TV has been, and will continue to be, a unique and productive (some might say counterproductive) medium. Millions–if not billions–of people watch television every day. Due to the large quantity of people who regularly watch TV, many strange occurrences have happened over the years. Pranks, hoaxes, weird shows, and bizarre situations have amused, perplexed, angered, or even inspired us. This list contains the ten strangest of these events and/or shows, in no specific order.
The Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis
On May 25, 1988, the final episode of the show, “St. Elsewhere”, aired on NBC. At the end of the episode (Spoiler Alert!), it is revealed that the events of the entire show…were all in the mind of the character Tommy Westphall, as played by Chad Allen, an autistic actor.
Many characters from “St. Elsewhere” appeared in other shows, such as “Law & Order”, “The X-Files”, “Homicide: Life on The Street”, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”, and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”. Therefore, many people theorized that each of these shows were all contained within the imagination of Tommy Westphall. Furthermore, anytime any of the characters from those shows appeared in other shows, those shows also became a part of Tommy’s admittedly impressive imagination, The process could continue, almost indefinitely, spanning much of the television-universe. Thus, the “Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis” was born.
However, there are some who remain skeptical of this hypothesis. Brian Weatherson, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University, theorized that the entire series was not the result of a complex imagination, but rather, a dream. When we dream of places like, say, Beaufort, North Carolina, it is not as if the real Beaufort ceases to exist.
Therefore, Professor Weatherson concluded that the Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis is nonsense. However, this does not stop fans from believing in it to this very day, In fact, there is an entire Wikipedia page devoted to it!
What do you get when you cross a show for kids, a cheap Mickey Mouse rip-off, antisemitism, a giant bumblebee, and “Resistance Jihad”?
You get “Tomorrow’s Pioneers”, which is probably the most bizarre–and sickest–kiddie-show ever made. First airing on a Palestinian network (Al-Aqsa TV) on April 13, 2007, “Pioneers” is about Farfour (the Mickey Mouse knock-off) and Nahoul (the giant bee), and the host, Saraa Barhoum, as they deal with Israeli interrogators (in fact, Farfour gets killed by one, believe it or not), Western ideologies, and capitalism.
Kids could even call in the show – some of the children who called in were as young as three years old.
The show aired until October of 2009, but only after killing off the character, Nahoul, via illness. Later, they would depict Hamas as Simba, from “The Lion King”; they would also introduce the character, Assoud, which was a Bugs Bunny rip-off. Assoud would get killed off on the show, due to injuries suffered from an Israeli attack (Assoud only dies after threatening to, “…finish off the Jews and eat them…”, of course).
Despite the, shall we say, “unpopular” beliefs contained in “Tomorrow’s Pioneers”, the show did at least preach the importance of drinking milk. Oh, and–believe it or not–Disney never sued the makers of “Tomorrow’s Pioneers”.
The Puppy Channel
After the despondency and seriousness of the previous entry, only puppies can cure the situation. A channel showing nothing but puppies all day should do the trick.
Dan FitzSimons, a retired advertising executive, came up with the idea after watching the O.J. Simpson trial on TV. Saddened by the content of the trial, he created the following (his words):
“…There’s a need for a parking place on television. If you don’t want to watch something that is there, you could have the TV set on, and it’d be playing something that didn’t bother you, and would hold the place until your favorite show…[is on]…[I conceived a channel that would be] 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, footage of puppies fooling around…acting the natural comedians…that they are, with no people, no talk, accompanied only by…instrumental music.” The bizarre channel went off the air in 2001, but their website is still active. Despite the unusual nature of the channel, 37-41% of people in focus groups said that they’d prefer watching The Puppy Channel to TBS or CNBC.
The Mull of Kintyre Test
For years now, people have been dying to see nudity on television. Despite the presence of the Erotic Networks, however, nudity is still uncommon on network television. A few attempts have been made in the United States (Dennis Franz’s nudity in “NYPD Blue” is perhaps the most well-known case), but most of them were purely accidental (like Janet Jackson’s accidental nudity in the Super Bowl). However, the United Kingdom had found a measure by which nudity (male frontal nudity, to be precise) can be shown.
According to Wikipedia, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) “would not permit the general release of a film or video if it depicted a phallus (penis) erect to the point that the angle it made from the vertical (the ‘angle of the dangle’, as it was often known) was larger than that of the Mull of Kintyre, Argyll and Bute, on maps of Scotland.” This unnecessarily complex guide-rule was devised in 1992 by John Hoyles, a professor from the University of Hull, for the BBFC. Basically, the test was designed to ensure that no erect penises were shown on film, in print, or on television.
By the year 2000, the BBFC officially denied the existence of The Mull of Kintyre Test; by 2002, the Test was mostly abandoned. The guide-rule was officially broken for the first time in Great Britain in 2003, in an episode of the show, “Under The Knife With Miss Evans”.
Every person on the planet has probably encountered a case of mistaken identity, as either a mistaken identifier, or a mistaken “identifiee”. The vast majority of us are fortunate, however, in that the mistake is not broadcast on national television.
But BBC News 24 – and a man named Guy Goma – were not so lucky. On May 8, 2006, the news channel intended to interview Guy Kewney–a British technology expert–about the then-ongoing conflict between Apple and Apple Corps, The Beatles’ record label. Instead, Guy Goma was guided to the makeup room, and interviewed on national television.
A college graduate specializing in business, from Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, Guy Goma arrived at the BBC for a job interview. BBC News 24 was looking for a data support cleanser in the company’s IT department.
The producer of the show, who had been mistakenly told that Mr. Kewney was waiting in the main reception area, mistook Mr. Goma for Mr. Kewney, and sent the other Guy to get his makeup applied for the broadcast. The televised interview began shortly thereafter, with Mr. Goma doing his best to be (or, at least appear to be) knowledgeable. He was polite, and played along. At the time, he may have thought it was just part of the job interview.
Ultimately, BBC News 24 made up for the error. Despite not getting the IT job, Guy Goma cashed in on his new-found celebrity, with appearances on “Friday Night With Jonathan Ross” and “The Big Fat Quiz of The Year”, among others.
Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos
When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, I always used to look forward to Sunday nights. No, I wasn’t looking forward to Sunday night football: I loved “America’s Funniest Home Videos”. Bob Saget’s wit and charm won my family and I over, and the videos were often truly hilarious.
Naturally, other networks wished to capitalize on this. Thus, “Australia’s Funniest Home Video Show” was born, and ran on the Australian channel, Nine Network. Much like their American counterparts – it was quite funny.
However, the Australian show had collected an awful lot of risque, yet humorous, home movies. Instead of destroying them, they kept them (since the show promised viewers that movies would never be returned to their senders). Eventually, they had collected so many naughty movies, that the producers decided to create a one-time-only special, aimed at a more mature audience. And so, “Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos” was born.
Many of the videos shown involved animal genitalia, graphic (yet humorous) depictions of animal sex, graphic (yet humorous) depictions of human sex, and various collections of filmed gross-out humor (most notably, a child touching a kangaroo’s scrotum and testicles). The episode premiered on September 4, 1992.
Eventually, Kerry Packer–the owner of Nine Network–saw the show, and called the studio. He yelled at them, and told them to “…get that s**t off the air!”. Mere minutes later, the show was yanked off of the air. When the show was to return from its commercial break, a notice, citing “technical difficulties”, informed viewers that an old rerun of “Cheers” would be shown instead.
This “change-up” bewildered and perplexed the viewing audience. Surprisingly, despite Mr. Packer’s objections to the content of the show, 65% of all calls received by the studio were to complain about the withdrawal of the show.
On August 28, 2008, the complete episode was finally shown on the Nine Network. While it was largely unedited, all humorous references to childhood obesity were removed. The message that was shown during the inaugural viewing, referring to the so-called “technical difficulties”, remained intact.
In the United Kingdom in the late 1970s, many people believed that intelligence levels were dropping across the nation. In June of 1977, a belated April Fools’ Day prank sought to explain it all.
The show – called “Alternative 3″ – was created by the crew of another British show, “Science Report”. The show claimed that scientists throughout the nation were being abducted by Americans and Soviets, in an attempt to colonize Mars and the Moon. “Alternative 3″ said that this secret plan was initiated in the event of a cataclysmic environmental event on Earth. The show also talked about these environmental incidents as though they were going to happen at any moment.
While it sounds silly to all of us now, at the time it quickly became the British version of the War of the Worlds broadcast. “Alternative 3″ was shot with the same film–and the same seriousness–of “Science Report”. This lead to widespread panic, as hundreds of phone calls flooded the telephone lines. Ultimately, however, it was finally revealed to be what it had always been: An elaborate hoax.
Despite the fact that it was a hoax, it has gained notoriety. In October of 2007, “Alternative 3″, in its entirety, was made available on DVD.
The Southern Television Broadcast Interruption
On November 26, 1977, an alien named either “Asteron”, “Gillon”, or “Vrillon” (no one is sure which) broadcast a long message on the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which is shown in part below:
“This is the voice of Vrillon/Asteron/Gillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command, speaking to you. For many years you have seen us as lights in the skies. We speak to you now in peace and wisdom as we have done to your brothers and sisters all over…planet Earth.
“We come to warn you of the destiny of your race … so that you may communicate to your fellow beings the course you must take to avoid the disaster which threatens your world, and the beings on our worlds around you … All your weapons of evil must be removed…
“We of the Ashtar Galactic Command thank you for your attention. We are now leaving the plane of your existence. May you be blessed by the supreme love and truth of the cosmos.”
Wow. When you look at the whole broadcast, you could be forgiven for assuming that aliens would be more likely to get to the point quickly. In any case, the entire “message” was a hoax, from an as-of-yet unknown, entirely human, intruder.
The Flemish Secession Hoax
Following Obama’s 2012 re-election, many citizens signed petitions for their state to secede from the United States. These petitions were pretty quickly shot down, and faded from the public’s memory. What if, however, a news report claimed that the attempts to secede were successful? Well, that’s what happened in The Flemish Secession Hoax!
On December 13, 2006, a news bulletin interrupted the broadcast of the Belgian show, “La Une”. The report indicated that Flemish parliament had officially declared independence from Belgium. The report showed the royal family being evacuated from their home, and also featured interviews from well-known Belgian politicians.
The problem? It was all a hoax. Codenamed “Bye Bye Belgium”, Belgian journalist Philippe Dutilleul created and executed the idea–which took him two years–with the help of some Belgian politicians. Half an hour into the hoax, the French media minister, Fadila Laanan, notified the public of the story’s fictional nature.
Prominent Belgian and Luxembourgian politicians blasted the hoax, dubbing it an “…issue you [don’t] play around with…”
The Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusions
When someone appears on our televisions at random, our inclination is to assume that it is some sort of emergency news bulletin. The last thing we’d expect to see would be a man, getting spanked with a fly-swatter.
But that’s exactly what happened on November 22, 1987, in Chicago, Illinois. During the sports segment of “The Nine O’clock News” on WGN-TV, the first broadcast signal intrusion occurred. It featured a man wearing a suit and Max Headroom mask, standing in front a wall of corrugated-metal (this simulated the background, commonly seen in the Max Headroom show). There was no standard audio, just a buzzing noise. The engineers at WGN had stopped the first intrusion by switching the frequency to their studio link. This first intrusion lasted for only about 30 seconds.
The second–and more well-known–intrusion occurred on a local, Chicago-area PBS station (WTTW), during an episode of “Doctor Who”. The same man, in the same costume, had about 90 seconds to intrude this time.
At 11:15 PM, the man began ranting about everything from Chuck Swirsky (calling him a “Freakin’ liberal.”), to New Coke (their slogan, “Catch the Wave”, was mentioned in the intrusion). At one point, he even hums the “Clutch Cargo” theme, and gives the audience the finger (although it was cut off due to the close-up nature of the shot), and mocks WGN. Other topics, such as the dirtiness of his prosthetic-glove (and the fact that his brother had the other glove) continued the energetic chaos of the Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion, part two. The second intrusion concluded with a shot of the man, getting spanked by another man with a fly-swatter; following that, the engineers at WTTW managed to shut down the intrusion. The engineers admitted publicly to being a few steps behind the hackers.
To this day, the identity of the intruders is unknown. Some on YouTube have speculated that one of the hijackers was a man with autism, who built his own video sender and low-power microwave signal generator. Others believe that they were disgruntled ex-employees of both WGN and WTTW. Still more believe that there are more Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusions to come.
Whatever the case, The Max Headroom Broadcast Signal Intrusion is and will always be the most bizarre event in television history. Honorable Mentions: “Al Murray’s Compete For The Meat”; Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome (SORAS); “Who’s Your Daddy?”; “Turn-On”; Captain Midnight (HBO); The Mayday Broadcast Signal Intrusion; The 2012 CHCH TV Gay Porn Incident; The Lindcroft, New Jersey “Handy Manny” Incident; The Tuscon Super Bowl “Wild Cherries 5″ Incident.