First of all, dear viewer, you must be clear on the distinction between "bad" and "BAD."
According to Craig Nelson, "bad," at least when applied to TV shows, is that which is boring and stupid and crying for clicker-oblivion.
On the other hand, BAD television (that's all caps, gentle viewer!) is a joy forever.
At least it is for Nelson, who cared enough to watch the very worst compiling "The Very Best of the Very Worst of BAD TV" ($9.95; Delta Trade Paperbacks).
What he ended up with is a funny read, a rigorously researched reference, and a shrewd celebration of human folly by people who brought you BAD TV like "Where's Everett?" (1966; Alan Alda and Patricia Smith adopt a baby who's not only from another planet but invisible).
The book's first section is "BAD Classics Hall of Fame," whose dozens of entries include "The Brady Bunch," "Mod Squad" and "Lost in Space."
Then Nelson moves on to his self-styled "Tammi Awards," named in honor of that great symbol of waste, Three Mile Island. For each television genre (sitcoms, variety shows, even kid shows, infomercials and made-for-TV movies), Nelson confers from one to six Tammies on such deserving BAD TV as "She's the Sheriff," "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp," "It Pays to Be Stupid," "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour," the long-ago "Studs' Place" (1949), and then his most recent inclusion, "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."
Along the way, Nelson devotes a chapter to BAD things that happen to good (TV) people. "Life With Lucy" (1986's painfully short-lived return to sitcoms by a septuagenarian Lucille Ball) and "David Cassidy--Man Undercover" pratfall into this category.
Another chapter, "Curses!," plumbs certain mysteries of the BAD-TV universe, pondering, for instance, why Tim Conway could never make it as a series star (and darn it, did he ever try, try, try!).
Meanwhile, this book is a virtual "Poor Richard's Almanac" of BAD-TV maxims. Check out these words to live by:
* If you're a cop, it may be more trouble than it's worth to have a partner who's from another planet.
* If you're married to, best friends with, or next-door neighbors of your polar opposite, it'll be a living hell for you, but a laugh-riot for your friends.
And, of course:
* If your life is dull, buy a chimpanzee.
The idea for "BAD TV" came to Nelson in, aptly enough, a vision.
"With the coming 500-channel world of television, there will be more and more room for horrible shows," Nelson reasons. "I saw the need for a guide to all of them."
Thus did he set forth on his vision quest.
By day a just-turned-40 editor who specializes in pop-culture books, this unabashed fan of television devoted his after hours to compiling lists, tracking down shows and screening his BAD contenders.
Don't think it was easy.
First of all, many of the most deserving series--not surprisingly--lasted for just the blink of an eye. So where to search for this twilight cache of BAD video?
"Places like the Museum of Television and Radio collect only the BEST of television," notes Nelson with a trace of disapproval. "I think they ought to reconsider their mission."
Fortunately, perseverence--and assistance from several private collectors Nelson admiringly terms "hard core"--unearthed much of what he was seeking, enabling him to screen for himself fully half the programming that earned its way into his book.
And plenty that didn't: "The most hideous part of the research was, I had to spend hundreds of hours watching things that were bad BUT WEREN'T BAD ENOUGH!