Thursday, February 7, 2008

I'll take Guilty Pleasures for $100, Alex!

Back in the nether year 1980, NBC premiered a variety show called "Pink Lady & Jeff".  You probably remember it well.  You don't?  Totally understandiblethey only aired five episodes.  TV Guide ranked PL&J 35th on their list of "50 Worst TV Series Ever", which is fairly accurate, but for some reason I have a soft spot in my heart for this little disasterpieceit was so bad it was good!

During the Spring of '80, NBC's ratings were so bad that test patterns were soundly beating them in some time slots, so they were desperate for somethinganythingto put on the air (witness the infamous "Supertrain").  Legendary TV exec Fred Silverman heard about this duo from Japan called Pink Lady who were selling disco records hand over fist in their native land, so he thought it would be a brilliant piece of programming to bring these two hotties to America and give them their own hour-long variety show, produced by the kings of camp, Sid & Marty Krofft (of "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Sigmund & The Sea Monsters" fame).  Never mind that by that time both disco and TV variety shows were quite passé, not to mention the fact that neither of these girls (Mie on the left and Kei on the right in the above pic) spoke English worth a damn.  No problem!  Enter "comedian" Jeff Altman to act as "Sonny" to Mie and Kei's "Cher", so to speak.  Altman also wrote many of the skits for the show, and he somehow managed to elevate lameness to an art form in the process.  This hack was about as funny as a canker sorehe was the 1980 equivalent of Bob Saget or Pauly Shore.

It never ceases to amaze me that NO ONE involved with the production of this show had the balls to say, “This is abysmal!” before it ever aired.  Think about it:  Dozens of people worked to put this show together—it wasn’t just Silverman, The Kroffts, or Altmanthis was a JOINT effort in one way or another, and surely more than a few members of the cast and/or crew knew this was thing was a train wreck from day one.  This was the television equivalent of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy “singing” on record albums back in the ‘60s, and it made Captain & Tennille's variety show seem like "Masterpiece Theater" by comparison.

"Pink Lady & Jeff" premiered on Friday, March 1, 1980 with guest stars like Sherman Hemsley and Larry Hagman, and in addition to the lame skits, it featured the typical variety show fare of hackneyed dance numbers, tacky costumes, and of course the girls of Pink Lady performing.  Truth to tell, Mie and Kei were very talented, but because of the language barrier and having to learn American songs phonetically, they came across as very wooden performers.  Their choreography had a rather ABBA-esque quality to it, too, but they weren't hard on the eyes, which was their saving grace.  When they were finally allowed to do one of their Japanese hits in Japanese on the show, they came across a lot better, but that style of music was so outdated by that time.

PL&J's other saving grace was including music videos in the pre-MTV era by contemporary acts like Cheap Trick, Blondie and Alice Cooper (doing "Clones"see my previous post from Tuesday about that one).  Sadly, some of their other musical guests looked very out-of-placepicture Bobby Vinton with an afro or Roy Orbison doing "Oh Pretty Woman" looking very much like a has-been.  Fortunately, that situation was rectified by Bruce Springsteen and friends about four years later on that classic black-and-white Showtime special, but I digress...

As one might expect, "Pink Lady & Jeff" was a colossal flop, and was yanked from the air after the fifth episode aired on April 4th.  A sixth episode was taped but never aired, but thanks to the miracle that is DVD, you can see it and the other five, thanks to the good folks at Rhino, who seem to never leave a stone unturned when it comes to obscure TV and music.  As for Jeff Altman, I find it amusing that in his interview on the DVD, he places most of the blame for the show’s failure on Mie And Kei, yet he gladly takes full credit for many of the show’s skits being based his own original characters, whichsorry, Jeffweren't all that damn original.  What a tool!  As for "Pink Lady & Jeff" in general, it was a poorly-conceived idea executed at a bad time.  But, it does bring a chuckle to one's heart, all the same...

A couple other asides:  Appearing in many of those lame skits mentioned above was a young actor named Jim Varney, who later went on to become the legendary Ernest P. Worrell.  For the longest time, I always assumed that Mie and Kei were sisters, but such is not the case, and they apparently still remain friends today, although they no longer perform.  Also, PL&J apparently have a few other fans in this hemisphere, judging by this fan site.

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