UHF (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jay Levey
Produced by Gene Kirkwood
John W. Hyde
Written by "Weird Al" Yankovic
Jay Levey
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography David Lewis
Edited by Dennis M. O'Connor
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Release dates
  • July 21, 1989 (1989-07-21)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million
Box office $6.1 million[1]

UHF is a 1989 American comedy film starring "Weird Al" Yankovic, David Bowe, Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Barty, Anthony Geary, Emo Philips and Trinidad Silva, to whose memory the film is dedicated. The film was directed by Jay Levey, Yankovic's manager, who also co-wrote the screenplay with him. It was released by Orion Pictures. It is now distributed by MGM. The movie was used as the center of the 1989 special Camp MTV, a six-hour block of programming that was used as a promotional tool.

Yankovic stars as a shiftless dreamer who stumbles into managing a low-budget television station and, surprisingly, finds success with his eclectic programming choices. He provokes the ire of a major network station that dislikes the competitive upstart. The title refers to the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) analog television broadcasting band on which such low-budget television stations often were placed in the United States.

UHF earned mixed to poor critical reviews. While only a modest success during its theatrical release, it became a cult film on home video.

The film was distributed as The Vidiot from UHF in Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe. On several parts of the DVD commentary Yankovic expresses distaste for the international title. He suggested The Vidiot when producers suggested that overseas audiences would not know what the title meant, and they combined the two titles.[2] Shout! Factory released a special 25th Anniversary edition of UHF on November 11, 2014 on DVD and Blu-ray.[3]


George Newman ("Weird Al" Yankovic) is a daydreamer whose hyperactive imagination keeps him from holding a steady job. In fact, it has just gotten him and his best friend Bob (David Bowe) both fired from Big Edna's Burger World, his umpteenth job within a month. His gambling uncle Harvey Bilchik wins the deed to a UHF television station on the verge of bankruptcy, Channel 62, in a poker game. After prodding by his wife, Harvey gives control of Channel 62 to George. George and Bob meet the Channel 62 staff which is made up of the receptionist and wannabe reporter Pamela Finklestein (Fran Drescher), dwarf photojournalist and cameraman Noodles MacIntosh (Billy Barty), an unnamed overweight cameraman, (Lou B. Washington) and eccentric engineer Philo (Anthony Geary). George attempts to introduce himself to the rival VHF network station, Channel 8, but its owner, the cynical R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), chases him out angrily. On his way out of the station he encounters janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards), who was recently unjustly fired by Fletcher (Spadowski was accused of discarding a valuable research report, which had been in the seat of Fletcher's desk chair all the time). George offers him a janitorial job at Channel 62.

Though George creates new shows (including the kid-friendly but poorly named "Uncle Nutzy's Clubhouse"), the workload and bad debt of the station get to him. Amid the stress he forgets his girlfriend Teri's (Victoria Jackson) birthday, causing her to break up with him over the incident. A despondent George turns "Uncle Nutzy's Clubhouse" over to Stanley so he and Bob can go out for a drink. Arriving at the bar, they find that all the patrons are excitedly watching Stanley's antics on Channel 62. Realizing they have a hit on their hands, George and Bob are revived and inspired. They come up with ideas for more bizarre, original shows in Channel 62's lineup, all spearheaded by the newly retitled "Stanley Spadowski's Clubhouse."

As Channel 62's popularity grows, Fletcher becomes furious that a UHF station is getting better ratings than his network's programming. He learns that Harvey Bilchik is the owner of the station and has just gambled away $75,000 at the horse races. Fletcher makes Harvey the offer of covering his debt to his bookie Big Louie in return for ownership of Channel 62, which he would then only too happily shut down (at the time of the film he legally couldn't own two stations in the same town; the FCC later relaxed duopoly rules in 2000). George learns of the deal and calls his aunt, who forces her husband to hold off and allow George time to raise the money Harvey owes by selling investment stock in Channel 62 through a telethon.

The telethon starts off successfully led by Stanley's boundless energy, but Fletcher sends his goons to kidnap Stanley. Without Stanley, the telethon grinds to a halt. George then leads a group to infiltrate Channel 8 and rescue Stanley. They return in time to successfully finish the telethon just before Harvey's debt comes due, saving the station and making it a publicly owned company. Fletcher on the other hand finds out that the penny he mockingly gave to a beggar earlier was a rare 1955 doubled-die cent worth a substantial fortune, which the beggar sold and used to purchase Channel 62 stock (thus saving the station at the last second) and a Rolex watch, to boot. Fletcher also discovers that a slanderous conversation of his contempt for his station's viewers was secretly recorded and rebroadcast by Philo and that Channel 8 failed to file paperwork to renew its broadcast license with the FCC. The FCC revokes his license and takes the station off the air. As the film ends George and Teri rekindle their relationship, while the rest of the employees and fans of Channel 62 celebrate.

Throughout the film, there are cutaway scenes that are comic homages to popular shows, through either George's imagination or shows specifically for Channel 62. A dream sequence includes a music video for Yankovic's "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies*" in both the audio and visual style of the Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing", and fake commercials for Plots 'R Us Mortuary Service, Gandhi II, Conan the Librarian and Spatula City are shown throughout the film.



UHF received mixed reviews. On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 63% rating based on 24 reviews, with an average score of 5.6/10.[4] On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average based on selected critic reviews, the film has a score of 32 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable" reviews.[5] Critic Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that Yankovic's approach to satire and parody works for the short-form music video, but does not work to fill out a full-length movie. Ebert also called to Yankovic's lack of screen presence, creating a "dispirited vacuum at the center of many scenes"; he gave UHF one star out of four.[6] Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel wrote of the film, "Never has a comedy tried so hard and failed so often to be funny"; he gave it no stars.[7] Michael Wilmington of the Los Angeles Times believed that, as the entire film comprised parodies, it gave no structure for the larger plot to work, thus resulting in "not much of a movie".[8]

According to Yankovic's Behind the Music episode, UHF enjoyed one of the most successful test screenings in Orion's history. Orion Pictures released UHF on July 21, 1989 as a hopeful summer blockbuster, hoping that it would pull them out of the water. However, critical response was negative,[9] and it was out of the theaters by the end of the month.[citation needed] The film has been compared to Young Einstein, which similarly scored well with test audiences but failed to make a critical impression.[9] Yankovic has stated that it was not a "critic movie". As Yankovic states in his commentary of the movie, UHF was thought to be the movie that would "save the studio" for Orion. He was treated very well because of this. He states in the commentary: "Every morning I would wake up to fresh strawberries next to my bed. Then, when the movie bombed, I woke up and...no more strawberries!"

Within the month prior, and up to the release of UHF, studios released bigger movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Lethal Weapon 2, Batman, Licence to Kill, When Harry Met Sally, and Weekend at Bernie's.[10] The draw to these blockbuster movies is also attributable to the lower attendance at UHF '​s premiere; The A.V. Club, in a retrospective, called UHF "a sapling among the redwoods" and the type of film that Hollywood has since abandoned.[9] The poor critical response of UHF left Yankovic in a slump that lasted for three years, impacting the finalization of his next studio album; the slump was broken when the band Nirvana rose to wide popularity, giving him the inspiration to write "Smells Like Nirvana" and complete the album Off the Deep End.[11]

UHF has since become a cult classic, becoming very popular on cable and home video.[citation needed] The movie was re-released in Europe and North America on VHS, but because of the little money earned at the box office, it soon fell out of print. In the several years UHF was out of print, the film developed a cult following, and fans of the film and Yankovic in general pawed desperately for a copy. Prices skyrocketed, ranging from fifty to a hundred dollars or more. Finally, UHF was released on DVD in 2002 by MGM, and in its debut week it became a top ten bestseller in Variety. The North American DVD contains numerous extras including a music video of the movie's theme song, a commentary track featuring director Jay Levey and Yankovic himself (with surprise guest appearances by costar Michael Richards and Emo Philips and a phoned-in appearance by Victoria Jackson), and a deleted scenes reel with Yankovic's commentary. Shout! Factory released a special 25th Anniversary Edition of UHF on November 11, 2014 on both DVD and Blu-ray.

A webseries called The Real UHF which was heavily inspired by UHF started in 2009, and starred Dr. Demento, Neil Hamburger, and Count Smokula. It featured guest appearances from Devo, George Clinton, and others. The series was the brainchild of Zack Wolk, an intern for Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!


Yankovic also released a quasi-soundtrack for the film in late 1989, titled UHF - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff, which featured songs (and commercials) from the movie as well as his own new, unrelated studio material.


Most of the individual locations used during the creation of the film are in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Burger World location was Harden's Hamburgers at 6835 East 15th Street in Tulsa, and Bowling for Burgers was filmed at Rose Bowl Lanes on East 11th Street. The bar location was Joey's House of the Blues at 2222 East 61st Street. The building used for Kuni's Karate School belongs to the Tulsa Pump Company and is located at 114 West Archer in Tulsa, while "Crazy Eddie's Used Car Emporium" was filmed on the lot of Ernie Miller Pontiac at 4700 South Memorial.[12] Indoor scenes for both Channels 8 and 62 were filmed on a sound stage in a shopping mall (Kensington Galleria, at 71st and Lewis) that was in the process of being closed down and converted to office space. It is now (2013) TV Guide offices. The dead fish in the Wheel of Fish game show were real, obtained from the White River Fish Market. The news desk was located at OETA, a local PBS member station. The steps of City Hall are actually First Christian Church at 913 S. Boulder, which has looked the same since it was built in 1920.

Channel 8's exterior is an office block (6655 South Lewis Building) occupied by Hewlett-Packard. The "U-62" building was constructed around KGTO 1050's AM radio transmitter site (5400 West Edison Street); the real KGTO studios had been moved elsewhere in 1975. Just the tower itself remains at this location today.[13] The airport scenes were taken at Tulsa International Airport.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "UHF (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 12, 2014. 
  2. ^ DVD audio commentary, menus, etc.
  3. ^ Burlingame, Russ (25 July 2014). "SDCC: "Weird Al" Yankovic's UHF Gets a 25th Anniversary Blu-ray in November". ComicBook.com. Retrieved 2014-09-10. 
  4. ^ "UHF (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  5. ^ "UHF Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 21, 1989). "UHF". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  7. ^ Siskel, Gene (July 21, 1989). "'Uhf's' Attempts To Be Funny A Complete Failure". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2014-09-10. 
  8. ^ Wilmington, Michael (July 21, 1989). "Movie Reviews: The Parody Runs Amok in Yankovic's 'UHF'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c Tobias, Scott (June 14, 2012). "Weird Al's UHF is uneven, but that just made it ahead of its time". A.V. Club. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  10. ^ "The Numbers". 
  11. ^ Weingarten, Christopher R. (October 11, 2012). "'Weird Al' Yankovic Looks Back at 20 Years of 'Smells Like Nirvana'". Spin. Buzzmedia. Retrieved October 11, 2012. 
  12. ^ UHF - My 15 Year Pilgrimage, Rob O'Hara
  13. ^ A little history of KFMJ 1050 AM, Wayne McCombs, Tulsa TV Memories

External links[edit]