Sunday night's much-hyped premiere of Teen Wolf—MTV's revise of the Michael J. Fox comedy flick—showed the level that the channel has reached with its original programming, and where it hopes to go from there. Teen Wolf is MTV's high-budget, big-scale, swing-for-the-fences attempt to both cash in on the supernatural romantic thriller trend in pop culture that's produced phenomenons like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, and to build a dramatic, serial franchise to match the success of their reality-based smashes Jersey Shore and 16 and Pregnant. The returns so far have been inconclusive, with the show receiving mixed reviews, and posting solid, but not blockbuster, ratings.
However, the fact that there are any positive returns at all represents something of a success for MTV, given the countless number of awful MTV originals from this century on which the book has already been closed. Some were fun, others laughable, others downright unwatchable—and the majority of them were all three at some point or another—but none of them were ever going to be big enough to deserve lead-ins during MTV Movie Awards commercial breaks, or noteworthy enough to merit being punchlines to unfunny jokes during the host's monologue. While MTV would like to sweep memory of them under the rug in light of their current triumphs, we haven't forgotten about them—nor will we anytime soon. Here's 20 of the worst since the ball dropped on the 20th century.
For shows 20-16, including Making the Band rejects and lie-detector tests, click NEXT.
20. High School Stories (2004-present; 56 episodes)
TV Formula: Dazed and Confused + reality - fun
Recap: For obvious reasons, MTV gears a lot of its programming towards recreating the high school experience, whether through reality shows like My Life as Liz, originals like Skins, goofs like Silent Library or trips down memory lane like When I Was 17. But for some reason, the longest-running HS-set show still on MTV is High School Stories, a boring recreation of various teenage "scandals, pranks and controversies," narrated in first person by their perpetrators. Some of the pranks are amusing, but there's never any suspense, because they all end the same way—with the kids getting caught and punished for their crimes, because otherwise they wouldn't be on the show in the first place. Eventually, it becomes a frustrating metaphor for the futility of teenage rebellion, and how un-rock and roll is that?
Fun Fact: Spanning over six years, High School Stories is the longest-running MTV series on our list, though whether or not that should be considered an accomplishment is up for debate.
19. Why Can't I Be You? (2006; 22 episodes)
TV Formula: Made + Single White Female - explicit psychosis
Recap: Maybe naming a TV show after one of The Cure's all-time most jealous, insecure and creepy singles wasn't exactly starting it out on the path towards greatness, but Why Can't I Be You? actually turned out to be worthy of its musical source material (except, y'know, without the super-catchy guitar and horn riffs). The show was like a more desperate, lower self-esteemed successor to the program's successful series of self-empowerment Made, in which rather than a young person learning from a mentor about how to accomplish a specific goal, they are taught how to be exactly like that mentor, through general socialization and better hair products and whatnot. The endings are usually happy, but in an era where our Little Monsters are taught to celebrate their own special Born This Wayness, the lessons taught of conformity and direct emulation seem somewhat unsettling.
Fun Fact: Host Nick Zano has since gone on to an extraordinary career of acting mediocrity, landing key roles in such '00s blockbusters as College, The Final Destination (not to be confused with regular Final Destination) and Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
18. 'Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen and Dave (2004; 7 episodes)
TV Formula: (Say Yes To The Dress + Bridezillas) x a larger budget
Recap: The first in several awful voyeuristic reality shows to make our list. As a celebrity couple, Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro were the precursors to Nick and Jessica, as their initial courtship was televised in 2002's Carmen and Dave: A Love Story (so continued documentation of their engagement and wedding was the next logical step). They were marketed as the more risque, alternative coupling compared to the Homecoming King and Queen on Newlyweds, and while it was interesting to watch their mushy—and at times sloppy—declarations of love for one another leading up to their big day, it was also awkward seeing Dave wear more makeup than Carmen. Sadly, they also set the trend of MTV couples who subsequently divorced. (Not that we're pointing fingers.)
Fun Fact: The show may not have helped their marriage, but Carmen and Dave still owe a lot to reality television: before her Baywatch days, Elektra could be found escorting horny males on MTV's Singled Out, while Navarro tried to milk the rest of his appeal by hosting the the ill-fated Rock Star: Supernova with Brooke Burke in 2006.
17. Taquita and Kaui (2007; 8 episodes)
TV Formula: (Making The Band 3 - Danity Kane) x (The Simple Life + Vegas)
Recap: Diddy's Making the Band 3 rejects looked like great reality show personalities during their competition days—seriously, after watching rounds and rounds of wannabe divas, Taquita was ingenius comedic relief—but perhaps giving them their own reality show and encouraging them to take their singing and acting talents to the Vegas strip wasn't the best idea MTV producers have ever had. Their slapstick proved grating and the ladies just didn't bring the same drama that Sir Combs is able to invoke with a single stare or threatening request for cheesecake.
Fun Fact: Before she broke it down in front of Diddy and a room full of cameras, Kaui performed in front of arenas of fans on a nightly basis as a dancer for the Denver Nuggets.
16. Exposed (2006-2008; 43 episodes)
TV Formula: Blind Date x Lie to Me
Recap: Or, as you probably remember it, "that dating show that used the lie detector." MTV had a whole rush on dating-type shows in the mid-00s that used some kind of surveilled or third-party knowledge to provide a twist—Room Raiders and Parental Control were two of the more successful examples—but the cheesiest by far was Exposed, in which a dater questioned two prospective datees, while a friend sat stationed in a nearby RV equipped with a polygraph-type machine to test the veracity of their answers, obnoxiously pronouncing his findings to his friend through an earpiece. Of course, the entire thing was undercut by a disclaimer at show's end: 'The Voice Stress Analyzer is used for entertainment purposes only. It is not operated by a trained professional or under conditions that would provide a reliable means of lie detection. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of any results." Great! So, uh...why are we watching this show, again?
Fun Fact: The show has seen an impressive amount of reality TV royalty pass through its hallowed RV walls, including Making the Band's Aubrey O'Day and Flavor of Love's Pumkin.
For shows 15-11, including bi-curious MySpace stars and Sex and the City rip-offs, click NEXT.
15. Downtown Girls (2010; 6 episodes)
TV Formula: (Sex and the City + The City) - actual sex or humor
Recap: We understand that any film or television show featuring a young female writer living in the city will inevitably be compared to Sex and the City, but that doesn't mean that these poor attempts at a SATC rip off have to be downright horrible. MTV's latest experiment in enviable urban culture was like The City, only with girls a few years older and less famous, and proved to be even more clichéd and bland than its title suggests. Narrated by Shallon Lester, the writer of the group who obviously spent her nights reciting Carrie Bradshaw's voiceovers, their clique was said to represent every persona within the full female spectrum: The Rich Girl, The Fearless Brit, The Slightly Older, Slightly Wiser One, The Ditzy One, The Writer—so ladies, if you haven't already, go out and befriend the next chick you hear that talks funny. Cameras followed as the women experienced life's trials and tribulations, like contemplating taking a job at a tacky dive bar, drunkenly making out with ex-boyfriends and having daddy pay your $700 credit card bill. We now fully understand why fiction is so popular in the first place.
Fun Fact: Despite failing to find an audience with the MTV crowd, Random House apparently feels there is a market for Lester's single girl wisdom. Her second memoir, Exes and Ohs: A Downtown Girls's (Most Awkward) Stories of Love, Lust, Revenge and a Little Facebook Stalking, was published in June 2011.
14. Gamekillers (2006; 6 episodes)
TV Formula: (Disaster Date + Punk'd) x Product Placement
Recap: In the mid-00s, Axe Dry antiperspirant lucked into a hit ad campaign entitled "The Gamekillers," a series of clever, chuckle-worthy commercials presenting archetypal characters you might encounter during a night out at the bar who would, were you attempting to be on it, leave your Game in grave danger. So successful was the campaign that MTV decided to make a show out of it, composing date scenarios for two lucky contestants in which the male participant was repeatedly beset by the titular player-haters—the Balladeer, the One-Upper, even a couple new ones like the Natural Disaster and The Flirt—and was rewarded with a chalice proclaiming him an all-time ladies man if he was able to survive the date intact. Unfortunately, unlike all those other TV ad campaigns that were turned into hit TV shows—Cavemen, anyone? Baby Bob?—Gamekillers was not long for this world, and lasted only five episodes, teaching MTV a valuable lesson about the short-term shelf life of viral marketing.
Fun Fact: MTV and Axe battled over whether the latter would be able to feature its product in the show itself, even requesting at one point that a character wear an Axe T-shirt. MTV held strong, waiting ten days after the show's premiere to even air the Axe ads on the network.
13. 8th and Ocean (2006; 10 episodes)
TV Formula: ANTM x The Real World: Miami
Recap: This reality show about a group of twenty-somethings was a snoozefest when compared to ANTM, and further proves just how valuable and integral a force Ms. Tyra Banks actually is. The group of beautiful people who lived in the Miami apartment featured, of course, a sheltered Christian from the Midwest, a cute but dangerous player, competitive twin sisters, the stressed agents forced to herd them to their castings and lots of talk about weight and body image issues. (Stereotypes are born from truths…) The only good thing that came from said show is that Accuvue commercial that still gets some airplay. We hope that the girls are getting their residual checks.
Fun Fact: Good girl Britt traded in reality cameras for religion by joining Models for Christ after the show aired.
12. A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila (2007; 12 episodes)
TV Formula: The Bachelor Pad + Rock of Love x the contents of the Jersey Shore hot tub
Recap: Even after numerous trips to the smush room and hot tub in Seaside Heights, Tila Tequila's bi-curious search for love still feels like the dirtiest thing MTV has ever given us. At the time, the MySpace phenomenon didn't discriminate when it came to love (or television airtime), so she invited both men and women to compete for a chance at her heart. In case you missed it, picture lots of thongs, stripper heels and hot tubs. And it spawned two sequels. To the future, America!
Fun Fact: After two sequels, Tila finally declared her preference for the ladies and became engaged to the late Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson in 2009, before she died due to complications with diabetes in 2010.
11. Popzilla (2009; 12 episodes)
TV Formula: Mad magazine x three dimensions
Recap: You guys liked that Robot Chicken show on Adult Swim, right? A bunch of loosely-connected, occasionally-thought-out animated skits that riffed on pop culture, like the visualization of a bunch of stoned college kids watching TV at 1:30 in the morning and having a bunch of "Dude, wouldn't it be funny if?..." discussions? Well, then you're gonna love Popzilla, a show that basically did the exact same thing, except with cheesier animation, jokes that were only half-baked, and Twilight and the Jonas Brothers replacing Star Wars and 80s anti-drug commercials as regular subject matters. MTV obviously intended Popzilla to be edgy and youth-contemporary, but really just ended up showing how behind the curve they were—especially for a station whose animated content was once considered to be at the very forefront of the cutting edge—and the show has yet to be renewed for a second season.
Fun Fact: Despite the mediocre content, Popzilla actually comes from fine sketch-comedy pedigree—producer Dave Thomas was one of the stars of legendary late-70s / early-80s Canadian sketch TV program SCTV.
For shows ten to six, including douchebag friend wannabes and some seriously terrible rhyming, click NEXT.
10. The '70s House (2005; 10 episodes)
TV Formula: That 70s Show - famous people - purpose
Recap: One of the least-explicable one-season wonders in MTV history, The '70s House was the channel's attempt to cash in on what as far as we could tell was a non-existent retro craze for the disco era. Hosted by comedian and I Love the ___s mainstay Bill Dwyer, the show featured 12 goofball contestants living in a '70s-decked house and competing to prove who could "be the most '70s," which included playing funk name-that-tune, using as much post-hippie vocabulary as possible, and occasionally responding to the house's "Hustle Alarm," which demanded that everyone stop what they were doing (sleeping, usually) whenever it went off and perform the signature '70s dance. Despite the obvious Survivor-meets-Real World competitive machinations, the only real dramatic tension the show held was over the distant possibility of the show's ridiculously hot co-host Natasha Leggero (sort of a cross between Susanna Hoffs and Natalie Imbruglia) hooking up with one of the sexually-frustrated, short-shorted male finalists. She didn't, and the show was never heard from again.
Fun Fact: The program was off on its anthropological research once or twice, most notably when they brought in "'70s star" Christopher Atkins for a special appearance, despite the fact that the Blue Lagoon star made his film debut in 1980. (Atkins was likely too grateful for the shoutout to bother correcting them.)
9. Bromance (2008-2009, six episodes).
TV Formula: (Entourage + The Hills) x Paris Hilton's My New BFF
Recap: Call it the apocalypse or merely a sign of what our culture has become, but young people today actually believe they can find a career, love or lifelong friendship from winning a reality competition. (Crazy, we know.) The Prince of Malibu turned Hills lothario Brody Jenner hosted his own reality competition to find the next member of his ever-expanding crew of douchebags. Innocent males with a secret hankering for stardom of their own attempted to win the friendship of this rich and (for reasons unknown) famous celebrity by competing in a series of ridiculous tasks used to judge each guy's BFF potential (game-spitting, the ability to spontaneously burst into song). Eliminations were held in the hot tub, and Jenner even got help from his Hills pal Lauren Conrad. (Because this is life after all, and any of his bros should be able to handle staged appearances by his reality show posse.)
Fun Fact: Scoring the friendship of Brody Jenner clearly paid off. Winner Luke Verge appeared in 2010's The Awakening as "Stoned Dude." Look out, Hollywood!
8. The Hard Times of RJ Berger (2009-Present, 24 episodes).
TV Formula: Sixteen Candles + Superbad + Boogie Nights - success
Recap: It's understandable that MTV would want to try their hand at a high-school-set comedy series that called back to the raunch, naivete and broad character strokes of an 80s teen film comedy, but the channel belly-flopped with The Hard Times of RJ Berger, a show about a nerdy kid in love with the lead cheerleader, with the twist being that RJ also happens to be the most well-endowed kid in his school (hence the unforgivable title pun). None of the characters besides RJ are even remotely likable—particularly his best friend Miles, a human being so vile that he makes the younger brother from Just One of the Guys look like Say Anything John Cusack—and the mix of throwback innocence and modern-day emo-ness just comes off as awkward. Particularly notable for its weirdness was the season one finale, in which RJ loses his virginity to platonic friend Lily immediately after she awakes in her hospital bed from her school bus-induced coma (yes, there's one of those scenes), and she appears to die minutes after. Lily's fine, actually, but the show isn't.
Fun Fact: The show especially wears its emo-ness on its sleeve in terms of its devotion to the band Weezer. RJ's high school is named Pinkerton High after the Weezer album, and the band themselves showed up in a second-season episode to help him get into one of their shows, swearing their nerd allegiance. ("I just want to play with my ants and my ant farm," says Cuomo.)
7. FnMTV (2008; 13 episodes)
TV Formula: Total Request Live x The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour
Recap: Amidst endless shouting for the channel to play more music videos—Justin Timberlake even called them out for it at the 2007 VMAs—MTV finally relented in 2008 in the form of FnMTV, a Pete Wentz-hosted show that aired on Friday nights (hence the title) and ostensibly showed actual music videos for a couple hours. Really, the show seemed to feature more celebrity pandering and camera-mugging than actual music-video showcasing, and even the re-plays MTV would show in the mornings after only showed frustratingly abbreviated clips of the videos it supposedly premiered. FnMTV ended up being more memorable for the awkward celeb interactions it created (Nas saying he liked a She & Him video because the cartoon gore was cool was a highlight) than for any new videos it helped break, and when the show was eventually supplanted by AMTV—a daily early-morning, hours-long programming block that actually showed new music videos in their entirety—everyone, especially JT, breathed a sigh of relief.
Fun Fact: In a rare noteworthy celeb interaction on the show, Diddy bum-rushed panelist James Montgomery for daring to doubt his new protege Donnie Klang's commercial potential, yelling "Who the f--- are you?!?! How many hit records do you have?!?!?!" (Donnie's album peaked at #19 on the charts and failed to generate a hit single.)
6. Next (2005-2008; 100+ episodes)
TV Formula: The Dating Game + ADD
Recap: OK, we'll admit it—we've spent more than a few lazy days marathoning through reruns of this show like we were injecting it directly into our veins. Still, it would feel almost disrespectful for us to do a list like this and not include Next, perhaps the definitive program of MTV's impressive mid-00s run of conceptually ludicrous dating shows. In this one, five suitors arrived in a RV (was MTV single-handedly keeping the RV industry in business last decade?), lining up to go on mini-dates with one lucky contestant, who shouted the titular phrase whenever they thought the date had run its course (occasionally in mere seconds, if the datee didn't meet the right physical profile). If the suitor survived the date without being Nexted, they earned the right to either cash out—a dollar for every minute of the encounter—or go on a second date with the contestant. (They usually chose the second date, though blackhearts that we are, we always rooted for the cash-out.)
As addictive as the show was, it included several tropes that would grate on even the most guilt-free guilty-pleasure junkie. First, there were the obviously scripted one-liners that each of the suitors would deliver both before going on the dates ("Let's hope that this girl knows prime rib when she sees it!") and after getting dismissed from them ("Whatever, your ass is so big that it needs its own flag"). Then there were the Three Facts about the suitors that appeared on screen as they got off the RV, which always included at least one fact that was totally irrelevant to the person's character, a regular feature so perplexing that it even inspired an Aziz Ansari comedy bit. And worst of all, there was the rhyming, which the Next announcer would do to sum up every date after the moment of Nexting ("Justin chose the wrong time to make a pass / So Amanda decided that he had no class!"), as if she was concluding some sort of fairytale.
Yeah, all right, we kinda loved all of it anyway—but there's just no way that Next wasn't making this list. It wouldn't have felt right.
Fun Fact: So great was the cultural impact of Next that it even made it into a reference on the Fabolous single "Diamonds": "Sit on the next bus like that show on MTV." We always knew that Fab was a fellow bad dating show junkie.
For shows five to two, including creepy celebrity obsession and the lamest battle competition ever, click NEXT.
5. I Want a Famous Face (2004; 12 episodes)
TV Formula: Extreme Makeover + FANatic
Recap: Taking aspects of previous hard-hitting MTV documentaries, I Want a Famous Face explored the most obsessive side of fandom in the 21st century, and the ability to achieve an even closer connection to his or her celebrity of choice thanks to the marvels of modern medical practices. Much more serious than MTV's dating show or reality fluff, I Want A Famous Face was difficult to stomach at times due to its utterly delusional subjects, and graphical surgical scenes. While it was a hard examination of a strange and growing movement at the time, the unabashedly true look at severely confused fans just left us feeling sad and queasy.
Fun Fact: While most of the subjects featured were women (hoping to look like Britney Spears and Jessica Alba), I Want A Famous Face's premiere featured twins Matt and Mike who longed to resemble Brad Pitt. Seven years later, male plastic surgeries are on the rise. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the number of male procedures rose significantly in 2010, including ear reshaping, liposuction and facelifts.
4. Rich Girls (2003-2004; 10 episodes)
TV Formula: (Laguna Beach + My Super Sweet 16) - (likable characters + rapper parents)
Recap: "Money does NOT buy happiness," these two heiresses would have you know. Before there was Laguna Beach, The Hills or My Super Sweet 16, there was Rich Girls, a modest look at the lives of two ultra privileged Manhattan teens: Ally Hilfiger (daughter of designer Tommy) and friend Jaime Gleicher. (While it's bad enough that Jamie was referred to as Ally's friend throughout the duration of the show's promotion, it doesn't help that the former was an aspiring model and actress.) Watching these part-time students / part-time starlets complain about the horrors of retail employees working on commission was brainless, and they never quite won us over like their various equivalents in the shows that followed did. In the end, the two came off as spoiled and vapid. But then again, maybe we're just jealous. We hate getting bothered in stores, too.
Fun Fact: While Ally Hilfiger's father made a name for himself outfitting America's prepsters (and later rap stars) in patriotic red, white and blue, Gleicher's father Leo hit it big with the the chain Innovation Luggage. Because everyone likes to travel.
3. The Andy Milonakis Show (2005-2007, 22 episodes).
TV Formula: The Tom Green Show + very low-grade narcotics
Recap: Sometime in the mid-'00s, it was decided by someone somewhere that Andy Milonakis, a comedian in his late 20s who due to a growth-hormone condition appeared to still be in his early teens, merited his own TV show. This conclusion, however reached, quickly proved to be erroneous, as his surreal brand of free-associative humor—reminiscent of MTV2's earlier comedy program Wonder Showzen, which at least had a vague sense of purpose in its bad-acid-trip re-imaginings of kiddie programming—fell flat time and time again, without any anchoring joke or concept aside from a bludgeoning "CHECK OUT THIS GUY WHO LOOKS LIKE A KID DOING ALL THIS WEIRD SHIT!!" message.
The nicest thing you could say about The Andy Milonakis Show (which somehow lasted three seasons, though only one before being shuttled off to sister station MTV2) was that it was a precursor to similarly rudderless Adult Swim programs like 12 Oz. Mouse and Perfect Hair Forever—though considering that those were some of the worst Adult Swim shows, we're not even sure that's a compliment.
Fun Fact: Milonakis had a surprising number of celebrity benefactors over the course of his three seasons, with at least one big-name cameo an episode—ranging from crunkers like Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins to unfunny white men like Rob Schneider and Carson Daly.
2. Yo Momma (2006-2008; 64 episodes)
TV Formula: Wild'n Out x that one scene in White Men Can't Jump
Recap: Talk about your programs with a low upside. A show based around a competition of "Yo Momma" jokes, starring Fez from That 70's Show? What exactly was the potential for excellence here? Anyway, whatever their historically low ambitions, MTV certainly found them met with Yo Momma, the Wilmer Valderrama-created-and-hosted program, featuring some of the world's most talented artists of illustrating why the woman who gave birth to their rival is deserving of mockery and scorn. The show pitted jokers against each other, in a cipher-like format shamelessly designed to give the show the air of street cred, with celebrity judges (rappers, mostly, though the dissed mothers of the runner-ups showed up for the season finales) helping to decide which maternal slams were the rawest. One chuckle-inducing insult was basically a grand slam for this show.
Fun Fact: The show's theme song paid tribute to its conceptual roots with The Pharcyde's 1992 jam "Ya Mama," one of the earliest and best-dated prominent pop culture appearances of the joke format.
For our selection of the worst MTV show of the 21st century, click NEXT.
1. Date My Mom (2004-2006; 47 episodes)
TV Formula: (Singled Out + Blind Date) ÷ Father Knows Best
Recap: A dating show with the premise that moms can help you find love sort of makes sense, as you'd likely want your parents' opinion before you settle down with someone who may turn out to be a complete psychopath. But using your mom as your wing-woman to snag an eligible bachelor, let alone having her gone on the date for you? Now that's bound to get all kinds of uncomfortable (particularly when Mom likes to get handsy). On this multi-generational dating series, one man is given the task of taking out three mothers of prospective dates of his own, all while said daughters sit at home and pray that dear old mom doesn't talk about that one super-mortifying awful thing that they did. (Obviously they did. Embarrassment ensues.)
Flirtation on either end felt icky, as did the big reveals at the end, when the men were either totally dejected that they didn't go with the awful-sounding one who is actually brutally hot, or disappointed that the girl of their dreams doesn't actually have a bigger rack. But perhaps it was the corny threeway send off on the rocky beach that really irked us the most, with the mother of the winner finally letting her daughter go off with her knight in shining armor, to accept her reality television fate. A sex tape won't be far behind!
Fun Fact: While MTV can't be credited with igniting the whole "cougar" craze (MILF had been planted in our pop cultural lexicon way back in 1999, thanks to American Pie, furthered only by the 2003 Foutains of Wayne hit "Stacy's Mom") it certainly helped the likes of Cougar Town, Demi and Ashton and Sam Taylor-Wood and Aaron Johnson seem more socially acceptable by 2011.
What do you think? Incredulous that we left off Tiara Girls or Celebrity Rap Superstar? Enraged that we dare besmirch Bromance's good name? Let us know in the comments section.