Did viewers hate a free-swinging satirical cartoon that trashed both NPR-worshiping vegans and chastity nuts who conduct creepy father-daughter marriages? Or could they just not find it among the summer TV moonscape of mindless game shows and hashed-over reality series?
Comedy Central is betting on the latter. The cable network has picked up the 13 little-seen episodes of "The Goode Family" that aired on ABC before its cancellation last summer and, starting tonight, is showing them at 10 p.m. Mondays. And if an audience shows up this time, the show will go back into production.
"The Goode Family," about the dippy misadventures of the world's most politically correct family -- they even had a dog named Che -- had just 4 million viewers for its debut in May, and the number had dwindled to around 2 million by the time ABC swung the ax in August.
But producers think the show has a much better shot on cable.
"It was a summer series, which meant it started with a strike against it," says Joe Hipps, vice president of TV production at Media Rights Capital, which produced the show. "Its lead-in was 'Wipeout,' a game show with big red balls throwing people into the water. And then you're going into a talky animated show? It never had a chance."
John Altschuler, one of "The Goode Family's" executive producers, says even some ABC executives warned him that their network's summer schedule was a poor fit.
"We were told that the summer was going to be really, really bad," he says. "We were told 'Wipeout' would be a really bad lead-in, because the audiences would be so different. It was even mentioned that we might want to wait for the fall. But we would have had to shut down everything and then restart, which we thought would be difficult, so we went ahead."
Altschuler also thinks the take-no-prisoners political humor of "The Goode Family" may work better on Comedy Central, where viewers are accustomed to the scorched-earth sensibilities of shows such as "South Park" and "Futurama." (Typical "Goode Family" scene: When a college administrator tells his boss his department needs more funding to improve the percentage of minority employees, the boss replies: "Or we could just fire three white guys. Everybody wins!") Certainly, he says, it will be easier to write for cable if Comedy Central orders new episodes.
"Even though they were very professional about it, the censorship standards on ABC are very tight," Altschuler says. "You can do an awful lot about sex, but not about political thought. You can't deal with race at all.
"We had one of our crotchety old characters say, 'Let's go to that Asian fellow's restaurant for barbecue. Those guys really know their way around a pig.' It got censored. 'You're trying to imply Asian people like pork,' they told us. Well, they do. You really think somebody is going to be offended because we say Asians know how to cook a pig?"
Even more ludicrous, he thought, were the rules ABC laid down for an episode in which a neo-Nazi group joins an adopt-a-highway program as a cover for drug-smuggling.
"That was our very first censorship note," Altschuler (who, incidentally, is Jewish) says. "We had used the German phrase 'Sturm und Drang' literally, 'storm and stress,' which just means being upset. But the censor thought it was some Nazi thing. And the rule was, you can reference Nazis, but you can't use any of their symbols. 'OK,' we told him. 'But we don't understand. Are we afraid we're going to offend Nazis?' "
" 'The Goode Family,' I think, would have been a much better show if we didn't have to pussyfoot around neo-Nazi sensibilities."
Glenn Garvin writes for the Miami Herald.