Saturday, September 12, 2009

On the Television

As clichéd as it may sound, I’m still surprised by what you can find on Youtube and one of the most surprising things I ever found was this huge cache of clips from the long forgotten sketch comedy series On the Television.

Notable for being Nick at Nite’s first attempt at an original series, On the Television essentially played like a very limp parody of Siskel and Ebert’s At the Movies. Every week two critics (played by Tim Conway Jr. and George McGrath who’s better known as one of the token Americans on the British version of Whose Line is it Anyway) would “review” fake television shows with Cracked magazine-ish titles like Thirty Dumbthing, Wheel of Misfortune and Googie Chowder D.D.S. (Christ, that’s bad).

On paper the idea was interesting but in practice it was excruciating. The framing device with the critics was unnecessary and, being that McGrath and Conway Jr.’s characters were such personality challenged non-entities, it only managed to slow things down to an unfunny crawl. As for the sketches, well, even as a stupid, TV obsessed child I could sense that something was off about the sketches.

Case in point:

The sketches were inevitably one-note and excruciatingly long such as their spoofs (spooves?) of Super Password (duh-hah! The password is always the same!), Macgyver (What if we called him Mcrhymer and he only spoke in rhyme?) and Mikhail’s Navy (what if Mikhail Baryshnikov starred in fucking McHale’s Navy for some fucking fucked up reason. Fuck). As a side note, a pre-SNL Julia Sweeney pops up as Betty Off-White in Super Bassword.

Here’s the kind of hacky concept that could only exist in the early ‘90s. In some ways it’s similar to that tired thing impressionists would do when they would take someone like Christopher Walken and put him in a mundane situation. The only exception is that this is more limiting and less funny.

Surprisingly, the show lasted for 40 episodes (that’s ten more than Mr. Show) and is responsible for giving the world Lisa Kudrow, Kathy Griffin and several more celebrities that can be seen in this really weird, in-memorium-esque video below.

Still I will give them credit for this accurate parody of the late, lamented Dr. Gene Scott. But then, making fun of Gene Scott is like shooting a fish in barrel. Actually, that’s not true because shooting a fish in a barrel requires a little bit of skill. This is more like tipping over a barrel; waiting for the fish to die on the sidewalk and with your gun trained an inch away from its head, finally shooting it.

And to further muddy my point here’s an amusing Davey and Goliath pastiche…

…as well as a pretty savage skewering of Designing Women (and yes that is Tress MacNeille as Dixie Carter)

According to Wikipedia, after the show was cancelled “the production company declared bankruptcy after having spent the residuals developing pilots that didn't fly. Nick-At-Nite’s parent company, Viacom, became owner of the show, but had to pay those back residuals before it could air the series again. Supposedly this is why the series has never gone into syndication. Apparently the cost involved with repaying the writers, actors, and others involved the re-airing of the series cost-prohibitive”. So don’t expect a DVD box set any time soon.

Oh, and here’s one more shitty sketch!

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