Remote Control (game show)
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|Presented by||Ken Ober
with Marisol Massey (Season 1)
Kari Wührer (Seasons 2-3)
Alicia Coppola (Season 4)
Susan Ashley (Season 5)
John Ten Eyck
|Country of origin||USA|
|No. of seasons||5|
|Location(s)||Studio: 50th Strret and Eighth Avenue, then Park Ave. and E. 106th Street, New York City|
|Running time||30 Minutes|
|Original run||December 7, 1987 – December 13, 1990|
Remote Control is a TV game show that ran on MTV for five seasons from 1987 until 1990. It was MTV's first original non-musical program. New episodes were made for first-run syndication from 1989 until 1990 which were distributed by Viacom. Three contestants answered trivia questions on movies, music, and television, many of which were presented in skit format. The series was developed by producers Joe Davola and Michael Duggan, and directed by Dana Calderwood.
- 1 Cast
- 2 Premise
- 3 Main game
- 4 Grand prize round
- 5 Celebrities
- 6 Foreign versions and attempts
- 7 Merchandise
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Remote Control was hosted by Ken Ober and featured Colin Quinn as the announcer/sidekick. John Ten Eyck played several walk-on parts, joined in later seasons by Adam Sandler, Denis Leary, and Roger Kabler. Steve Treccase provided music; Marisol Massey (Season One), Kari Wührer (Seasons Two and Three), Alicia Coppola (Season Four) and Susan Ashley (Season Five) were the hostesses. Although uncredited, Jani Berry provided the off-camera voice as the character of Ken Ober's mother.
The show's premise was that Ober desperately wanted to be a game show host and set up his basement (at 72 Whooping Cough Lane) as a television studio. The opening theme song sketched the scenario out:
"Kenny wasn't like the other kids (Remote Control)
TV mattered, nothing else did (Remote Control)
Girls said yes, but he said no (Remote Control)
Now he's got his own game show (Remote Control!)"
Shows were sometimes interrupted by the disembodied voice of "Ken's mother," and the studio was indeed set up to resemble a basement, complete with a washer and dryer, cheesy bric-a-brac, and a giant Pez dispenser that resembled Bob Eubanks.
The basement was a mainstay of the show throughout its run; however, its cheesy decor was "rearranged" slightly every season (props from previous episodes, as well as Nickelodeon's Finders Keepers would often appear as clutter). The contestants sat in leather La-Z-Boy recliners with seat belts (their purpose explained below), complete with retro kidney-shaped tables and scoreboards, facing host Ober and his retro-styled Zenith television. Behind Ober were autographed pictures of his idols, game show hosts such as Eubanks, Bob Barker, Bill Cullen, Bert Convy, Monty Hall, and Tom Kennedy. Musician Steve Treccase set up his keyboard behind a cluttered bar, at which Quinn and the hostess usually sat for the duration of the show. More clutter could be found around and behind the audience, very frequently including props used in previous seasons. Finally, the contestants' chairs were placed in front of breakaway walls, through which they were pulled if they were eliminated.
Three contestants sitting in lounge chairs would select one of nine channels on a big-screen television that stood behind Ober, with each channel representing a subject having to do with pop culture. Sample channels used on the show were "The Bon Jovi Network," "Brady Physics," and "Dead or Canadian." Contestants answered a series of questions from those subjects to earn points. Most channels contained three questions of increasing value, although certain special categories would have either one or two questions.
In the first round, the three questions in a standard category were worth 5, 10, and 15 points, in that order. Point values were doubled for the second round. The contestant who answered a question correctly could either stay with the current channel or select a different one; after the last question in a channel was asked, it was taken out of play for the rest of the round.
Several categories in each game dealt with specific television shows or genres. Categories such as "Brady Physics" (and later "Brady Metaphysics"), "The Today Show Time Machine," "Leave Out (celebrity's name)," "Inside (celebrity's name)" and "The Bon Jovi Network" were standard academic categories with questions presenting humorous situations involving the characters or celebrities named in the category.
Other categories included:
- "Private Dicks," about famous detectives.
- "Really Bad TV," usually critically panned TV series or short-lived programs.
- "Celebrity Cellblock," questions relating to celebrities and famous people who got in trouble with the law.
- "Babes and Assassins," where the host read a humorously-phrased question about a female actress and a famous criminal. To win points, the contestant had to identify the pair.
- "PhD-TV," television-related questions determined to be harder.
- "No Witness News," where the contestants were given the date and name of a supermarket tabloid, then shown three possible headlines. The contestants had to identify the one that actually appeared in the publication on that given date.
- "Celebrity Flesh," about celebrities who posed nude.
- "Boy Were They Stupid," consisting of questions that were not answered correctly in an earlier episode.
- "Channel Number Five," models (almost always female) who later made it famous, almost always in acting or music.
- "Dr. Blister," questions pertaining to celebrity gossip.
- "Six Feet Under," about deceased famous people and celebrities.
- "Flab TV," about large and/or overweight celebrities and famous people.
- "TV Listings," a (fictional) risque TV Guide-type listing to a TV show is read, and from various clues given it was up to the contestant to name the show.
- "Whatever Happened To ...," a statement is read about a celebrity (often a child star or a one-hit wonder) who had previously made it big but had since faded from the scene, and the contestant had to correctly guess who Ober was speaking of.
- "What's Their Line," a pun on the long-running game show, the contestants were asked to identify the career of a TV character.
- Dead or Alive – The name (and sometimes, a brief description) of a famous person or celebrity is read, and the contestant had to determine whether that person was living or deceased. Variations of this game have included "Dead or Canadian" and "Dead, Alive or Indian Food."
The "MTV" category, containing questions relating to music and music videos, generally appeared in almost every round.
Several categories were performance-driven:
- Fairy Pixie – Sheldon, the beleaguered Fairy Pixie, would read forlorn nursery rhymes about television shows.
- Celebrity Square – a parody of Hollywood Squares, where a celebrity was asked a Hollywood Squares-style question; contestants won points for correctly agreeing or disagreeing. The game was described as a "cut-rate" version of the long running game show, with the explanation that "MTV could only afford one square instead of nine."
- Beat the Bishop – this challenge forced contestants to complete a math problem within the time it took a man dressed as a Vatican bishop to race one lap around the studio. (Though depicted literally, the title of this channel is also a euphemism for masturbation. Later one-time variations of this channel included the similarly euphemistic "Beat the Bologna," as well as the straightforward religious spinoffs "Beat the Buddha" and "Race the Rabbi.")
- The Laughing Guy and The Anti-Flip – questions pertaining to "laughed" versions of TV theme songs; the contestant then had to correctly answer the question to win points. "The Laughing Guy" involved a character named "Ken's cousin Flip," a nerd who – "due to being involved in a bizarre accident that left him unable to do anything but laugh" – laughed the instrumental of a TV show theme; the contestant had to identify the show to earn points. "The Anti-Flip" saw "Ken's evil cousin Skip" (a dullard dressed in drag) give the name of a TV game show, and it was up to the contestant to laugh the theme song, with points awarded if the contestant's guess was reasonably correct. Ten Eyck played both characters.
- Andy's Diary – in which a gurgling Denis Leary portrayed the Pop artist Andy Warhol.
- Stud Boy – a character who claimed to have had affairs with any number of famous women, and played by Adam Sandler. Contestants had to guess the woman that Stud Boy was describing.
- Trivia Delinquent – "Stickpin" Quinn, played by Sandler, was presented as Colin's cousin. He would describe his latest criminal activities (getting into fights, stealing cars, etc.) as a lead-in to a trivia question.
- Colin's Brother – played by Leary, which degenerated into an excuse for the two to pummel each other on-air.
- Survey Says – a Family Feud-type question with five correct answers to it was posed to the players. A first-season variant was Sex Survey, in which the question was sexually themed. After Kari Wührer left the show, the category was renamed Casey's Big Poll, with Ten Eyck imitating radio personality Casey Kasem, accompanied by a burly man in drag as "my lovely wife Jeannie," but with the rules otherwise the same.
- Match 'Em Up Real Good (alternatively Match This) – a Match Game-type fill-in-the-blank statement is read, and if the contestant's answer matched that of Colin, Steve, or the hostess, they scored 10 points.
- Sing Along with Colin – in which sidekick Quinn would atonally rasp the lyrics to a song, and once Colin stopped singing, the contestant was required to correctly sing the next line or two. Sing Along was easily the most popular channel used on the show.
- Mr. Baggy Pants – this character asked juvenile riddles that are common in joke books such as "Why did the guy throw his clock out the window?" The contestant had to provide the punchline, which in this case would be "because he wanted to see time fly."
- Rolling Stoned – in which Leary would portray a strung out, drug-influenced Keith Richards.
- Plant or Animal – in which contestants would have to choose if a clip played for them was the sound a wild animal makes or an excerpt from the vocalizations of Robert Plant on a Led Zeppelin song.
There were a handful of "negative" channels that cost contestants points and/or subjected them to an unpleasant experience.
- Home Shopping Zone – where the unlucky contestant to choose that channel would see a video of a TV salesman (played by Craig Vandenburgh) "selling" some ridiculous product for a deduction of 10 points (20 points in the first season). An alternative version, the Fashion Zone, worked similarly, with Vandenburgh describing some outlandishly bad clothing item that the contestant had "bought."
- Ranger Bob – a thick-headed park ranger (played by John Ten Eyck) would offer a "camping safety tip" for 10 points.
- Public Television – None of the contestants would be penalized, but "because only 3% of the population actually watches public television," this category consisted of questions that no average contestant would be able to answer. On a first season episode, however, a contestant did correctly answer a question about Coulomb's Law, earning him 10 points and a full 20 seconds of wild cheering from the audience.
- Wheel of Torture (fourth and fifth seasons) – The contestant could choose to lose 10 points, or submit to "Colin's torturous whims" and gain 10 points. If the contestant took the torture, the hostess would spin the Wheel of Torture (with sections including "Noogie," "Wet Willie," and "Purple Nurple"), and Quinn would administer the torture to the contestant. Some of the tortures were changed during the final season. Notably, the Purple Nurple was not administered to female contestants (if the wheel looked like it was going to land on Purple Nurple for a female contestant, the spinner quickly and noticeably directed the wheel to a different option).
- Off the Air (pilot only) – In the pilot episode, if a contestant selected it, he was immediately eliminated from further play. When the show went into production in December 1987, the rule was dropped in favor of the rules explained below.
At the end of the first round, the contestants were treated to a snack; however, as they were guests of an unconventional host, the snacks were delivered in unusual ways. In the vast majority of shows, the contestants were provided with bowls which they held over their heads to catch the snack, which was dumped onto them from above. When the nature of the snack made this method impractical, it would be lowered from above on trays or delivered by the hostess. In some episodes, each contestant was hit with a pie in the face.
During the first season, the Snack Break occurred in the middle of the round, and the player in the lead at that point had the chance to win a small prize by correctly guessing which of three numbered refrigerators it was located in (similar to Let's Make a Deal). The other two each held a revolting food item.
Off the Air
One of the signature features of Remote Control was the way in which contestants were eliminated from play. After round two, the TV went "Off the Air" (accompanied by a siren sound effect and the studio lights flashing on and off), and the contestant in last place at that moment was also thrown "Off the Air" and eliminated from the game. Eliminated contestants were removed immediately, chair and all (hence the seat belts). Beginning in the Spring Break episodes during the first season, the audience would also sing a "goodbye song," typically "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," "Hit the Road Jack," or "Get Off My Show" (to the tune of "Get Off My Cloud"), while said player was being ejected. After a contestant was ejected, he/she would be tormented by stagehands administering various annoyances behind him/her while an unrealistic screaming sound effect played. The ejections were accomplished in a variety of ways.
The setup in the first season was very basic. All three contestants were seated in front of breakaway sections in the wall behind them. Upon elimination, the losing contestant was simply pulled in their chair through that section of the wall, which would fall backwards allowing the chair to continue sliding behind the stage. Upon being pulled through, a black curtain was dropped concealing the player. Most of the time this was accompanied by the camera shaking violently and a "static" effect to simulate the TV (and the contestant, as mentioned by Ober) going "Off the Air." On occasion, the chair would return through the wall with the contestant replaced by a skeleton or something else indicating that he or she had been "killed."
The second season was the first to feature three different kinds of eliminations; also, the camera effects were removed. The player on the left side of the stage was seated in front of a seemingly normal brick wall. If they lost, his/her chair was pulled backwards and upon hitting the wall a trap door would swing open to allow the player to be pulled backstage. The door was then shut to "trap" the player behind the wall. The player in the middle was in front of a doorway lined with blue wallpaper. Upon elimination, he would be pulled back and rip through the wallpaper, with a black curtain lowered in front of the player to keep him hidden them from view. The player on the right was in the infamous "flipper" chair, which was yanked upwards and backwards so that the stage floor was now the wall from the vantage point of the audience.
Seasons 3 and 4 presented some minor modifications. The "flipper" chair was now on the left side of the stage. The middle chair was in front of a fake brick wall which had a breakaway section similar to the ones used during the first season. Just like in prior seasons, a black sheet was dropped down to conceal the player from view. The player on the right side was in front of a typical looking wall decorated with shelves, pictures, and a dartboard. When this player lost, his/her chair would be flung backwards, hitting the wall and spinning it around 180 degrees. The backside of the wall (now seen on stage) looked like the outside of a house, with siding and a garden hose (as to imply that the player had been ejected from the basement to outside.)
The fifth and final season presented some minor modifications as well; the black curtain behind the breakaway wall was replaced with a black wall with "jail bars," and the wall rotated vertically as the player on the right side was being pulled through it.
In Spring Break episodes, players were seated in folding lawn chairs which were placed on platforms on the edge of a swimming pool. All three contestants were eliminated in the same manner if they went "Off the Air." The platform would sink forward slightly, folding up the lawn chair just a little (and making it more difficult for players to run away if they chickened out, as they were not strapped in for safety purposes.) The hostess would then walk over to a lever in front of the contestant, wave bye-bye to them and pull the lever that released the platform, sending the seated contestant tumbling backwards into the pool. This concept was dropped in later Spring Break episodes and replaced with the losers being pushed or thrown into the pool by stagehands.
On at least one occasion (a 1988 Christmas episode in which the three contestants were the "Three Wise Men"), the contestants performed so badly in Round 1 that Ober decided to have them all yanked "Off the Air" at the end of it. The scores were reset to zero, and three new contestants took their places to complete the game.
During the first season, after the TV went "Off the Air," gameplay continued as normal with the remaining two contestants until time expired. Beginning with the second season, this format was scrapped for a "lightning round," to determine the winner.
In seasons 2-4, the two remaining contestants competed in a 30-second speed round entitled "Think Real Fast." Typically, this was a fill-in-the-blank or spot-the-errant-word format. For example, Ober would read movie, TV show, or song titles that had one word replaced with an incorrect word, and contestants had to come up with the correction. Each correct answer scored 10 points. The high scorer moved on to the bonus round, while the runner-up was eliminated in a manner similar to the third-place contestant.
NOTE: In seasons 2-4, if there was no clear third-place player (i.e., a three-way tie or a tie for second place) when the TV went "Off the Air," nobody was eliminated, and all three players played "Think Real Fast." In this instance, both losing players were removed simultaneously; Ken termed this event a "double yank."
In the fifth season, all three players played a different version of the lightning round called "This, That, Or the Other Thing," but it was not the last round in the game. All questions now had one of three answers that Ober would list before the round started. These were usually people or characters who shared a common name—for example: "Andy Taylor, Andy Warhol, or Andy Rooney." Contestants had 20 seconds to ring in and answer as many questions as possible; after this round, the TV immediately went "Off the Air" and the third-place contestant was eliminated.
Final question (Season 5 and second half of syndicated version only)
In the final season, the two remaining players bet any or all of their current score on one final question. Host Ober read a question, usually a math problem, and the players had 20 seconds to write down their answers, during which a strange attention-derailing act was performed. When time expired, the players' answers and wagers were checked; a correct answer awarded the wagered points to the contestant, while a wrong answer deducted as many points.
The surviving player with the highest score won the game and a collection of prizes, and went on to the Grand Prize Round. In the event of a tie after the last round, Ober would pull a tiebreaker question from the giant Pez dispenser in the corner; a correct answer won the game, while a wrong answer lost it.
Grand prize round
MTV Version (first 4 seasons): The contestant was strapped to a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed, facing a wall of nine TV sets (some turned sideways or upside down on which music videos were playing. The contestant had to identify the artist in each video, with a prize being awarded for every correct answer. Correctly identifying all nine artists within 30 seconds won the grand prize, usually a car or a trip ($5,000 in celebrity episodes). Before the clock started ticking, the contestant was given a split-second glimpse of every video at once.
Syndicated Version ("Wheel of Jeopardy"): Because of copyright issues, music videos couldn't be used on the syndicated episodes. Instead, the contestant was strapped to a spinning circular platform surrounded by ten numbered television monitors and was asked ten questions (usually about TV). For each question successfully answered, the contestant won a prize, and the corresponding screen would display "Grand Prize." After 10 questions, the wheel was stopped, and if the player's head pointed to a screen that had "Grand Prize" displayed, he won all 10 prizes and the day's top prize. If the contestant correctly answered all 10 questions, he or she would automatically win the grand prize without the wheel having to stop, as every monitor would obviously read "Grand Prize". Originally, correct answers simply turned on lights around the TVs, and the player's head had to land on one of the lit TVs in order to win the grand prize.
MTV Version (season 5): The "name the artist" round was modified to more resemble the syndicated bonus round. The player was strapped to a spinning metal wheel placed at a 45 degree angle, with a single TV above it and another below it. The nine videos were shown in succession simultaneously on both monitors, and the player had to guess all the artists in 40 seconds to win the grand prize.
Celebrities that appeared on the show included:
- Nipsey Russell – the "Poet Laureate of Television", who occasionally presented some of his poems.
- Bob Eubanks – sat by host Ober for the entire main game, and "coached" him on how to host a game show.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic – came into the basement as a category/channel. In addition, he also "tortured" that episode's two losing contestants as they were eliminated. (This was the only time that the backstage portion of the set behind the contestant area was shown.)
- LL Cool J – made a brief appearance in one skit, where Ober stormed off stage to discover the rapper and his brother goofing around.
- Jerry Mathers – appeared during the second half of a season three episode.
Celebrities that played the game:
- One episode featured Phil McConkey of the NFL's New York Giants playing against Sidney Green of the NBA's New York Knicks (with his then very young son Taurean on the set throughout the show). The third player was series regular John Ten Eyck playing Steve Sax of Major League baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers. Ten Eyck intentionally gave foolish, incorrect answers as Sax, who had canceled his scheduled appearance at the last minute.
- While in syndication, Remote Control had a "World Class Athletes Day" with pro athletes who lost out on championships in recent seasons. The three players were Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, New York Mets pitcher David Cone and New York Rangers defenseman Ron Greschner.
- LL Cool J, Julie Brown, and "Weird Al" Yankovic played for charity during the second season, with Yankovic winning.
- Heavy metal musicians "Dizzy" Dean Davidson of Britny Fox, Lorraine Lewis of Femme Fatale, and Anthrax's Charlie Benante played against each other in season three.
- Former child stars Brandon Cruz, Butch Patrick, and Danny Bonaduce played in season three.
- Former Brady Bunch actors Barry Williams, Eve Plumb, and Susan Olsen played in the first aired episode of the syndicated run. This episode led to a writing partnership between Williams and Remote Control head writer Chris Kreski, who co-authored the best-selling Growing Up Brady biography.
- The Red Hot Chili Peppers were contestants in the final MTV season.
- Kathy Orr, Chief Meteorologist for KYW-TV in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, appeared on the show as a regular contestant.
Foreign versions and attempts
|Country||Local Name||Host||Channel||Year Aired|
|Australia||The Great TV Game Show||Russell Stubbs||Network Ten||1989|
|Italy||Urka!||Paolo Bonolis||Italia 1||1991|
|Puerto Rico||Control Remoto||Xavier Serbiá||WAPA-TV||1989|
|United Kingdom||Remote Control||Anthony H. Wilson||Channel 4||1991-1992|
|United States||MTV's Remote Control
- A Puerto Rico version entitled Control Remoto, hosted by former Menudo member Xavier Serbiá, was canceled after 3 months on WAPA-TV in 1989 because MTV threatened a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
- A British version of the show was co-produced by Action Time Productions and Granada Television and aired on Channel 4 from 1991 to 1992. It was hosted by Anthony H. Wilson and featured comedian Phil Cornwell, with guest appearances by the character Frank Sidebottom and Mrs Merton.
- An Australian version aired on Network Ten in 1989 under the name The Great TV Game Show. It was hosted by Russell Stubbs with Jane Holmes and the regular panelists were Russell Fletcher, Margie Nunn, Linda Gibson, and Michael Blair. The show failed to see out the year along with a number of Network Ten game shows that were launched at around the same time.
- The Italian version of the show was called Urka!, which was hosted by Paolo Bonolis and aired on Italia 1 only in 1991.
- A board game based on the show was released by Pressman in 1989.
- In 1990, a video game based on Remote Control was licensed for multiple platforms, including the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990 and the Apple IIGS in 1989. The video games were published by Hi-Tech Expressions. The game remained quite similar to the show, although the NES version has no endgame.
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- Duffy, Mike (31 March 1988). LIFESTYLE / ENTERTAINMENT. "MTV's Antidote to Vanna and Friends". The Record (Bergen County). p. e17.
- Spillman, Susan (23 June 1988). LIFE. "MTV punches in more `Remote Control' action". USA Today. p. 03D.
- Dale, Mike (9 August 1988). ENTERTAINMENT. "`Remote Control' MTV's wacky answer to `Jeopardy!'". The San Diego Union-Tribune. p. D-9.
- "Caroline Aherne". Retrieved 2012-06-07.
- "Remote Control Release Date". GameFAQs. Retrieved 2008-07-22.