They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Copying something or someone who is s successful doesn't always mean success. Some of the biggest failures in pop culture have been copies or facsimiles of a more successful comic book, movie, TV show or personality. While not a scientific approach, I have decided to list my Top 10 list of pop culture copy cats and facsimiles that stand out as flops. I thought of this idea after reading about the possible cancellation of the Mad Men-inspired TV series Pan Am and the already cancelled Mad Men-inspired Playboy Club.
I should point out that I weeded out some famous copy cats and facsimiles because they manage to hang out briefly and survive on their own merit. So I left Webster, Apple's Way, Matt Houston, Northern Exposure and Hee Haw off the list (Northern Exposure outlasted Twin Peaks and Hee Haw, technically, outlasted Laugh-In thanks to first run syndication). Some of these resulted in lawsuits. I want to note, that I wanted to point these out as a historical look at how powerful an effect the originals had on pop culture. This is not like some many other websites which use the word "fail" as a noun in big capital letters.
These are in chronological order (sort of).
1. Billy West - Charlie Chaplin clone: I mention Billy west, but to be fair he was not the only Charlie Chaplin imitator to make movies. West is the only one who I could find on You Tube (Notice the Eric Campbell-like protagonist in this is played by a young Oliver Hardy). Another imitator named Charlie Aplin got sued by Chaplin himself. There is a whole blog dedicated to Chaplin imitations past and present.
2. Milton and Rita Mouse - Mickey and Minnie Mouse cartoons: Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse was such a phenomenon in the early days of sound cartoons that every other animation studio had a Mickey like character. Van Beuren Studios were sued by Disney because they actually used mice. Warner Brothers had Foxy, who was a fox and Universal had Oswald the Rabbit that looked and sounded like Mickey Mouse, but Van Beuren was stupid enough to make cartoons featuring Milton Mouse and his girlfriend, Rita. Another thing about these Milton and Rita cartoons is they are pre-Hayes Code, so they contain sexual humor. Here are is one called Office Boy.
3. Wonder Man - Superman's first imitator: Everyone knows about Superman and his court room battle with Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel eventually conceded in the early 1950's, due more to a falling sales. By the early 1970's, Captain Marvel returned as a DC Comics stable mate of Superman. Fox Publications Wonder Man on the other was a one hit wonder. DC sued Fox and they only produced one Wonder Man story. You can see it on this blog. A lawsuit really wasn't needed for this character. I don't think he had much going for him.
4. Turn On - The computerized version of Laugh-In: I decided to put Turn On under Wonder Man because like Superman, Laugh-In produced a successful copy and a copy that has went down in history as one of the biggest failures in history. CBS took the concept and production style of Laugh-In, changed the hip satire and psychedelia for hillbilly humor and country music and called it Hee Haw. CBS cancelled it after about two years, but it came back in first run syndication and ultimately ran longer than Laugh-In. On the other hand, ABC tried to copy Laugh-In with Turn On, which was supposed to be hosted by a computer. It only lasted one episode. It was cancelled because some complained of subliminal sexual humor. The odd part is one of the people behind it was George Schlatter, who created Laugh-In. Wonder if he didn't sabotage it a little. I couldn't find footage of it on You Tube but here is a bit of a documentary mentioning it and Schlatter telling about one irate TV station GM's reaction.
5. Strange Paradise - Canadian produced Dark Shadows: This knock-off of Dark Shadows was syndicated by Krantz Media, who produced the Marvel Super Heroes, Spider-Man, and Rocket Robin Hood cartoons. This show took place in the Caribbean and involved a rich guy posessed by an evil ancestor. Unlike Dark Shadows, there are no real monsters, just ghost who look like everyday people. Not exciting. Several episodes are on You Tube.
6. Jobriath - America's David Bowie: Jobriath became the most over-hyped rock star ever. He was signed to Elektra records and promoted as America's David Bowie. Here is his debut on The Midnight Special.
7. Streethawk - A motorcycle version of Knight Rider: Teen idol singer Rex Smith plays an injured cop, who has a computerized super-smart bike. This came along after Knight Rider and really seems to have been rushed into production. Here is a sample from You Tube.
8. Charlie and Company - The Cosby Show clone: This actually might have worked if the network hadn't moved it around on the schedule. It featured Flip Wilson, a Pip-less Gladys Knight and soon-to-be Urkel, Jaleel White. Many people figured out right a way that this was a knockoff and pointed out that the actor who played the oldest son, Kristopher St. John, had played Denise's smart-assed boyfriend in an episode of The Cosby Show. Here is the opening sequence from You Tube.
9. The Insider - Miami Vice with reporters: Once upon a time it was considered cool to be in the media, especially a reporter. This show copied the look, music and clothes of Miami Vice, but made the characters newspaper reporters rather than cops. Even used the Genesis song "I've Got a Job To Do" as its theme song. It didn't take off.
10. Mac & Me - Sort of an E.T. copy and very long McDonalds commercial: There was actually a good intention behind this, because a portion of the ticket sales went to Ronald McDonald House. The problem is it is an blatant E.T. ripoff only with lame special effects (kind of a stop-motion alien). Mac also prefers McDonalds food to Reese's Pieces. Here is the trailer introduced by Ronald McDonald himself.