Television Turmoil is a look at the worst and weirdest series to make their way onto the small screen.
For over three decades, Americans had only a trio of options for their TV fix. CBS, NBC, and ABC comprised the “Big Three” broadcast networks and while there had been attempts at a fourth network, most notably with the doomed Dumont in the 50s, none of them could compete with the established viewership of major stations. That all changed in 1986 with the launch of the Fox Network.
A key to Fox’s success was that it didn’t compete with the bigger networks right off the bat. For the first three years, Fox only aired original programming two nights a week. This slow start allowed modest hits like Married…With Children and 21 Jump Street to find an audience and helped the station’s brand grow. This early approach was also where Fox experienced their first notable failure.
Debuting on the network’s first fall programming block, Second Chance was a sitcom with a concept so high it went up to the heavens. The series follows Charles Russell (Kiel Martin), a man from the far future of 2011 who dies in a hovercraft accident. His soul ends up before Saint Peter (Joseph Maher) who deems him too good for hell but not good enough to enter heaven. With some help from the apostle, Charles goes back to the 80s adopting the name Charles Time to help his younger self (a baby-faced Matthew Perry) be a better person and potentially help his mother (Randee Heller) make ends meet, although that idea gets ignored beyond the pilot. All while Saint Peter guides him on the path of righteousness.
Despite being made in the 80s and involving time travel, Second Chance is unconcerned with even Back to the Future level discussion of the dire effects involved in messing with one’s own past. Those elements go mostly ignored in favor of saccharine coming-of-age lessons and raunchy humor. As you might expect, those elements don’t mesh well and make for a very strange viewing experience. In many ways, the show feels like a mix of the worst impulses from both the 80s and 90s. Both of its time and ahead of it. The only time travel trick it actually pulls off.
Ratings for the show were dire, even by the standards of the upstart Fox network. Of all the shows that aired that fall, Second Chance was dead last. Normally, this would call for a swift cancellation, but there was one problem. There was nothing to replace it with. With no other options at their disposal, Fox retooled the program. In essence, the show was getting its own second chance.
Now under the title Boys Will Be Boys, the revamp debuted in January 1988, with Matthew Perry now the sole Chazz. Dropping all the supernatural elements, the show now revolved around the antics of Chazz and his friends, the geeky Eugene (Demian Slade) and ultra cool Fonz rip-off, Booch. Charles’ mother, Helen, also stuck around to be the sole adult along with the addition of Debbie Miller (Terri Ivens) as a love interest, both incredibly thankless roles.
As the infuriating title suggests, this is a show all about the boys. Which means an even greater focus on crude humor and a whole heaping helping of objectification. While it stands out as raunchier than your typical sitcom of the era, Boys Will Be Boys is still chock full of run-of-the-mill sitcom staples. Vacations to “exotic” locales (Vegas is the closest they could manage), trying to date two people at once, and even the classic “baby on a doorstep” plot are all used. It often feels like the writers simply spun a wheel to determine what story they’d recycle that week.
Despite its best efforts, ratings did not improve and Boys Will Be Boys was cancelled at the end of the season. Becoming the rare show to be cancelled twice in a single season, an ignominious legacy. Matthew Perry would eventually move on to better things, as would Fox with the debut of a little show called The Simpsons next year. By the end of 90s, Fox would establish itself as the de facto fourth network.
Still, it is hard to look at the cruder elements of this show and not see the blueprint for some of the worst tendencies of sitcoms in the 90s, especially those on Fox. While shows like Married…With Children would go farther than this one ever did, you can see the cultural shift forming. It’s unlikely either version of this show would have ever been able to achieve a similar level of popularity, but it is interesting to see as an artifact of where we were heading. Sadly, it doesn’t offer much more than that. Young Matthew Perry’s charm only goes so far.
Next Time: We experience a different kind of afterlife with the ghostly antics of Jennifer Slept Here.
As always, thanks for reading! If you have any suggestions for future shows you want to see covered, leave them in the comments below. For more great content, follow me on Twitter @JesseSwanson.