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Turn-On (ABC, 1969)

Turn-On was an American sketch comedy series that aired on ABC on February 5, 1969. Considered one of the most famous TV flops, Turn-On aired for one episode
with a second one unaired. However, not everyone saw the entire first episode, but more on that later.

The premise of Turn-On was that it was produced by a computer. It didn’t have sets. The actors stood in front of a white backdrop. Turn-On used sex as a comedic subject, using rapid-fire jokes and risque skits. Many of the jokes were presented in a four square divided screen, like a comic book. Turn-On was initially rejected by both NBC and CBS. CBS said they passed because “it was so fast with the cuts and chops that some of our people actually got physically disturbed by it.” A producer described the show as a “visual, comedic, sensory assault — involving animation, videotape, stop-action film, electronic distortion and computer graphics — even people.”

Some people claim that Turn-On was cancelled midway through the first episode, but it was actually cancelled days later. The reason people believe in the midway cancellation was that a lot of affiliate stations did not return to the show after the first commercial break after viewers flooded their phone lines with complaints. Many other ABC stations refused to even air the episode. In total, ABC received 369 complaint calls about the show.

The worst part of this fiasco for ABC? They were so afraid of a similar backlash that they passed on a pilot episode, written by Norman Lear, in which the lead character was “foul-mouthed and bigoted.” CBS took a chance and began airing All in the Family in 1971. That show lasted 9 years.