Meet the Vaginas was certainly one of the most controversial television sitcoms in American history. Its run was relatively brief and arguably the talk about the show is remembered more in our collective cultural consciousness than the show itself. While many sitcoms, like All in the Family, are remembered by setting precedents for what now could be done on shows - like hearing toilets flush - Meet the Vaginas is remembered for reminding us of what could not, absolutely should not be done, ever again, on sitcoms.
Vaginas ran from September, 1988, until its mercy killing in March, 1991. The story goes that the idea of the sitcom, about a family of vaginas living in suburban Cleveland, came to executive producer Norm Donaldson, after an all-night bender of drinking tequilas and snorting cocaine and powdered rabbit intestines with Gary Busey - in Cleveland - in 1987. After much giggling while concocting the abominable show idea, Busey bet Norm that if he couldn't have sex with that stray dog in the alley, Norm had to start working on production of the show the next night. Well that's one version of the story. Another involves a vacuum cleaner. But anyway, Norm lost the bet (or did he win?) and the rest is history.
Despite protests from pretty much everybody Norm knew, he went ahead with the creation of the giant vagina costumes for the forthcoming cast, actually starting production without any sort of deal with any network. His previous credits had included producing an episode for Taxi that never aired where all the characters participated in a drug-induced orgy, a pilot for Gary Busey that had him playing a character that ran a health spa for transvestites that ABC didn't pick up, a pilot for a cop drama where all the characters spoke a made-up language that was not picked up by NBC, 23 commercials for American Family Insurance - each depicting graphic and horrific car accidents - only one of which saw airtime (only aired once at 2AM one night in a North Dakota market), and a music video for the Canadian pop band "Sweaty Hog Balls."
So how did this show get produced - much less aired - you might ask? Well, after pitching it - usually while Norm was drunk or high - to every other network, it was picked up by the then-fledgling Fox Network. Now, do we really need to examine it further? I didn't think so.
And so, the wretched half-hour comedy was born, the pilot airing at the 9PM slot on Monday, September 19, 1988. Coming in dead last in the ratings for that night, the few who watched it were introduced to the family of Harry and Fannie Vagina, with their three kids Inna, Uppa, and Claire. Donning the vagina costumes, which were reportedly quite hot and uncomfortable, the acting careers of unknown - and still largely unknown - cast members John O'Malley and Katherine Holleran were not launched in any way by the show. Who played the kids aren't even listed on IMDB.
Doomed from the start (it's a baffling miracle that it even made it to its third and final season of eight episodes that aired sporadically on different nights from November 1990 to March 1991), Meet the Vaginas broke the record for the most-banned show. It was denounced by every religion and right-wing watch dog group; the Pope even commanded that any Catholic caught watching it would be excommunicated. Even the most ardent left-wingers at the time didn't argue with then-Vice President Dan Quayle when he complained about it during a press conference in 1989. By the end of its run it was banned in 49 states, Rhode Island the only one airing the last six episodes. It suffered from chronic poor ratings and the only companies/products that would advertise on it were Trojan condoms, KY Jelly, Old Spice, and Amway. Brave viewers of the damned show sometimes had to watch the same commercial twice and even three times in a row during spot breaks. Few installments received lukewarm ratings, like the one titled "Uncle Perry" about a zany uncle named Perry the Penis paying the family a visit, and the episode that aired directly after Norm Donaldson's tragic suicide in April, 1990, where he had flung himself in the path of a speeding ice cream truck. The episode actually was centered on an ice cream truck; the horrified driver of it did all he could to get away from the ice-cream hungry Vagina family. Fox has maintained to this day that it was just an eerie coincidence.
But like any show to exist beyond one season, it contributed somewhat to our cultural vocabulary, responsible for the infamous catch phrase "That's quite a hairy labia you have there, honey!" which was reportedly said by former President Bill Clinton to Monica Lewinsky during that whole thing.
Although the last season was largely produced after Norm's death, he still was credited as executive producer, Gary Busey (who took over) simply didn't want the credit. Perhaps for good reason. He and the Fox network agreed to ax the show, the final straw being the cast threatening to all quit, complaining that the show was ruining their reputations and careers (which it did). The final episode featured the family winning the lottery and moving to Los Angeles to start a variety show featuring themselves. Like the pilot episode, it came in dead last in the ratings that night.
Now the show has faded into the mists of time. Not many remember it and hardly anybody realizes the labia catch phrase came from it. It had a rabid following from a small group of fans; their letter-writing campaign was responsible for the final season even existing. They still exist on the internet, getting all three seasons - all forty-eight episodes - released on DVD in 2005. What we can learn from this horrendous television experiment - for lack of a better term (that is not an expletive) - is that ideas that come to you while on any kind of mind-altering substance should be dismissed immediately upon becoming sober, and that the Fox Network will air anything. Many shows have been controversial, have pushed the edge, and redefined what the edge was, but some, like Meet the Vaginas are so despicable that they actually reinforce where the edge is. In an odd way, that is the counterbalance, not warm family shows like Leave it to Beaver.