On this day in 1967, a French television network begins to broadcast the first (and only) season of the American sitcom “My Mother, The Car,” the first TV show to star a talking automobile. The show’s premise–a man visits a used-car lot and finds a 1928 Porter convertible that is, somehow, the reincarnation of his dead mother–was fairly ludicrous; perhaps as a result, it only survived for one season (1965–66) in the United States. In 2002, TV Guide named “My Mother, The Car” the second-worst television show of all time. (First on the list was The Jerry Springer Show.)
“My Mother, The Car” told the story of a small-town lawyer named David Crabtree who, while shopping for a used station wagon for his family, finds instead a dilapidated Porter touring-car from the 1920s. When he hears his dead mother, Gladys, speak to him through the car’s radio, he realizes that the Porter is no ordinary convertible: Strangely enough, it’s the reincarnation of his mother herself. To play Crabtree, Jerry Van Dyke (brother of Dick, whose eponymous hit sitcom was still airing when “My Mother, The Car” was proving itself to be a clunker), turned down the title role in “Gilligan’s Island.”
The day after the show’s American premiere in 1965, one reviewer predicted that it would be “an Edsel with critics, but a hot rod with the public.” He was right: many viewers loved the show, but critics loathed it. One called it “a horror which defies description,” and another pointed out that it was “so bad it didn’t even sell to the Japanese who are notoriously broad-minded about buying everything American networks turn out.” The apparently broader-minded French didn’t seem to mind it so much when it began airing there in 1967, a year after its cancellation in the United States.
No one took the show seriously while it was on the air and no one has taken it seriously since–but “My Mother, The Car” has the dubious honor of being the first live-action TV show to feature a talking car as its protagonist. Since then, TV’s most famous talking car has been KITT, the robot star of two versions of the show “Knight Rider.”