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TV Shows That Failed Despite Having a Super Bowl Lead-In

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When a TV network believes in a new show and wants to get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible, they air it directly after the Super Bowl. However, not all series benefit from this advantageous position. Some are so bad, even a Super Bowl lead-in can't prevent a mid-season cancellation. Here are six shows that premiered after the big game but flopped.

1. 'Brothers and Sisters' (NBC, 12 Episodes: January 21, 1979-April 6, 1979)

Synopsis: Set at "Crandall College," Brothers and Sisters followed three cut-ups causing trouble in their fraternity. In the pilot, Zipper (one of the bros) bets his entire tuition that he can lure sorority babe Suzi Cooper into his bedroom by midnight (classic Zipper). Footage is tough to come by, but there's a short promo above.

Why the Network Thought It Would Work: Even today, studios insist on flogging Animal House's horse corpse, so it's no surprise that the networks gave it a try when the flesh was still fresh. In 1979, three separate fraternity-themed shows made it onto TV: ABC's Delta House, CBS's Co-Ed Fever, and NBC's Brothers and Sisters. All three premiered within weeks of each other, but Brothers and Sisters had the coveted time slot immediately after Super Bowl XIII.

Why It Flopped: Besides the fact that it was terrible? Market over-saturation didn't help, even though the competition wasn't exactly strong. Rival show Co-Ed Fever lasted only one episode, despite the fact that it featured a motorcycle-driving octogenarian house mother.

2. 'MacGruder and Loud' (ABC, 14 Episodes: January 20, 1985-April 30, 1985)

Synopsis: Malcolm MacGruder and Jenny Loud are tough, fast-talking L.A. cops, and the only thing they love more than arresting bad guys is kissing each other (that's because they're married). Marriage is against LAPD policy, so MacGruder and Loud have to sneak around under the suspicious Sergeant's nose. In the pilot, we see the two cops get hitched in Vegas, a scene that hints at the realistic and snappy dialogue viewers would come to expect from M&L:

MacGruder: "Can you hurry it up? She's pregnant."

Loud: "I'm not pregnant! Well, not yet..." [Looks lovingly into MacGruder's eyes]

Priest: "I now pronounce you man and wife." [Saxophone blares]

A side note: There is so much saxophone in this show. I don't know if they got a good deal on a studio musician or something, but the music whines throughout every episode.

Why the Network Thought It Would Work: It was an Aaron Spelling show, and he had a track record of producing huge hits like The Mod Squad and Charlie's Angels. It also sounded like a combination Cagney and Lacey and MacGyver, so they probably hoped viewers would get confused.

Why It Flopped: America just wasn't ready for a TV show that tackled the pressing moral and legislative issues of married police officers. The saxophone didn't help, either.

3. 'The Last Precinct' (NBC, 8 Episodes: January 26, 1986-May 30, 1986)

Synopsis: Can't get enough Police Academy? Well, what about Police Academy 2? Still want more? Then stuff your mind-hole with The Last Precinct, a comedy about misfits from a (you guessed it) police academy.

Why the Network Thought It Would Work: Police Academy worked! Police Academy 2 kind of worked? Why don't we barf this out into the world before they make a third and see if it sticks.

Why It Flopped: America was a little Policy Academy'd out by the time this Adam West-led sitcom hit the air. Even with the help of a lead-in from the most-watched Super Bowl ever featuring one of the most beloved teams of all time (the '85 Bears), The Last Precinct was doomed from the start.

4. 'Grand Slam' (CBS, 6 Episodes: January 28, 1990 – March 14, 1990)

Synopsis: Grand Slam was about Hardball and Gomez, two San Diego bounty hunters. That's all I got. It's like the show was scrubbed from the earth. The above clip, which is in Hungarian, is pretty much the only evidence of Grand Slam's existence.

Why the Network Thought It Would Work: Perhaps they considered Grand Slam a natural extension of Miami Vice, which was cancelled the previous year.

Why It Flopped: I have no idea. Frankly, the show looks awesome, even in Hungarian. I mean, Hardball and Gomez eat those peppers and—WOWZA, THOSE ARE SPICY. They can't find any water so they have to break into a woman's house and drink out of her goldfish bowl, but—uh oh!—she has a gun. Holy moly, how are Hardball and Gomez going to get out of this jam? I'd gladly watch nine seasons of Grand Slam.

5. 'The Good Life' (NBC, 13 Episodes: January 30, 1994-April 12, 1994)

Synopsis: John Caponera played John Bowman, a man who works at a lock company in Chicago, has a family, and, um, that's pretty much it. Drew Carey also works at the lock company and occasionally stops by the Bowmans' house, so there's that. Let's see, what else? Oh yeah, they have a dog.

Why the Network Thought It Would Work: NBC found success hitching their wagon to Jerry Seinfeld, so they thought they could do it again with another stand-up comedian, John Caponera.

Why It Flopped: Watch the episode above. It's like a tired sitcom trope menagerie. They Dr. Frankenstein'd the body parts and organs of a dozen other lame mid-'90s comedies and created this hideous, evil monster.

6. 'Extreme' (NBC, 7 Episodes: January 29, 1995-April 6, 1995)

Synopsis: James Brolin operates a search and rescue team in the Rockies. Judging by the intro, there is extreme rock climbing, extreme BASE jumping, extreme rafting, extreme sex, extreme helicopters, extreme snowboarding, extreme hot tubs, and extreme guitar riffs.

Why the Network Thought It Would Work: This was 1995, the era of X-Games, Reebok Pumps, Dan Cortese, and Sonic the Hedgehog. If you weren't extreme and rockin' a tight bandana while rollerblading and listening to Collective Soul, then you were worse than dirt.

Why It Flopped: Probably wasn't extreme enough.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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