So I was doing some research into television variety shows of the past (in lieu of Maya Rudolph's flopped variety special on NBC a few weeks ago) when I came across some mentions of "the worst variety show ever" and "one of the worst shows in television history." A show so horrendously bad that it only lasted for 5 weeks and its 6th episode never aired on TV. We're talking about the 1980 variety show Pink Lady (later called Pink Lady and Jeff. To be honest, I had never heard of this show--but its name and quick death intrigued me. More amazingly, I also learned that this flop had been produced by our old friends, Sid and Marty Krofft. Well, that did it. I had to learn more about it!
For starters, let's explain who Pink Lady and Jeff were. Pink Lady was a Japanese female duo comprised of Mitsuyo Nemoto ("Mie") and Keiko Masuda ("Kei.") The girls were superstars in their native Japan, supposedly selling more albums there than The Beatles (a very common, overused, and probably often inaccurate comparison metric that has been cited throughout musical history since the Fab Four broke up.) They had a hit here in the States in 1979 with the disco tune "Kiss In the Dark" and were one of only two Japanese artists to have charted on the Billboard Top 40 (the other honor goes to Kyu Sakamoto with his hit "Sukiyaki.") The girls were childhood friends who were discovered on a Japanese talent show in the mid-70s. After "Kiss In the Dark" became an American hit, they were featured on a news show hosted by Walter Cronkite, which is how Sid and Marty Krofft got wind of them. Fred Silverman, the President and CEO of NBC at the time, saw them on Cronkite's program and decided he could cash in their success. He brought Pink Lady to the Krofft's attention to produce a variety show for them. The show would be co-hosted by comedian Jeff Altman--you know him from The Starlight Vocal Band and the film American Hot Wax. (After Pink Lady and Jeff, he would go on to appear regularly on Solid Gold.) In keeping with Japanese quirkiness, Sid Krofft felt the show should be "the strangest thing that's ever been on television." Silverman insisted that it should be more like Donnie & Marie, and Krofft gave in. There was one huge problem...the women didn't understand English, despite having recorded songs in the English language. That became apparent within minutes of meeting with the Krofft brothers, who had been informed otherwise. Thus the girls' heavy accents and mispronunciation of words became a running (and rather politically incorrect) gag on the show, with Altman trying to explain things to them, leading to more confusion. Each show ended with the girls declaring "hot tub time" with Altman, Pink Lady, and their guests getting into a hot tub before the closing credits rolled...a cheesy excuse to show the girls in bikinis to viewers each week.
The language barrier meant that Pink Lady had to pre-record songs to be performed on the show, and lip-sync them in front of the audience. It also caused problems for the writers, since any last minute changes to the script weren't allowed because Mie and Kei wouldn't be able to learn them in time. Another problem with the show was the waning interest in variety programs by the late 70s. The format was considered to be an older audience's favorite, and advertisers were looking to reach younger viewers. The show had to coerce its guest stars into appearing with hefty paychecks, but the list of star power that appeared on Pink Lady in only a span of 5 weeks is amazing: Blondie, Sherman Hemsley, Larry Hagman, Sid Caesar, Donny Osmond, Cheap Trick, Hugh Hefner, Lorne Greene, Alice Cooper, Red Buttons, Florence Henderson and Jerry Lewis were all guest stars. Roy Orbison also appeared on the last episode of the show, which never aired on television, but which is included on the DVD:
Because so few clips of the show exist on YouTube, it's difficult for me to make a fair enough assessment of how awful the show really was. Yes, it looks corny and stupid, but is it really any more cringe worthy than some of the reality shows on TV today? I don't know, given the choice between The Real Housewives of... and Hugh Hefner warbling through "Chicago...My Kind of Town" with a bevy of Playboy bunnies, I'd opt for the latter. Honestly, I find Altman way more annoying and unfunny in the few clips I've seen than Pink Lady.
One interesting tidbit about the show is that Jim Varney, who would later gain fame as his Ernest character, got an early career start on Pink Lady as a recurring comedy sketch actor. The premiere had bad ratings, and the show was moved to Friday nights, which is where TV shows go to die. It was cancelled after only 5 weeks. You might be glad to know that their failed American TV career didn't tarnish Pink Lady's reputation. They performed a farewell concert in 1981, reunited in 1996, and celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2003 with a successful tour. Here's one of the hot tub scenes that wrapped up each show. Do any of my readers remember Pink Lady and Jeff?
Hi, I'm Pam - thanks for visiting Go Retro! If you've ever been called an old soul like I have, or you were lucky enough to actually live during the mid-20th century in America, then you're in the right place!
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