The Best Television Shows You'll Never See

The grilled-cheese milkshake. The solar-powered ski boat. Viagra sunscreen. Inexplicably, most of my good ideas never really take off.

"Hey," I say to a friend over the phone.

"Hey," he says right back.

Obviously, we're pretty close. In a minute or two, I speak again.

"Two words," I say. "Viagra. And sunscreen."

There's a long pause.

"That's three words," he says.

"Viagra sunscreen," I explain. "You protect your skin, you feel better about yourself."

There's another long pause.

"How much?" he asks.

"How much you need?"

"Thirty gallons," he says.

OK, so maybe there is a little interest in one of my ideas. After all, this is Los Angeles. In this little village by the sea, a good idea can land you a bungalow and a development deal.

Take my ideas for TV reality shows, for example. Take them, please.

"Cell-Phone Betty": Contestants are chased around a Studio City parking lot by a crazed carpool mom with a cell phone in one hand and a quart of Starbucks in the other.

How she steers her SUV, no one knows. That's the exciting part. Just like in real life, Cell-Phone Betty has no idea where her SUV is going. She hops a curb. She hits a hydrant. She levels a bus stop. All without realizing it.

Later, while dialing her best friend, she mows down Robert Blake as he tries to duck into a popular Italian restaurant.

"Ohmygosh!" she says into her cell phone. "I think I just saw Robert Blake!"

"The Kobe Cam": A dozen contestants are locked inside a house in Burbank, where all they hear about for two weeks is Laker superstar Kobe Bryant, just like in real life. Kobe this. Kobe that. Kobe. Kobe. Kobe.

We watch as the contestants scream, they plug their ears, they beg for mercy.

In the final episode, Kobe comes to the door and tells the contestants all about himself, his relationship with Phil, how he speaks Italian.

Did you know he speaks Italian?

"Sponge-Bath Bob": Studio contestants answer a series of increasingly tough questions, with the eventual loser receiving a warm sponge bath from veteran game-show host Bob Barker.

"Prepare the bath!" Bob yells to the stagehands when the loser incorrectly answers the last question. "Prepare the bath!"

As the bathwater runs, the studio audience roars.

"The Weakest Shrink": Five successful psychiatrists compete in tests of strength and endurance. They golf. They order lunch. They groom each other's beards.

At the end of each segment, a host made up to look like Sigmund Freud walks out with his mother on his arm and speaks to the contestants.

"You are the weakest shrink," he would say to one of them.


"Local News at 5": Contestants are subjected to local news shows for up to 30-minute periods. A wreck on the 101 leaves a schnauzer badly injured. In Canoga Park, someone stole a child's bike in broad daylight. Carl's five-day forecast: more hot weather on the way.

As a precaution, producers promise to have doctors standing by.

"I thought it would be easy," contestants will say after being eliminated. "But then Hal Fishman started trying to ad lib."

"Wolfgang Schmuck": Conflicted German-Jewish chefs compete to see who can come up with the most inventive combination plate at a medium-priced diner with limited parking.

"Up next: lox and strudel," the host says before the commercial break.

Toward the end of the show, Mel Brooks chases contestants around the set with a bullwhip and a spatula.

"Get out of my kitchen!" he screams. "I've met Fuhrers who make a better clam sauce!"

"My Friend Irv": Hidden cameras capture my actual friend Irv doing his actual weekend chores: cleaning his garage, hosing down the patio.

Admittedly, this show would have a limited demographic: me. And maybe Irv's wife. But among the two of us, it would be hugely popular.

At some point in the show, Irv would pause to apply sunscreen to his face, neck and arms.

"I like this new sunscreen," Irving would say. "You protect your skin, you feel better about yourself."



Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World