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Kickoff Curse Lives -- And, Across the Board, Bad New Shows Die!
October 12, 2011  | By David Bianculli

[UPDATE Saturday, Oct. 15 - Production has been halted on two more cancelees: CBS's How to Be a Gentleman and ABC's Charlie's Angels. Sorry, Charlie . . . ]

Already in this new season, three new fall shows have been canceled: NBC's The Playboy Club and Free Agents, and CW's H8R. One of them, Free Agents, may have fallen victim to TV's Kickoff Curse -- but all of them share another common denominator that makes their demise something to celebrate here at TV WORTH WATCHING.

All of them were terrible...


H8R was the worst of them all, a parasitic TV show that attempted to glorify both snarkiness and self-obsessed smugness, and succeeded only in occupying the very bottom of a murky TV barrel. Any new show that leads with Snooki is aiming low -- and even then, missing entirely.

Free Agents (seen at top of column above) was a wan copy of the imported British series of the same name, which BBC America just began showing last Saturday, hoping to ride the NBC show's wave. Instead, it's low tide, and there's nothing to ride.


And Playboy Club -- well, what can you say about a show that promises the sex appeal of the Hugh Hefner empire and the period thoughtfulness of Mad Men, and delivers neither?


But I can say, about Free Agents, that it was one of three shows that opened the TV season this fall, and jumped the gun by getting an early start on the same night. The night was Tuesday, Sept. 13 -- almost exactly one month ago -- and the three shows were CW's Ringer and NBC's Up All Night and Free Agents.

In general terms, all three could be in danger of falling victim to TV's Kickoff Curse, which says that the first new series to premiere each fall will not survive to see a second season.


But to get picky and technical about it, the primary recipient of the Kickoff Curse for fall 2011 is the Sarah Michelle Gellar series Ringer, because it was the first new show to premiere on that fateful night. It launched at 9 p.m. ET, whereas the NBC sitcoms launched at 10 and 10:30, respectively.

Where did this curse come from? Okay, so I made it up. But I made it up a long, long time ago -- back in the 1970s -- and an an early predictor of TV failures, it's statistically rather accurate.

Last year, for example, the first new show out of the box was CW's Hellcats, a show about a brainy student who pays for her college tuition by landing a cheerleading scholarship. That show was canceled at the end of its freshman season, making it the fifth TV series in a row to fall victim to the Kickoff Curse.

In 2009, the freshman loser victimized by the Kickoff Curse was CW's Melrose Place (despite the midseason publicity injection by Heather Locklear, star of the prime-time soap's original 1990s version). In 2008, it was NBC's America's Toughest Jobs, which three short years later is tough to remember. In 2007, it was Fox's talent-competition series Nashville -- and in 2006, it was another Fox series, Vanished. Which did.

The last series to defy the Kickoff Curse was Fox's Prison Break in 2005. But overall, the Curse has a fairly high degree of accuracy. In 36 years, only six Cursed shows have survived. And if we count Ringer as the new show on the chopping block? It has less than a year to succumb to the Kickoff Curse... or to defy it.

Most prominent among the survivors are the CBS sitcom Alice in the '70s, ABC's newsmagazine Primetime Live in the '80s, Fox's sitcom Roc in the '90s, and, in the current decade, the aforementioned Prison Break.

And except for a pair of fairly recent sitcoms from the now-defunct UPN network, Girlfriends and One on One from 2000-01, those are the only survivors of a curse that began way back in 1975, during the Gerald Ford administration.


The most famous victims of the Kickoff Curse include ABC's fabulous 1994 teen drama My So-Called Life, starring Claire Danes (seen at left, now in Showtime's Homeland); 1984's Call to Glory, an ABC drama starring Craig T. Nelson that explored the Kennedy-era 1960s the way Mad Men is doing now; and 1990's Hull High, the NBC series that was the last show to attempt a weekly high-school musical series until the current Glee.

For the record, and for your amusement, here's the complete list of shows that faced the Kickoff Curse, along with their respective fates. Only shows which are underlined survived the curse.

Remember any of these? If most of the names don't ring a bell... well, that's the point.


2011.....CW.....Ringer (fate unknown)
2009......CW.....Melrose Place
2008.....NBC.....America's Toughest Jobs
2005.....Fox.....Prison Break
2004.....Fox.....North Shore
2002......WB.....Family Affair
2001.....UPN.....One on One
1999.....UPN.....Grown Ups
1998.....Fox.....Holding the Baby
1997.....UPN.....Good News
1996.....Fox.....L.A. Firefighters
1995.....Fox.....The Crew
1994.....ABC.....My So-Called Life
1993.....Fox.....Front Page
1992.....ABC.....Covington Cross
1990.....NBC.....Hull High
1989.....ABC.....Primetime Live
1988.....NBC.....Baby Boom
1987.....NBC.....Private Eye
1986.....CBS.....The Wizard
1984.....ABC.....Call to Glory
1983.....NBC.....We Got It Made
1982.....NBC.....The Powers of Matthew Star
1981.....ABC.....Best of the West
1980.....CBS.....Ladies' Man
1978.....NBC.....Dick Clark's Live Wednesday
1977.....CBS.....The Betty White Show
1975.....CBS.....Big Eddie




David said:

Very good article. I'm curious also about the opposite -- new shows that start 2 or 3 weeks later than most shows and how they fare (e.g., Last Man Standing).

[Good question -- but before I do the research, let's name the curse. If the Kickoff Curse is for the first new show to appear, what should we call the last one to arrive? - DB]

Comment posted on October 13, 2011 11:16 AM

len said:

You mean that "Pink Lady and Jeff" didn't make the list???

[Very funny, Len. Remember, this is a list of the First, not the Worst. In that case, "Pink Lady" would be right up there. Or down there... - DB]

Comment posted on October 13, 2011 12:48 PM

Sarah said:

Well now I'm nervous because I like Ringer and want it to work out. It also seems to have to do with the network but then if it wasn't the CW or FOX who would kick off the TV season. As for the series that have already been cancelled I have to admit I didn't watch any of them. Free Agents was the only one I might have given a chance if I had time on my TV schedule so happily I won't miss them. So I will keep my fingers crossed that Ringer and my other new shows survive.

[Ringer is safe for this year.... It was just given a renewal order. If it gets picked up for next season, then it'll be one of the few shows to survive the curse. We'll see.. Or, we won't. - DB]

Comment posted on October 13, 2011 2:54 PM

Erin said:

Second-wave survivors?
The buzzer-beater blessing?

Comment posted on October 15, 2011 1:45 PM
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