by an accident with nuclear waste being stored on it. Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau), Doctor Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), Professor Victor Bergman (Barry Morse), and other notables went from pondering deep universal questions to suffer through horrible scripts that were generated with the arrival of Fred Freiberger. Frieberger is infamous for being the producer of the final seasons of Star Trek, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Space: 1999 and is most deserving of the title Sci Fi Series Killer. Frieberger's comment about Space: 1999 from his interview with Starlog (Issue 40 1980 pages 58 – 61) says it all:

"They were doing the show as an English show, where there was no story, with the people standing around and talking. In the first show I did, I stressed action as well as character development, along with strong story content, to prove that 1999 could stand up to the American concept of what an action-adventure show should be."

Logan's Run

Lasting one season of 14 episodes, rogue Sandman Logan 5 (Gregory Harrison), Runner Jessica 6 (Heather Menzies), and their faithful android companion REM (Donald Moffat) travel towards Sanctuary post-apocalyptic America, while avoiding their dogged pursuer Sandman Francis (Randolph Powell). The series should be applauded for managing to use nearly every sci-fi convention in a such a short run; however, the beer budget special effects and wooden dialogue (shamefully written by such greats as D.C. Fontana, Harlan Ellison, and William F. Nolan) nearly outdoes Irwin Allen's efforts in making truly bad television!

Crusade

Created by J. Michael Straczynski, the series tells the story of Captain Matthew Gideon (Gary Cole) and the crew of IAS Excalibur's search for a cure to the Drakh nanoplague that has been released on Earth after the end of the Shadow War. Creative differences between TNT and Straczynski killed the series after 13 episodes were produced but before any were aired. Due to the episodic nature of the B5 world, the series is a failure due to the extended time given to character development and unanswered questions. Frankly, after several more bad movies, I hope JMS will just let the B5 universe alone for awhile.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

ABC, having made one of the greatest and scariest horror movies ever made for TV, decided to do a series about our intrepid, bumbling, cynical Independent News Service reporter hero Karl Kolchak (Darren McGavin). Between bamboozling his editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) about which story he is actually reporting on, fending off the snide commentary and underhanded attacks of Ron Updyke (Jack Grinnage), and dealing with corrupt city officials while trying to get to the real story, he has to deal with all manner of various supernatural predators.

And after all that, no one will believe his stories, so they never get published! While this format was interesting for the first two movies, it is simply too large a stretch to believe that one reporter in Chicago could run into so many freaky events! While Chris Carter did say the series was one of the inspirations for the X-Files, even Scully and Mulder had to leave Washington to find some freakiness and not just wait around for it at a press conference!

Misfits of Science

Co-created by Tim Kring, the series detailed the madcap adventures of a group of super-powered humans. Led by Dr. Billy Hayes (Dean Paul Martin, Dino's son who tragically died in a National Guard F-4 Phantom fighter jet crash in California's San Bernardino Mountains during a snowstorm in 1987) and featuring such diverse actors as Courteney Cox (Friends), Kevin Peter Hall (who was the dude in the Predator suit in the first film if ya didn't know), and Mickey Jones (where he played kick butt take no names Chris Faber in the V miniseries), the series was played for laughs, which were all too few. Ultimately, it was done in by J.R., as it was playing in the same time slot as Dallas.

Luckily for the rest of us, Kring later went on to produce Heroes, but the last season of that show has me in dread of a return to days of yore.

V: The Series

Kenneth Johnson (who also gave us the The Incredible Hulk) took the interesting premise of his Nazi allegory V and turned it into a weekly soap opera that reads like a mash-up of The Fugitive and Star Trek without bothering to have any good scripts! Watching Mark Singer and Jane Badler spout bad dialogue fully explains the utter look of disgust on Michael Ironside's face every time you see him in the background of a scene. Perhaps best of all, we can thank this series for the totally nutso ideas of David Icke that the Queen of England is a part of the reptilian bloodline that runs the world!

The Starlost

Proving that even our friendly neighbors to the north can make some truly terrible TV is this series about Devon (Keir Dullea) and his adventures on the Ark. Lasting 16 episodes, which were broadcast on CTV and syndicated to a few U.S. stations, the plots and acting were so bad that Twentieth Century Fox, executive producer Douglas Trumball, writer Harlan Ellison, and Ben Bova, all disavowed the show.

Little seen for years, the series is finally being released on DVD on September 30, 2008, which you might miss in all the excitement of the Iron Man DVD release.

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