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USA TODAY TV Critic Kelly Lawler discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic affected TV shows, networks and productions in 2020.

USA TODAY

2020 was a truly awful year, and television didn’t escape the curse. 

Although there were some wonderful TV shows, exciting live moments and the arrival of two promising TV streaming services this year, there were plenty of stinkers in 2020: Seriously awful new series, a slew of bad calls on cancellations and a few sorry, sad months of Quibi, a word we might soon forget.

While we may never forget some of the most tragic parts of 2020, here’s hoping these terrible TV shows and moments will be erased from our memories (sorry, Steve Carell). 

Members of the Miami Heat bench react with virtual fans in the background during the first half of a game against the Denver Nuggets in August (Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports)

The horrifying substitutes for a live audience

The uncanny valley had a field day with 2020. 

Sporting events, talk shows, awards ceremonies and other TV events dependent on a live audience shouting, clapping and jumping for the cameras were forced to adjust as COVID-19 precautions kept the few  in-person events as small as possible. For sports, it meant a big visual and auditory change – no more roar of the crowd for a touchdown, no audience taking to their feet for a three-point shot. 

Attempts to recreate the experience of live spectators ranged from amusing, such as the cardboard cutouts and giant teddy bears at baseball games, to downright terrifying, like the virtual audience via video chat at NBA games. It was hard enough to adjust to a basketball season played in late summer, but seeing the blue-screened humans in the “stands” of a Hornets game made the experience far too surreal. And 2020 was surreal enough on its own. 

Other bad substitutes: Archival footage of earlier crowds for Fox’s “The Masked Singer” that to an untrained eye would constitute violations of state and local public health regulations

Bad TV shows that should have been better

Steve Carell, reunited with “The Office” co-creator Greg Daniels, should have made for a slam-dunk sitcom, right? Unfortunately, Netflix’s “Space Force” was one big misfire last spring, wasting the talents of Carell, Lisa Kudrow, John Malkovich and more. Cringeworthy dialogue, bad jokes and an identity crisis resulted in a failure to launch. 

I also expected more from “Emily in Paris,” Netflix’s love-it-or-hate-it series from “Sex and the City” creator Darren Star; David Schwimmer’s Peacock comedy “Intelligence”; Anna Kendrick’s HBO Max series “Love Life”; and CBS All Access’s high-profile remake of Stephen King’s “The Stand.” All these series had strong talent behind them, but didn’t deliver. 

Kaitlyn Dever on HBO’s “Coastal Elites.” (Photo: HBO)

Bad TV shows that were just bad

Why bring back odious reality series like “The Biggest Loser” (USA) or “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (HGTV) in 2020? Why make too-soon shows about the pandemic such as Freeform’s “Love in the Time of Corona” or HBO’s “Coastal Elites”?

The pandemic changed a lot of things, but it didn’t stop terrible TV shows. 

More: The TV shows that made 2020 bearable, from ‘Supernatural’ to ‘Schitt’s Creek’

 (Photo: Netflix)

The shows canceled too soon (or again)

Only in our weird new media era can a show as wonderful and beloved as “One Day at a Time” get canceled twice. 

The Netflix series, a remake of Norman Lear’s 1975-84 original, was picked up by Pop TV for a fourth season that aired earlier this spring but was unceremoniously dropped from the cable network last month, as the ViacomCBS-owned network dropped original programming.

The year also introduced an unfortunate new trend: the “un-rewenal,” in which series previously promised new seasons got an unwelcome ax, ostensibly due to the challenges of filming during the COVID era. Among those series were two spectacular gems, Netflix’s Emmy-nominated “GLOW” and Showtime’s Kirsten Dunst dramedy “On Becoming a God in Central Florida.” That both of these series were created by and/or starred women, still all-too-rare in Hollywood, only made their untimely goodbyes worse.  

“Shape of Pasta” is a cooking show on Quibi. (Photo: Quibi)

A quick bite of Quibi

Quibi is dead. Long live something else. 

The ill-advised but massively funded enterprise, from former DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, closed just six months after it launched. The streaming app aimed to deliver “quick bites” of high-quality entertainment to the phones of busy viewers on the go. But it was a resounding failure, as its backers failed to understand what people actually want from short-form entertainment. Compounded by a pandemic that kept its potential audience homebound, Quibi was quickly shuttered. 

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