UHF (film)

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UHF
UHFposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jay Levey
Produced by John W. Hyde
Gene Kirkwood
Written by "Weird Al" Yankovic
Jay Levey
Starring
Music by John Du Prez
Cinematography David Lewis
Editing by Dennis M. O'Connor
Distributed by Orion Pictures
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (current distributor)
Release dates
  • July 21, 1989 (1989-07-21)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5 million
Box office $6,157,157

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.

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.[1]

Plot[edit]

The movie opens with George Newman ("Weird Al" Yankovic) daydreaming about him parodying Raiders of the Lost Ark while working a shift at Big Edna's Burger World. He is interrupted by his roommate and best friend, Bob (David Bowe), who also works with him at Big Edna's. When Bob mentions that he hopes "Big Edna" doesn't notice some burnt fries, George starts to insult her (as she walks toward him from behind while he speaks), and gets both him and Bob fired. Losing another job again, he and a let down Bob (whom George always got fired from past jobs) decide to search for a new job. During the search, he breaks the news to his girlfriend Teri (Victoria Jackson), and she advises him to find a job that involves his daydreaming. 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), who claims to actually live in the station like a home. When they receive a misdelivered package that was supposed to go a rival networking station, George attempts to introduce himself to the station as he delivers the package, but its owner, the cynical R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), chases him out angrily, believing that he was trespassing and stealing the package, and threatens to call the police. On his way out of the station he encounters the dimwitted oddball janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards), who was recently fired unjustly by Fletcher, after Fletcher falsely accused Stanley for pitching a valuable research report (which had been in the seat of Fletcher's desk chair all the time). He is mostly upset about losing his mop to the station (which was something that was given to him as a child, and had never been separated from). 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 Teri's birthday party at a fancy restaurant, which George himself made a reservation for. Teri phones George and dumps him over the incident. A devastated 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 original shows in Channel 62's lineup, all spearheaded by the newly retitled "Stanley Spadowski's Clubhouse", giving the TV show to Stanley (along with the request of Stanley that he still can be the janitor while not doing the shows).

As Channel 62's popularity grows, Fletcher becomes furious that the 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, which is due to his bookie Big Louie this Friday night at 10:00 PM. Fletcher makes Harvey the offer of covering his debt 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, as Bob accurately points out to him; the FCC later relaxed duopoly rules in 2000). Desperate for the money, Harvey accepts the offer. 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. George becomes discouraged when he fails to secure a bank loan for the purpose (as shown in a deleted scene from the movie; moreover, the bank president happens to be a stooge for Fletcher) but then hits upon a more clever idea; the station will sell investment stock in Channel 62 through a telethon to raise the 75 grand.

The telethon starts off successfully led by Stanley's boundless energy, but Fletcher sends his goons to kidnap Stanley. They do so by knocking on the door of the back room, where Stanley was, telling him that they have a pizza for him, and, as gullible and dimwitted as Stanley is, he falls for it (and, also as dimwitted as he was, even though he is tied up in the back of a car blindfolded, he still thinks he's getting a pizza). Without Stanley, the telethon grinds to a halt, showing an advertisement for a parody sequel of Gandhi, depicting him as a vengeful vigilante. The next day, Teri tries to talk some sense into R.J. Fletcher, saying that a little competition is good for the community, but he retorts that the community means nothing to him, and he just wants to manipulate TV watchers through his channel. After Stanley breaks free (due to his excitement of seeing his mop again), he is captured by the goons. Eventually Philo, through a concealed TV camera he had sneakily installed in Fletcher's office, discovers what had happened to Stanley and lets George know. Then George, imagining himself as Rambo, attempts to infiltrate Channel 8 and rescue Stanley, only to get threatened by the Channel 8 goons...until they discover Kuni and his karate class hidden in a closet cleverly labeled "supplies" (which has a double meaning of the word "surprise" spoken with an Asian accent) had decided to do the same and they easily subdue the Channel 8 goons (a deleted scene explains Kuni and his class had a feeling George might have needed some help). They return in time to successfully finish the telethon, but at the last minute (literally), Fletcher arrives and unplugs the telethon clock, leaving it stuck right at exactly 10:00, and announces that the party is over; and simultaneously, Big Louie arrives for the money. As Fletcher starts addressing the crowd about his plans for demolishing Channel 62 and then converting the property into a laundromat, arcade, parking lot or whatever else, a beggar (who had briefly appeared three times in the movie before, soliciting for change twice and coaching a blind man at Rubik's Cube once), offers $2,000 for the last shares of stock left, thereby not only saving the station but also making it a publicly owned company. Fletcher on the other hand finds out that the penny he mockingly gave to the beggar earlier was a rare 1955 doubled-die cent worth thousands, which the beggar sold and used to purchase the last of the Channel 62 stock just in the nick of time, thus saving the station (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 and Philo, apparently an alien, returns to his homeworld, while the rest of the employees and fans of Channel 62 celebrate and rejoice. The film ends where both George and Teri parody the final scene of Gone with the Wind (film).

(Throughout the film, there are cutaway scenes that are comic homages to popular shows of the time, through either George's imagination or shows specifically for Channel 62. For example, 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]

Reception[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 57% based on reviews from 22 critics.[2]

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 Yankovic would pull them out of the water. However, critical response was negative, and it was out of the theaters by the end of the month.[citation needed] Yankovic has stated that it was not a "critic movie". As "Weird Al" 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, bigger blockbuster movies like Ghostbusters 2, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Lethal Weapon 2, Batman, Licence to Kill, When Harry Met Sally, and Weekend at Bernie's were also released by studios. [3] The draw to these blockbuster movies is also attributable to the lower attendance at UHF's premiere.

UHF has since become a cult classic, becoming very popular on cable and home video.[citation needed] The movie was rereleased 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.

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.

Locations[edit]

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.[4] 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 (not Christian Science 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.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ DVD audio commentary, menus, etc.
  2. ^ "UHF (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  3. ^ "The Numbers". 
  4. ^ UHF - My 15 Year Pilgrimage, Rob O'Hara
  5. ^ A little history of KFMJ 1050 AM, Wayne McCombs, Tulsa TV Memories

External links[edit]