T Dog’s Think Tank: “Velma”: Bombs away?

Jinkies! The “Velma” reboot is a dud.

Online reviews, viewer anger sink Mandy Kaling’s Scooby-Doo-less reboot

In the 40 years I’ve followed the television business, I’ve never seen a series as panned as Velma – and I don’t mean by TV critics.

On its way to becoming one of the biggest flops in television history, HBO Max released the much-talked about Velma adult animated series from Mandy Kaling last week, and received mixed reviews from critics – but viewers slammed it on social media. As of this writing (January 20), Velma earned a 59 score on Metacritic and 52 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. But the user scores were quite low: Metacritic’s user score was at a 0.5 and just 6 percent liked it on Rotten Tomatoes. Velma is adapted from the long-running Scooby-Doo cartoon and based on the bookworm of the Mystery, Inc. group.

Velma also received low user scores on Google and IMDB, where the show received a lot of negative reviews as well. And we won’t even talk about social media.

Viewers complained about the large number of sex jokes, foul language, nudity, and violence (after all, it is intended for adults) and how the characters did not relate to those in the original series – not to mention the poorly written and incoherent plots, and the absence of Scooby-Doo of course. Then there’s objections over Kaling race-swapping Velma and Shaggy making them East Indian and Black, respectively. Much of the criticism was way over the top and gave an excuse for many reviewers to display their racism, which is never a good thing and risks lumping people who don’t like the show and aren’t racists into the same category. Using Velma to further a political ideology or to end “wokeness”, or whatever bullshit these people are yammering about is absolutely pathetic, as these people need to focus their energies elsewhere. Complaining about how “woke” Velma is isn’t going to lower crime in Chicago or make the CTA buses and trains run on time.

When all else fails…go the HLA route.

This controversy couldn’t have come at a worse time for HBO Max, as the streamer pulled a lot of content off its service in a cost-cutting move, as parent Warner Bros. Discovery is trying to reduce billions in debt after its merger last year. CEO David Zaslav is target enemy number one in the creative community as his actions since taking over Warner Bros. could result in a Writer’s Strike later this year. But he obviously found a friend in Kaling, as he’s making former CBS chairman Larry Tisch look like Steve Jobs.

Personally speaking, I won’t dive too much into this show here as I talked about the adulteratization of Scooby-Doo in this piece I wrote in December 2017, before Velma was even thought up. Given I’m not a Mindy Kaling fan (hate is too strong a word) and as one who grew up watching Scooby as a kid, I have no plans to watch, thus no review. And as for race-swapping, this pet project from Kaling could wind up hurting diversity in Hollywood more than help. What’s next from her, an all-white reboot of A Different World?

As for the future of this show, there’s already reports of Velma being renewed for a second season despite the poor reception. But as we all know, Nielsen still hasn’t figured out how to measure streaming programs, so there is no way to know how many people are watching. This seems like a tone-deaf response – especially after pulling content such as Looney Tunes cartoons and the well-received animated series Final Space – but keep in mind we’re in an era of Elon Musk wannabes running corporate boardrooms (Zaslav included), so what anyone says doesn’t really matter, and if the audience doesn’t matter, then HBO Max shouldn’t matter –  something Warner Bros. Discovery stockholders and investors should fear.

This show is making me angry:

Velma is the not the first show to infuriate the viewing public – believe it or not, there’s been worse. Here are 13 shows – mostly flops who angered viewers in no particular order, a few I mentioned in the now-defunct T Dog Media TV Hall Of Shame:

You’re in the Picture. Premiering on CBS the same day John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, Jackie Gleason hosted this game show farce as a four member celebrity panel would stick their heads through a hole in a life-sized picture, trying to guess what scene they were a part of. With the show receiving negative reviews and viewer response, Picture was shuttered after one episode, with Gleason appearing a week later on an empty set apologizing.

Bus Stop. One 1961 episode of this adaption of the stage play of the same name featured teen heartthrob Fabian portraying a hitchhiker who commits numerous crimes while in town. Due to the unusually violent nature of this episode (for its time), advertisers bailed and so did 25 ABC affiliates including large-market stations in Philadelphia and Boston. Viewers who watched complained about the large amount of violence, and it was slammed by TV critics with the New York Times calling it “A disgraceful and contemptible flaunting of decency.” Capitol Hill noticed, and the episode in question was screened in Congress in a hearing on television violence. ABC canceled Bus Stop after 26 episodes.

Both You’re In The Picture and Bus Stop aired the same year then-FCC Chairman Newton Minow declared television “a vast wasteland”.

Teen idol Fabian (right) starred in a controversial 1961 episode of “Bus Stop”, featuring an unusual amount of violence, angering viewers and sparked hearings on Capitol Hill over TV violence. (IMDB/ABC)

My Mother The Car. Guess you can call this the Velma of its day…this 1965 NBC sitcom featured Jerry Van Dyke as a person who buys a 1928 Porter vehicle – who turns out to be his mother in reincarnated form. The series was not only panned by critics but also by viewers, lasting only one season. TV Guide declared Mother the second-worst show of all time, behind Jerry Springer (for more about him, keep reading.)

The Tammy Grimes Show. Lasting exactly a month, the 1966 ABC sitcom featuring the Broadway actress was universally panned with the plot centering around Grimes being controlled financially by her uncle. William Dozier – who produced the far more successful Batman TV series, said in an interview the sitcom was an “organized disaster”. Due to very poor ratings, “Grimes” was done after only four episodes.

Turn-On. ABC aired the premiere of this program in February 1969 and it certainly was ahead of its time – it unsuccessfully used sex as a comedy device amid the unusual nature of the show (jokes were divided onto four panels on-screen.) Due to overwhelmingly negative response from viewers (Cleveland’s WEWS-TV famously yanked it after the first commercial break), Turn-On was turned off after only five days with about 50 affiliates saying they wouldn’t air the show again.

Chicagoland. This 2014 CNN docu-series produced by Robert Redford featured Rahm Emanuel and his struggles running the nation’s third-largest city. But local viewers were turned off by it – not to mention there was some questionable behind-the-scenes manipulation. National viewers didn’t care for it either as coverage of a missing plane drew higher ratings.

Megyn Kelly Today. NBC paid a lot to hire former Fox News personality Megan Kelly to host an hour of Today, which struggled in the ratings and was blasted by critics. After she made favorable comments about blackface in an October 2018 show, it was enough for NBC to pull the plug, buying out her contract and sending her on her way.

Osbournes Reloaded. What was a six-episode order for this 2009 flop was cut down by Fox to a “35-minute special” featuring the former MTV reality stars. Osbournes Reloaded was poorly received, with even one Fox station (Milwaukee’s WITI) bailing out.

Allen Gregory. Velma wasn’t the first adult animated series to offend viewers – in 2011, Jonah Hill voiced a seven-year-old prodigy who acts like an adult turned off the audience in droves as Fox canceled the show after seven episodes.

The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer. According to Wikipedia, this UPN show from 1998 was about “A black English nobleman named Desmond Pfeiffer, chased out of the UK due to gambling debts, becomes President Abraham Lincoln’s valet, [serving] as the intelligent and erudite backbone of a Civil War-era White House populated by louts and drunkards.” The premise received backlash from civil rights groups including the L.A. chapter of the NAACP even before the series premiered. The show lasted just four episodes.

Johnny B. On The Loose. In June 1991, WLUP-FM’s Jonathan Brandmeier premiered a new nightly comedy show syndicated to more than 100 TV stations. But Chicago viewers and even fans of his radio program were stunned about how bad this was, as it failed to catch on nationally and was canceled after two months.

The Morton Downey Jr. Show. An early success on New York’s WWOR-TV, controversial conservative talk show host Morton Downey Jr. went national in May 1988 via MCA TV. But his show quickly went into the “trash TV” bin, repelling viewers and advertisers due to his antics, including yelling at guests and using vulgar language. After losing key stations such as WPWR in Chicago, MCA pulled the plug in September 1989.

Jerry Springer. Can’t have a list without ol’ Jerry as daily fist-fighting, chair-throwing, and salacious content was the rule – especially during its late ’90s peak. Given it aired in the afternoon in many areas as children may have been watching, the show faced protests from the Rev. Michael Pflager, the Parents Television Council, and even the Chicago City Council. Unlike others on this list, Jerry ran for 27 long seasons and is still rerun on local stations today.

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