They say we’re living in a Golden Age of Television. While many TV shows of yesteryear suffered from poor production values and cliched plot-lines, since the year 2000 or so we have seen a number of raved-about and enormously popular TV shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Mad Men hitting the airwaves. But not every show has gone over so well with all audience members. Many new shows – as well as older shows – have divided audiences between those who thought it was treasure and those who thought it trash.
In some cases the controversy helped leverage the show and attract popularity. But in other cases, over-the-line episodes spelled the death of the series, and in others still, their material was so deplorable that they never even made it on the air (a situational comedy with Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, anyone?). What the series’ producers and writers were thinking is – in some cases – anybody’s guess. Maybe they were trying to goad audiences, maybe they were trying to be provocative to get a larger point across, or maybe it was just plain old bad judgment.
10. The Simpsons
In an era in which South Park and Family Guy exist, it’s hard to imagine that America’s favorite animated family was once a serious source of controversy. But indeed the show was, with many criticizing Bart Simpson as being a bad role model for children. Homer Simpson’s common disciplinary method – brutally strangling Bart – also has generated controversy, and others still object to the show’s frequent use of stereotypes, particularly the Indian stereotype that is convenience store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. The family’s dysfunctional nature once prompted Prudent George H.W. Bush to remark “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.”
9. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo
A reality show originally aired on The Learning Channel (better known as TLC), amazingly, Honey Boo Boo became a lightning rod of controversy right from the start. The show followed a stereotypical rural, Deep South American family of five, including the titular 6-year-old girl Honey Boo Boo (real name Alana Shannon) and her mother, June “Mama June” Shannon. The show was criticized for everything from its exploitation of Alana to dehumanizing the family to Mama June’s lousy parenting techniques, which include a diet of Mountain Dew, Red Bull and spaghetti with butter. The show was finally canceled after reports surfaced that June Shannon was dating a man convicted of aggravated child molestation.
8. Politically Incorrect
With its eye-grabbing title and its host, Bill Maher – the rare sort of political comedian who has the power to enrage both liberals and conservatives – what could have possibly gone wrong with this show? To be fair, though, Maher’s talk show had a solid, eight season run, first on Comedy Central and then on ABC. It may have lasted a lot longer, but Maher and his guest, Dinesh D’Souza had questionable objections to President George W. Bush’s post Sept. 11 statement that the terrorists who attacked the building were cowards. Agreeing with D’Souza, Maher said, “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staring in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, (it’s) not cowardly.”
7. Family Guy
Much like South Park, Seth MacFarlane’s signature animated series, Family Guy, has a totally irreverent attitude toward politics, political correctness and all around good taste. Just look at its cast of characters – a sociopathic baby (Stewie), a highly stereotypical Jewish man, two neglecting parents, a pickup artist whose tactics often devolve into sexual assault and a handicapped police officer who becomes a frequent source of jokes about people with disabilities. The show has also crossed lines with an episode in which the family daughter Meg gets an abortion, frequent sexual assault jokes and an episode about jihad which, incidentally, also included a throwaway gag of family dad Peter Griffin causing mayhem at the Boston Marathon (though the episode aired about a month before the Boston Marathon Bombings, and has since been pulled from Fox and Hulu.com).
6. All My Babies’ Mamas
This is another show that never got off the ground due to the controversy surrounding its subject matter. The show follows Atlanta rapper Shawty Lo who has 11 children with 10 different women. The show was set to premier on the Oxygen network in 2013, but was canceled after it garnered significant criticism for its stereotypical portrayal of black families and for glamorizing premarital sex and sex with multiple partners. The show was canceled after a petition sprung up online demanding that Oxygen cancel the show.
5. Game of Thrones
This HBO epic fantasy series – based on writer George RR Martin’s magnum opus “A Song of Ice and Fire” – was never one to shy away from polarizing material – be it graphic violence, sex, torture or nudity. But as the series has worn on, it’s only gotten more brazen in its depictions of brutal medieval society. The most recent seasons included scenes of a man being castrated, a pregnant woman being stabbed repeatedly in the stomach and several scenes of sexual assault. This last one drew the ire of many feminist groups, and one viewer, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, even said she would stop watching the series. Despite the brutal and controversial material, Martin has defended the series, saying it plays into the books’ themes about the dark and violent nature of man.
This HBO drama series about horse racing received strong reviews and its first season attracted more than a million viewers. So what was the problem? Well, unlike other series mentioned here, it was what was happening off-screen, rather than on, that became the source of controversy. Specifically, the show attracted controversy from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after two horses died during the filming of the first season. After a third horse died during the filming of the second season, production was suspended and the show was cancelled.
3. South Park
Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s long-running animated sitcom – a very crudely drawn satire surrounding four boys from the titular Colorado town – has been stoking the fires of controversy for its entire run. You could make the argument that the show has been successful not in spite of, but because of its highly controversial material. With its penchant for gross-out humor, crude language, dark humor and stinking satire of both progressive and conservative values, the show has pretty much offended everyone throughout its 267-episode run. And it’s still running – the most recent season, the show’s 19th, widely mocked PC culture among other hot-button issues, and brought in well over a million viewers per episode.
2. Married… with Children
This popular sitcom about a dysfunctional family in suburban Chicago was widely regarded as a classic today, but in its original run, the series was less than loved by some viewers for what was regarded then as shocking content. One episode, called “Her Cups Runneth Over”, depicted an old man dressed in a woman’s garter and stockings, a scene where a character touches the pasties of a mannequin in S&M gear, and a homosexual man wearing a tiara. The episode offended one viewer, Terry Rakolta from Michigan, so badly that she led a boycott to have the show canceled. But the show remained on the air for another seven years – long enough to become the longest-running live action sitcom on Fox at the time.
1. Heil Honey, I’m Home
Toss this one in the what-the-heck-were-they-thinking bin. A situational comedy starring – you guessed it – Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. The show was intended to parody elements of 50s and 60s American sitcoms. The show was written and produced in Britain, and first aired in September 1990. It was canceled after just one episode. Many critics and enraged viewers have dubbed it the most tasteless situational comedy of all time. But the real surprise isn’t that it lasted one show; it’s that it became a show at all.