UHF (film)

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UHF
UHFposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jay Levey
Produced by Gene Kirkwood
John W. Hyde
Written by "Weird Al" Yankovic
Jay Levey
Starring
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography David Lewis
Edited by Dennis M. O'Connor
Production
company
Cinecorp
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 (released internationally as The Vidiot from 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; the film is dedicated to Silva who died shortly after principal filming. The film was directed by Jay Levey, Yankovic's manager, who also co-wrote the screenplay with him. It was released by Orion Pictures and presently distributed by MGM.

Yankovic stars as George Newman, a shiftless dreamer who stumbles into managing a low-budget television station and, surprisingly, finds success with his eclectic programming choices, in part spearheaded by the antics of a janitor-turned-children's television host, Stanley (Richards). 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.

Yankovic and Levey wrote the film after Yankovic's second studio album, looking to apply the musician's parody and comedy to film, and chose the approach of George being a straight man with a vivid imagination to support the inclusion of parodies within the film. They struggled with finding a film production company for financing the film, but were eventually able to get Orion Pictures' support after stating they could keep the film costs under $5 million. Principle filming took place around Tulsa, Oklahoma, with many of the extras for the film from the Tulsa and nearby Dallas, Texas areas.

UHF earned mixed to poor critical reviews, and was further impacted by releasing in the middle of one of Hollywood's largest blockbuster summer periods. While only a modest success during its theatrical release, it became a cult film on home video. Shout! Factory released a special 25th Anniversary edition of UHF on November 11, 2014 on DVD and Blu-ray.

Plot[edit]

George Newman ("Weird Al" Yankovic) is a daydreamer whose hyperactive imagination keeps him and his friend Bob (David Bowe) from holding a steady job. George's uncle Harvey Bilchik (Stanley Brock) wins the deed to Channel 62, a UHF television station on the verge of bankruptcy, through gambling. After prodding by his wife Esther (Sue Ane Langdon), 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. George offers him a janitorial job at Channel 62.

Though George creates new shows, including the kid-friendly but poorly named "Uncle Nutsy'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 Nutsy'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 titled "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 to avoid running afoul of the FCC's duopoly rules. 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 a substantial amount of Channel 62 stock. 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.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Yankovic and his manager Jay Levey had discussed the idea of a movie for Yankovic around 1985, after his second major successful album; his popularity at that time led the two to thinking what other venues would work for the musician.[2] The story concept they created was based on Yankovic's approach to his music videos, making parodies of other work. After sketching out a number of such parodies for a film, the concept of Yankovic being the owner of a small-time UHF station broadcasting this parodies as shows was born, as this would not require having any significant plot to string the parodies together, in a manner similar to Airplane!.[2]

The two attempted to shop the script around Hollywood film agencies for about three years without luck. They were surprised when one of their agents had shown the script to the founders of a new production company, Cinecorp, who were interested in the script and had given it to directors Gene Kirkwood and John W. Hyde; Kirkwood stated he has previously seen Yankovic's videos and wanted to make a movie with him.[2] Kirkwood and Hyde had connections with Orion Pictures, who offered to fund the production as long as they could keep it under $5 million.[2]

The title of the film UHF was selected to refer to, at the time of the film's writing, the predominance of local televisions operating on ultra high frequency broadcasts, which were typically known for quirkly, low-cost production shows, which the film spoofed.[2] However, at the same time, cable television was becoming popular and displacing UHF stations, and the meaning of UHF was being lost to the general public; by the time the film was released Internationally, they renamed it The Vidiot from UHF as to provide context to the title; Yankovic had wanted to just go with The Vidiot but the studio felt that the tie-in to the original release name was needed.[2][3]

Locations[edit]

Primary filming for UHF occurred in Tulsa; the film's executive producer Gray Frederickson had earlier finished shooting of The Outsiders in Oklahoma, and found the ease and the cost to film in the state to be favorable for the needs of UHF.[2] They found several favorable factors that made the city suitable for filming. At the time of filming, the Kensington Galleria (71st and Lewis) was being closed down to convert the mall into office space, allowing the production team to use it for both sound stage and interior scenes including those for both Channels 8 and 62; the mall was also situated near a hotel making it ideal for housing the cast and crew during filming.[2] The area and close proximity to Dallas allowed them to recruit additional local talent for some of the acts during the telethon scenes.[2]

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.[4] 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.[5] The airport scenes were taken at Tulsa International Airport.

Casting[edit]

Yankovic was always envisioned to be the central character of the film George Newman, written as a straight man with a vivid imagination as to allow the insertion of the parodies into the film's script in a manner similar to the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.[2] As the focus of the film was to be on the parodies, George was not fleshed out beyond enough character development to drive the principle storyline.[2] The name "Newman" was selected as homage to Mad magazine's mascot, Alfred E. Newman, further referenced by the name of "Uncle Nutsy's Clubhouse".[2]

The part of Stanley was written by Yankovic with Michael Richards in mind; at the time, Yankovic had been impressed with Richards' stand-up comedy and performance in the show Fridays.[2] Yankovic had also considered that Stanley's part was influenced by Christopher Lloyd's performance on Taxi, and had considered reaching out to Lloyd to offer him the part, but decided to stay with Richards due to their original premise.[2] Richards' agents had told Yankovic that he wasn't interested in the part as Richards at the time was suffering a bout of Bell's palsy, but when they reached out to Richards again, Richards came to the set, dropping right into the character of Stanley for the test read.[2]

Other principle roles were cast through normal auditions, with most of the choices based on how well the actor fit the role. For George's girlfriend Teri, they didn't feel that they needed to spend a significant amount of time developing this side as they did not consider Yankovic to be the type of actor for a romantic lead. Although Jennifer Tilly and Ellen DeGeneres auditioned, they found Victoria Jackson's soft demeanor to be well-suited for the role.[2]

For R.J. Fletcher, they found that Kevin McCarthy was in a similar stage of his career as Leslie Nielsen, one of many "serious vintage actors who had crossed over into satire", according to Levey, and McCarthy had relished the role.[2]

Fran Drescher was selected for the role of Pamela, in part for her established comedy as well as her nasally voice that made for a humorous contrast for a news anchor.[2]

For George's friend Bob, they looked for an actor that could be seen as a friend to George. At point they had considered Jerry Seinfeld for the role, but he had turned it down. David Bowe, who had been a long-time Yankovic fan, easily fit the part during auditions.[2]

Philo's role was written with Joel Hodgson in mind, building on Hodgson's stand-up routines of using homemade inventions and deadpan comedy. Hodgson turned down the role feeling at the time that he wasn't a good actor.[2] At the time, Hodgson was also working on Mystery Science Theater 3000. They also had approached Crispin Glover for Philo's role, but Glover said that he only wanted to play a used car salesman and no other part, turning down the offer.[2] As they sought other actors, their casting agent Cathy Henderson offered up Anthony Geary, who at the time had gained popularity due to his role on General Hospital. Geary wanted to perform the role both as a fan of Yankovic and seeing the role as completely opposite from his normal acting.[2]

Kuni was written with the intention of being performed by Gedde Watanabe from the start.[2]

Emo Philips was a close friend of Yankovic, and Yankovic felt that he had to include Philips in the movie, eventually creating the role of the clumsy shop teacher for him.[2]

Although they ended up using Vance Colvig Jr. for the hobo in the film, Ginger Baker of the band Cream had volunteered to audition for the part, but Yankovic and the production team found Colvig to be a better fit.[2]

Levey himself appears in the movie playing Mahatma Gandhi in the spoof segment Gandhi II.[2]

Trinidad Silva had performed his primary scenes, but he died in a car accident after returning home. Although they had planned on bringing back Silva's character for the telethon scene which had not yet been filmed, they were not comfortable with the use of body doubles and dropped this. The film was dedicated to Silva.[2]

Reception[edit]

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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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".[10]

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,[11] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[11] Yankovic and the creators of the film considered that the film had a strong audience with younger viewers which did well to fill midday matinees but did not succeed in helping to sell tickets for more lucrative evening and nighttime showings.[2]

The poor critical response of UHF left Yankovic in a slump[2] 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.[13]

Legacy[edit]

UHF has since become a cult classic, becoming very popular on cable and home video.[2] 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 Blu-ray.[14]

Though Yankovic has considered the possibility of a sequel, he has not actively pursued this. Yankovic noted that UHF is "a product of its era, and comedy has changed so much over the decades", but also considered that the type of comedy predated the nature of Internet phenomena[disambiguation needed] and viral videos on the Internet.[14]

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!

Soundtrack[edit]

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.


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "UHF (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 12, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad O'Neil, Sean (March 23, 2015). "We got it all on UHF: An oral history of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s cult classic". A.V. Club. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 
  3. ^ DVD audio commentary, menus, etc.
  4. ^ UHF - My 15 Year Pilgrimage, Rob O'Hara
  5. ^ A little history of KFMJ 1050 AM, Wayne McCombs, Tulsa TV Memories
  6. ^ "UHF (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  7. ^ "UHF Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 6, 2014. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 21, 1989). "UHF". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  9. ^ Siskel, Gene (July 21, 1989). "'Uhf's' Attempts To Be Funny A Complete Failure". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2014-09-10. 
  10. ^ Wilmington, Michael (July 21, 1989). "Movie Reviews: The Parody Runs Amok in Yankovic's 'UHF'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ "The Numbers". 
  13. ^ Weingarten, Christopher R. (October 11, 2012). "'Weird Al' Yankovic Looks Back at 20 Years of 'Smells Like Nirvana'". Spin. Buzzmedia. Retrieved October 11, 2012. 
  14. ^ a b Zalben, Alex (November 11, 2014). "‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Reflects On 25 Years Of ‘UHF’ – And Looks Forward To A Broadway Musical". MTV. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 

External links[edit]