5 Failed Knockoffs of Popular TV Shows

When the broadcast TV networks aren’t rebooting old series or remaking foreign shows, they’re unabashedly stealing concepts from other channels that have blundered their way into a hit somehow. Sometimes it’s a modest success, like The Mentalist’s serious take on Psych or The Ghost Whisperer’s booby-er take on Medium. Other times, it’s just embarrassing…



A fictional FBI division assigned to investigate seemingly supernatural cases. Female and male lead investigators whose conflicting approaches to the job leads to mounting sexual tension. The Friday night death slot on Fox. Fringe couldn’t have tried harder to be The X-Files if they’d had Robert Patrick replace Joshua Jackson and gave mysterious observer dude “Wednesday” a smoking addiction.

With five seasons and 100 episodes, it’s hard to call Fringe an outright failure. Then again, when you consider that Season 1 ended with 9.3 million viewers, Season 2 with 5.7 million, and Season 3 with 3.3 million… you realize “not getting cancelled” and “not being a failure” aren’t always synonyms. Sci-fi fans were stampeding for the exits throughout seasons two and three—which is no small feat with sci-fi fans, notoriously the most devoted viewers in fandom.

One of the biggest problems with Fringe was something they failed to copy from The X-Files. While Mulder and Scully dove into spooky mysteries with no real scientific explanation that left you creeped out and wondering what’s real, Dunham and Bishop insisted on explaining all their weird shit with Scooby-Doo science that was at best eye-rollingly stupid and more often punch-in-the-gut painful.

– Cy Chase



Once upon a time there was a really cool, high-brow zombie TV show called The Returned. Yeah, they were zombies, but they were self-aware, relatively attractive zombies who could engage philosophical conversations and have sex and stuff. Don’t remember it? That’s because it was in France. Based on a French film of the same name, the show featured a bunch of emo deceased folks who suddenly and inexplicably reappeared in a small mountain town.

The series was a rousing success, both critically and in terms of ratings. Like anything vaguely successful in Europe, a bunch of American TV executives looked at The Returned and said, “I want that!” But since this is a list of “crappy knockoffs” and not “wildly successful remakes,” you can probably guess where things went wrong—they never bothered to get the rights.

ABC’s Resurrection was about a bunch of relatively attractive, emo deceased folks who suddenly and inexplicably reappeared in a small town. Also like The Returned, certain popular archetypes were among the resurrected, such as: the precocious and slightly creepy young boy, the young hot mother/mother-to-be, the good-hearted cop, the potentially evil one. Unlike The Returned, Resurrection is mind-numbingly boring, with wooden characters, laughably awkward dialogue, and paint-by-numbers plot twists.

Perhaps to disguise the show’s true origins, Brad Pitt and his pals at Plan B entertainment chose to base their story on a relatively unheard of book, also conveniently titled “The Returned,” by a virtually unknown author named Jason Mott, who may or may not have directly cribbed his novel summary from the already successful French film and television series… thereby making Resurrection a copy of a copy of a copy, kind of like Michael Keaton’s idiot character in Multiplicity. No wonder the series is dead in the water after two short seasons, much like the state in which so many of its lead characters should have stayed.

– Julie Kushner


pan am playboy club

Is it possible for copycat shows to copy each other? The Playboy Club and Pan Am were desperate attempts to capitalize everyone’s obsession with the 1960s after Mad Men‘s huge success. But through the miracle of broadcast television, everything was made both glitzier and blander at the same time.

These knockoffs suffered not only by comparison to the source material but also to each other. Focused on a women during a sexist time period? Check. Focus on a workplace that was super superficial and sexist—the Playboy Club verses Pan Am Airlines? Awkward, hamfisted storylines about how Sexism Was Bad? Check and check. Even awkwarder, shoehorned subplots to be more intriguing–a murder mystery versus undercover spies? Ugh. No wonder neither show lasted very long.

– Susan Velazquez



If you’ve never heard of this 2006 reality show, it won’t surprise you to learn it was a FOX cash-grab promising the chance to watch celebrities fall flat on their asses and faces. Even the name is derivative of Dancing With the Stars, yet a hundred times more clumsy. D-list celebrities, including a pre-Keeping Up With the Kardashians Bruce Jenner and Todd “Whatchoo Talking ‘Bout, Willis” Bridges, teamed up with professional ice skaters to perform a routine for the judges and—we hoped—fall and seriously injure themselves for our amusement.

Given how the show was promoted, the lack of carnage was a grave disappointment to fans and haters alike. Like the rains of the Great Flood, the show was cancelled after 40 days, its creator swearing never again to inflict such cruel punishment on human kind. Kristy “The Original Buffy” Swanson earned the one and only series championship, along with countless tabloid headlines about extra-marital shenanigans with her pro partner.

But it gets worse. Showing Greek tragedy levels of hubris, ABC ripped off the rip-off, launching Skating With the Stars in Dancing’s time slot between seasons. It lasted only 29 days before getting the axe.

– Rick Lewis


5 Failed Knockoffs of Popular TV Shows

How could there possibly be any attempt to copy another show worse than Allegiance? While it most obviously tries to copy The Americans (which itself is at least “inspired” by Homeland), it’s also a little Get Smart with the secret meetings in places like Grand Central terminal and the like. Plus the Sherlock element with the preposterously brilliant son. And the ticking time bomb 24 thing. IT’S A FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER.

It’s no surprise then that the townsfolk are fleeing. Three episodes in, Allegiance is losing more than half its lead-in Blacklist audience, and it earns barely a third of what Elementary and How to Get Away with Murder are getting in the same timeslot.

– Marion Stein

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  • I said it, and yet I find myself watching it. Oh man, I have to READ more.

  • dorquemada

    The best thing about Fringe was John Noble.

  • I used to watch Pan Am and The Playboy Club. The Playboy Club was just whacky in its excess of stupidity. The spike heeled accidental murderess. The secret society of the gay. But I actually LIKED Pan Am. It was the anti-Mad Men. Seeing optimism and opportunity in the 1960s. I miss it.

  • MrRichPeoples

    Is that Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil skating with Debbie Gibson? How did I miss this show?

  • Historicat

    What about Fox’s answer to “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” – “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire”? Or are reality shows just too much overlapping garbage to really separate out the flotsam from the jetsam?

    • mtn_philosoph

      Also see NBC’s many ultra-lame knockoffs of American Gladiators (a rigorously lowbrow series in itself, but at least it was creative and original and depicted some semblance of authentic physical competition) and the multitude of attempted knockoffs of Survivor foisted on us by various networks over the years.

  • mtn_philosoph

    Hey, I liked Fringe. As a J. J. Abrams production, it was a lot better than this write-up says. John Noble was simply brilliant as mad scientist Walter Bishop. And Leonard Nimoy! (Enough said.) I did have trouble following the plot after Season Two though, but I could say the same thing about Lost, another Abrams series. Admittedly the series did have a troubled history and it underwent a reboot part of the way through. As a result it did have some problems for awhile with narrative continuity and consistency. (Again, see Lost.) The final story arc with the Evil Watchers ultimately worked though and its resolution wrapped up the series rather nicely in my opinion.The reviewer implies that Fringe was always slotted into the Friday evening “death slot.” In fact it was moved into that slot in Season Three as a result of Fox’s schedule reshuffle to take maximum advantage of the popularity of American Idol. Prior to that it was shown on Tuesday nights. The reschedule played a role in Fringe‘s decline in ratings, as did its frequent preemption.As for the “science,” well the series was well-named since it all revolved around so-called “fringe science.” But come on, The X-Files was just as chock full of woo, along with a double scoop of paranoid conspiracy theory. Such shows always require some temporary acceptance of the implausible science that is central to their premise. Fringe started out with an X-Files-style “monster of the week” storyline, but it soon developed its own vibe and its own narrative themes. Early on it was often compared to that earlier Chris Carter series, but Fringe was never a knockoff of The X-Files and it was hardly a failure.

    • leemoder

      Also, bear in mind that Fringe actually completed its mythology; while X-Files never came close in nine(!) seasons.

  • SullivanSt

    Let’s not forget, either, that DWTS is itself the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing exported to America. I guess not a ripoff since it’s actually produced by BBC Worldwide.

    • uniquename72

      DWTS is a ripoff of Circus of the Stars, only with dancing instead.There is nothing new under the sun.

      • SullivanSt

        More historically accurately, SCD was a reality ripoff of Come Dancing, whose run started 28 years before COTS, and survived it by 4 years. British people don’t like change, it seems.

  • guppy06

    Hey, I’ve got this great idea for a new reality TV show! I call it Skating with Famous People!

  • E.A. Blair

    “…Playboy Club verses Pan Am Airlines?”

    How about a writer who doesn’t know the difference between “verses” and “versus”?