The Dana Carvey Show
|The Dana Carvey Show|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||1|
|No. of episodes||8 (1 unaired)|
|Running time||30 minutes (with commercials)|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Television|
|Original release||March 12 –|
April 30, 1996
The Dana Carvey Show is an American surreal sketch comedy television show that aired on ABC during the spring of 1996. Dana Carvey was the host and principal player on the show while Louis C.K. served as head writer.
The show's cast consists heavily of Saturday Night Live and Second City alumni including Carvey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Bill Chott, Elon Gold, Chris McKinney, Heather Morgan, Peggy Shay, Robert Smigel, and James Stephens III. The writing team also included Louis C.K, Charlie Kaufman, Jon Glaser, Dino Stamatopoulos, Spike Feresten, and Robert Carlock. In addition, Carvey and Smigel's former Saturday Night Live colleague Greg Daniels contributed material for the premiere episode.
The Dana Carvey Show aired only seven of its planned 10 episodes. While the program was short-lived and featured controversial material, it has since been considered ahead of its time. The show is also recognized for providing early exposure to Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert, two comedians who would go on to have success years later. In addition, The Dana Carvey Show served as a launchpad for Smigel's series of TV Funhouse cartoons.
"We kind of did reductionist bits where we'd just get away from beginning-middle-end, where the wacky character would walk into a scene and frustrate a straight man for six minutes. Instead, we just said 'And now, here are skinheads from Maine,' and then we just did 10 jokes."
Robert Smigel turned down an offer to rejoin SNL as a producer, favoring the challenge of working with Carvey on primetime. Smigel and Carvey were given SNL's audition tapes which led them to hire Bill Chott and Jon Glaser. They were also joined by Louis C.K. who worked with Smigel on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Steve Carell was hired through Smigel and Carvey's auditions in which Smigel recalls seeing future SNL alumni Tracy Morgan, Jimmy Fallon and Ana Gasteyer; however, The Dana Carvey Show had but a small cast to fill. Smigel himself cast Stephen Colbert, whom he had met years prior, and had tried to use on Late Night. Colbert sent them a homemade audition tape in which he used his newborn daughter as a puppet. He later noted, "I was completely desperate."
The writing staff for The Dana Carvey Show included, Louis C.K. (head writer), Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Robert Smigel, Charlie Kaufman, Bob Odenkirk, Robert Carlock, Greg Daniels, and Dino Stamatopoulos.
Carvey also saw the new show as an opportunity to move his family away from Los Angeles and raise his two young sons in New York. His family moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, however, causing Carvey to commute several hours to the studio during a brutal winter. He regarded Smigel as the true writer and "creative force" behind the show while Carvey considered himself "kind of a zombie." This was due to his tiring schedule of balancing work and fatherhood which he later considered a mistake.
During the show's development, Smigel and Carvey focused on being different from SNL. The sketches would often be "reductionist bits" in an attempt to feel more "presentational" like Monty Python. This would sometimes frustrate writers whose ideas, while creative, were sometimes rejected because they didn't fit the show's approach. Smigel has expressed satisfaction, however, in the outcome of working under such restrictions and believes the show would have found a greater balance had it been given more time on the air. This experimental approach also allowed the show to include short films and cartoons, starting with The Ambiguously Gay Duo. Smigel later considered the cartoons his favorite aspect of the program and noted, "My whole career came out of the impulse to do cartoons on The Dana Carvey Show." In the summer following the show's cancellation, Smigel continued to develop more cartoon ideas which would be used on SNL's TV Funhouse.
Smigel noted that the show had many options in terms of networks. Carvey says that his "first instinct" was to produce the show for HBO, while CBS would have guaranteed several more episodes than the series eventually received. However, the duo was "overly tempted" by the reigning profile of ABC and its primetime offer. The network originally planned on airing 10 episodes and did not interfere with the show's creativity, simply wanting a good lead-in to NYPD Blue.
The Dana Carvey Show also attempted to put The Onion on television with Stephen Colbert reporting as an anchor in deadpan style. This material long predated his time on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. However, the sketches went unaired and have since been subject to rights issues.
The show's humor varied between crude and sophisticated. It debuted on Tuesday, March 12, 1996 at 9:30 ET. On its premiere, following the family-friendly Home Improvement, the notorious first sketch featured Carvey as President Bill Clinton, demonstrating his compassion by having a human baby (which was a doll), several puppies (real ones) and a kitten (also real) suckle milk from his multiple prosthetic nipples. Years later, Carvey claimed that "having that right out of the box sent the wrong message about the show. The show got really panned because of that, and we were in trouble from that point forwards."
Carvey also recreated some of the characters he developed on Saturday Night Live, including his signature Church Lady, and parodied the news of the day, as well as the media, politics, commercialism, and other sketch comedy shows. One particularly memorable sketch, "Skinheads From Maine," involved a pair of white power skinheads dressed in plaid, sitting on a porch, whittling, and conversing alternately about their racist beliefs and innocent matters such as the weather in a thick mock Maine accent. ("Nice sunset we're havin'..." "Ayuh, the weather's the only thing the Jews don't control.")
Additional post-produced bumper material was often featured between sketches. One such example, Discovery Channel After Dark, featured an edited montage of wild animals mating, and performing other actions that would be considered obscene if shown being done by their human counterparts. This was a parody of adult-based, late-night cable programming.
An animated sketch that first appeared on the show, The Ambiguously Gay Duo, featuring the voices of Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, became well known on SNL after Carvey's show was canceled. Additionally, a sketch used in the unaired eighth episode about Tom Brokaw prerecording the announcement of Gerald Ford's death was used verbatim when Carvey hosted Saturday Night Live on October 26, 1996.
When The Dana Carvey Show first appeared, it was greeted with above average reviews and a lukewarm response from the audience. Despite the fact that ABC only aired seven episodes of the series, it has maintained a small but loyal following. The first six episodes that aired were officially titled based on the presenting sponsor of the show:
- "The Taco Bell Dana Carvey Show"
- "The Mug Root Beer Dana Carvey Show"
- "The Mountain Dew Dana Carvey Show"
- "The Diet Mug Root Beer Dana Carvey Show"
- "The Pepsi Stuff Dana Carvey Show"
- "The Szechuan Dynasty Dana Carvey Show"
This was a homage to the classic television shows that Dana Carvey grew up watching in the 1950s and 1960s, wherein a variety show would have a single sponsor whose advertising and promotion were integrated with the show.
The show was videotaped at the CBS Broadcast Center at 524 West 57th Street in New York City. As an inside joke to the fact that an ABC television show was being recorded at a studio owned by a rival network, each show's opening announcement stated, "from the ABC Broadcast Center in New York, it's The ________ Dana Carvey Show!" The blank was where the sponsor's name is heard as a man stands at the top of a ladder outside of the Broadcast Center placing the ABC logo over the CBS Eye logo. Dana would then begin the show surrounded by dancers wearing (for example) gigantic Mug Root Beer soda can costumes.
Each of the first five sponsors were products of PepsiCo, Inc. Shortly after the show's debut, however, PepsiCo announced that its units Taco Bell and Pizza Hut had pulled advertising which would have brought in $600,000 per episode. A spokesperson for the latter told Variety that the company didn't "feel comfortable" with the show based upon the premiere episode's content. An ABC spokesperson also told Variety that some sketches in the premiere "went too far." Nevertheless, Pepsi-Cola and sister company Mug Root Beer remained sponsors. The sixth sponsor was a locally popular Manhattan Chinese restaurant, while the final episode had no presenting sponsor.
|Episode||Original air date||Sketches||Cast|
|"The Taco Bell Dana Carvey Show"||March 12, 1996||
|"The Mug Root Beer Dana Carvey Show"||March 19, 1996||
|"The Mountain Dew Dana Carvey Show"||March 26, 1996||
|"The Diet Mug Root Beer Dana Carvey Show"||April 2, 1996|
|"The Pepsi Stuff Dana Carvey Show"||April 9, 1996||
|"The Szechuan Dynasty Dana Carvey Show"||April 23, 1996||
|"The Dana Carvey Show #7"||April 30, 1996||
|"The Dana Carvey Show #8"||Unaired||
Cancellation and beyond
Due to the controversial content and declining ratings, the show was canceled after eight of its 10 planned episodes were taped. Smigel and Carvey recalled wanting a parental warning for the show, but were not granted it because of advertiser concerns. However, the duo considered the program less racy by today's standards, stating, "If you take out the teats and a few things, maybe the Mountain Dew, mostly it was clean and silly and abstract." They also regarded Two and a Half Men, a later CBS sitcom, as "much dirtier" than The Dana Carvey Show. "I think that [ABC] wanted a little edgier Carol Burnett Show, and they got something that was a little more than they bargained for," Carvey recalled. The two also believe the show could have been more successful had it been given more time to develop, much like Late Night with Conan O'Brien did. Smigel put it simply, "Bottom line, the network was the wrong fit, wrong timeslot. Cable obviously would have been -- we would have been given credit for what was good instead of attacked for what wasn’t."
Nevertheless, Carvey expressed pride in the program serving as Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert's launchpad and in its creative approach: "We did not compromise anything, literally, in a completely commercialized environment, and did exactly what we wanted - for better or for worse." Colbert has also offered credit to the show's format for developing his satirical onscreen persona, stating, "If you have an opportunity to give it right to the audience, there’s a special connection that you make by looking at the camera."
Upon the program's cancellation, its writers rearranged their office in an askew fashion as a parody of destroying it in anger. They quickly corrected its appearance after angered security guards complained. Carvey returned to stand-up comedy, specifically corporate shows, where he was in high demand and turned down many gigs. His family returned to Los Angeles where he could revolve his schedule around raising his children. Smigel's Ambiguously Gay Duo concept carried on with further installments on Saturday Night Live and led to the creation of several other cartoons. Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert were later cast on Comedy Central's Daily Show where its co-creator, Madeleine Smithberg, was a fan of their "waiters nauseated by food" sketch. The two went on to have significant comedy careers in film and television.
More recently, The Dana Carvey Show has become available via a variety of Internet-related outlets. The series in its entirety (including an eighth episode unaired by ABC) has been available on iTunes, Joost and at no charge on Hulu, Crackle, and YouTube. After Hulu added the show to its lineup of programming in 2008, The Dana Carvey Show was nominated as one of eight finalists for the "Shows we'd bring back" category in the first annual Hulu awards.
In addition, a two-disc DVD set of the show was released in May 2009 by Shout! Factory. The release included deleted sketches, the unaired eighth episode, and commentary extras featuring the show's creators. This release was met with numerous editorial retrospectives of the program.
Dana Carvey would eventually host a program on ABC again 26 years later, when he served as a guest host for the July 18 and 19, 2022 episodes of Jimmy Kimmel Live! as part of Jimmy Kimmel's traditional summer break from the show.
Critical reception and retrospect
Upon its debut, Joyce Millman of Salon called the series a "rousing blast of kamikaze satire" and summed up by declaring, "In his relentless flogging of the advertiser-driven TV biz, Carvey delivered prime time's funniest biting the-feeding-hand stuff since Michael Moore's short-lived NBC (and briefly, Fox) series TV Nation." Caryn James of The New York Times, however, gave a negative review, claiming, "the debut already looked tired and old" adding, "Right now, the Carvey writers had better be thinking up something edgier than a dancing mug of root beer."
In 2009, New York Times writer Dave Itzkoff lamented, "Comedy fans may remember it as a crucible in which many future stars were forged. But for the people who created the show, it was a stark lesson that when idiosyncratic talents are given the freedom to follow their personal muses, a mass audience does not always follow."
Entertainment Weekly's Alynda Wheat gave the DVD a B- and proclaimed "You can see why Carell and Colbert became famous [...] But just as clear is that Carvey was too wildly hit-or-miss to work." Paste Magazine gave a "respectable" 73 rating and noted that while the show's topicality hasn't dated well, "when the Dana Carvey Show is on its game it’s outstanding, especially towards the end of its short run when it really found its voice." CHUD.com also commended the show's writing and gave an 8/10 rating.
- Heisler, Steve (June 15, 2009). "Interview - Dana Carvey and Robert Smigel". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
- Itzkoff, Dave (May 7, 2009). "Comedy Ahead of Its Time (if That Time Ever Comes)". New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
- Itzkoff, Dave (May 11, 2009). "Dana Carvey Speaks!". New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
- Wilstein, Matt (October 25, 2017). "Dana Carvey Worries About 'Trump Fatigue' on SNL". Daily Beast. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
- Joyce, Millman (1996). "Dana Carvey bites the hand that feeds him". Salon. Archived from the original on November 25, 2006.
- "Hulu Awards". Hulu.com. 2009-03-03. Archived from the original on February 28, 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
- Elgenaidi, Deena (19 July 2022). "Dana Carvey Impersonates Joe Biden, Revives Classic SNL Characters on Kimmel". Primetimer. Retrieved 20 July 2022.
- James, Caryn (March 14, 1996). "Television Review; Sendups of Forbes, Clinton and Royalty". The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
- Wheat, Alynda (May 6, 2009). "The Dana Carvey Show". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
- Gandert, Sean (May 12, 2009). "The Dana Carvey Show". Paste Magazine. Retrieved May 9, 2010.
- Anderson, Troy (April 29, 2009). "DVD Review: The Dana Carvey Show". CHUD.com. Archived from the original on May 2, 2009.
- Lyons, Margaret (October 20, 2017). "Review: 'The Dana Carvey Show' Was Doomed. 'Too Funny to Fail' Explains Why". New York Times. Retrieved October 21, 2017.