Coach/The Drew Carey Show/Ellen/Grace Under Fire
The main problem with bad crossover episodes — and what separates them from the occasional good ones — is that they don’t serve to heighten what’s great about the shows in question, or even just expand their fictional universes to include each other (as when the Miami-set Golden Girls spin-offs Empty Nest and Nurses would share a theme night). They’re mostly just lame promotional gimmicks, stunts halfheartedly staged to bolster one or the other’s ratings, or to keep people watching through a block of otherwise unrelated shows. The latter explanation is about the only plausible one for ABC’s “Viva Las Vegas” night, in which Drew Carey and a couple of secondary cast members from elsewhere in the Wednesday night line-up all ended up in Vegas and appeared on each other’s shows. Say what you will about the homogeneity of sitcoms, but these four programs had very different styles and lived in very different worlds, and the entire stunt stunk of what it was: desperation.
Mad About You/Friends/Seinfeld/Madmen of the People
NBC’s attempt to do a theme night of its own came from a reasonably good idea — that Must See TV anchor show Mad About You would find the Buchmans accidentally causing a New York City-wide blackout, which the rest of the night’s shows (all conveniently located in New York) would take place during. The network only had one problem: Seinfeld. They’d played along with promotion back in ’92, in a reasonably clever crossover with Mad About You, but by 1994, Seinfeld had become popular enough that it could basically tell the Peacock to go scratch. And that’s what happened: on “Blackout Thursday,” the blackout started on Mad About You, and carried through to Friends (that’s the one where Chandler’s stuck in the ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre) and the short-lived Madmen of the People. But smack dab in the middle of the night, there was a Seinfeld episode where there’s no mention of a blackout whatsoever. Crossover fail.
Becker/Cosby/The King of Queens/Everybody Loves Raymond
And when you get right down to it, the least inventive of these big, multi-show crossovers basically boil down to, “Hey, look! He’s on this show, but he’s on that other show!” Take this 1999 episode of Ted Danson’s CBS sitcom Becker, in which (according to IMDb) “Becker returns to his office waiting room to find Hilton Lucas, Doug Heffernan and Ray Barone waiting.” You see, the protagonists of the evening’s other shows all ended up getting injured in one way or another, so of course Becker was their doctor, because TELEVISION. At least CBS was honest enough to promote the event as “Shameless Crossover Monday.”
Full House/Family Matters
Look, I know Full House has its fans, but most of them can be explained away by age: nostalgia is an infinitely powerful drug, but just because you enjoyed a braindead sitcom that was on when you were eight doesn’t mean it was actually good. Yet if I were offered a million-dollar reward, I couldn’t come up with a more brutally efficient way to make Full House even more irritating and unfunny than to introduce Steve Urkel into the mix. On the 1991 episode “Stephanie Gets Framed,” Stephanie Tanner doesn’t want to get glasses, because they’ll make her look like a nerd or something. Luckily, her pal Julie is Urkel’s cousin (insert racist assumption here), and Urkel just happens to be visiting, so he comes by to tell her glasses don’t make you look like a nerd. Wait, what?
Diff’rent Strokes/Hello, Larry
Hello, Larry was intended to be a big comedy smash for McLean Stevenson, who had made his name in one of television’s best ensembles (M*A*S*H). Trouble was, Hello, Larry was bad. The jokes were weak, the playing clumsy, and the writing was terrible; it was such an awful show that it became a running target for Johnny Carson — whose Tonight Show aired on the same network. NBC, already in the ratings toilet and desperate for a hit, tried to graft it onto one of their few successes, rescheduling the program to follow Diff’rent Strokes and manufacturing a heretofore unmentioned connection between protagonist Larry Adler and Strokes’ Mr. Drummond. The shows paired up for three two-part episodes in 1979, with stories that began during Strokes and carried over into Larry, but it didn’t land; in fact, the episodes made the already sketchy Strokes seem even less funny. Larry was canceled at the end of its second season.
ABC had similar trouble getting the decent audiences for Michael J. Fox’s city politics comedy to stick around for Aaron Sorkin’s chronicle of a sports news show, which followed it on Tuesdays. ABC tried to promote Sorkin’s freshman show as yet another zany workplace comedy in the vein of Spin City and The Drew Carey Show, but it just wasn’t a good fit with its lead-in, and much of Spin’s audience clicked away when Spin City ended. So ABC tried this shamelessly transparent move: a February 1999 Spin City episode ended with Fox’s Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty flipping on the TV to watch the fictional show-within-the-show “Sports Night” — which then began without a commercial interruption. This guy on the show you like watches “Sports Night!” the crossover seemed to plead, so why don’t you?
The 1995 Friends episode “The One with Two Parts” gets a nod here solely for screwing up the very simple task of “making a crossover episode.” Here’s what happens: Rachel goes to the hospital, Monica comes with her (and Rachel pretends to be her so she can use her insurance), they are semi-picked up by a couple of cute doctors, and they invite the doctors over for a double date. The doctors were played by George Clooney and Noah Wyle, who coincidentally enough also played single, attractive doctors on ER, which aired later on Thursday nights, right here on NBC. Except they weren’t playing Dr. Doug Ross and Dr. John Carter from the Chicago hospital on ER; they were playing Dr. Michael Mitchell and Dr. Jeffrey Rosen from the New York hospital on Friends. The episode is a pretty funny one, and Clooney’s got good sitcom timing (presumably developed during his time on both Roseanne and a 1984-85 CBS sitcom called, wait for it, E/R). But this sort of Bizarro, Alternate Universe ER doctors thing is just bad form, from a crossover perspective.
Alice/The Dukes of Hazzard
Another weird mash-up from the “sure, why not” file: Neither the CBS diner sitcom Alice nor the action/comedy Dukes of Hazzard were exactly in their glory days by 1983, so why the hell wouldn’t Boss Hogg and Enos have just wandered in and tried to buy Mel’s Diner? Unfortunately, Polly Holiday’s “Kiss my grits”-spouting Flo had already departed the show for her own ill-fated sitcom, or this could have been the greatest moment in hillbilly television history.
But no crossover is more head-scratching than that of the 1960s supernatural sitcom Bewitched and the 2000s daytime soap opera Passions. Yes, seriously. In fairness to the soap, it was one that dealt in the realm of the supernatural, but it’s still hard to guess how they got from that to saying, “Hey, let’s get Dr. Bombay from Bewitched!” But that they did, bringing in Bernard Fox to revive the character for two episodes. Even stranger, the show’s producers also wanted Alice Ghostley to reprise the role of Esmerelda the witch, but that’s where the Bewitched people just plain drew the line — so they cast Ghostley anyway, and had her play a different witch. CANON RUINED.
This one is such a throwaway that it barely qualifies as a crossover, but it’s weird enough to warrant a mention. One of the running gags of the 1966 Batman series was that when Batman and Robin would do their rope climbs up buildings (cheaply done by putting the camera sideways, with the “side” of said buildings on the floor), a celebrity or fictional character would appear in the window. So Jerry Lewis or Sammy Davis Jr. or Art Linkletter or The Green Hornet and Kato (The Green Hornet was positioned as something of a Batman spin-off) would pop out for a laugh, ho ho. But in one episode, Werner Klemperer appeared — in character as Hogan’s Heroes’ Colonel Klink. Except Hogan’s Heroes took place during World War II, which meant that not only was this Nazi war criminal still alive and well (and the same age, apparently), but Batman and Robin, who recognize him, just let him go. These guys are not very good crime-fighters.