Where viewers were concerned, there was no gray area in The Tom Green Show. They either loved it or they hated it. TV Guide placed it as the 41st worst show of all time, while Time Magazine called it "The Best Show of 2000." To a casual watcher, it was dumb, childish bullshit. Someone who got lucky enough to land a show and then blindly stumbled around, desperately trying to make someone -- anyone -- laugh.
To people who actually watched it regularly, there was something much, much larger at work there. Tom didn't just show up on set and make shit up as he went along. There was a method and a reason to what he was doing. Yes, he was trying to make people laugh by being childish and off the wall ... but he was also like sandpaper to pop culture varnish. He was deconstructing the formula and making fun of stale, repetitive talk shows.
He constantly fucked with his parents, at one point putting a real severed cow head in their bed at 3 a.m. because they like the movie The Godfather:
Or showing them that he was mature enough to stay at home without supervision while they were gone by painting their house plaid.
Other times, he flat out made fun of cliche talk show skits by doing some "observational comedy."
The Tom Green Show ran on a couple of different networks, including Comedy Central, but saw its biggest pull when MTV picked it up in 1999. However, when Tom was diagnosed with testicular cancer, he quit the show so he could get his surgery. There was a revival attempt a few years later, but not much ever came of it.
But Wait, He's Still Around!
In 2006, Tom Green took his show to the Internet, running the whole goddamn thing out of his own living room. TV Guide promptly gave it an award for best Web talk show. Yes, the same TV Guide that basically called him the Ed Wood of talk shows just a few years earlier.
Not only does he get nonstop stars to sit in with him, but absolutely nothing is scripted or rehearsed. Every conversation is as real and open as possible, and that's the beauty of the whole thing. If he and Steve O want to drink for four hours until they puke and literally pass out while on the air (which totally happened), so be it. If he wants to bust out an impromptu freestyle rap with Xzibit, no problem:
Without the restrictions that come with being on television, he's free to do whatever he wants for as long as he wants, and it's totally worth checking out. Because if Tom Green was that insane with the restrictions ... imagine him with full control of the content.
Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist ran on Comedy Central from 1995 to 1999, and it was one of the most brilliant shows I've ever seen. It had a perfect contrast of subtle, refined comedy interspersed with guest comedians jamming it right into your eye until you learned to flinch when they spoke. Combined with Tom Snyder's direction and famous Squigglevision animation technique, once you saw an episode of Dr. Katz, you never forgot it.
Jon Benjamin (Archer, Bob's Burgers, and a billion other projects) played Jonathan Katz's son, and the majority of their exchanges were just loosely mapped out or "retroscripted." Meaning that most of what they said to each other was improvised.
Every episode was a combination of scenes from the personal lives of the Katz family mixed with his therapy sessions with standup comedians -- which boiled down to them doing part of their set, and as he puts it, "My contribution was to try not to interrupt people and to say funny things." When the show ended in 1999, I personally punched an army tank in half.
But Wait, They're Still Around!
Well, not the exact show, but the makers of Dr. Katz have a whole new thing going on online with the same heart, the same style and tone of comedy, the same core people that made that show what it was. It's called Explosion Bus! and it is goddamn wonderful.
We don't do interview type stuff on Cracked, but I actually had the chance to briefly talk to Jonathan Katz about it, and he had this to say:
"One of the reasons the show succeeded was the magic that is Tom Leopold. He is an actor/producer and Harry Shearer's secret weapon. Tom Snyder directed the show. Directing animation is a really specific skill. He also directed the first few seasons of Dr. Katz. The show went through many iterations (is that a word?) from 18-minute episodes that focused on audio and gestures to shorter episodes that focused on tits and/or ass. I'm glad it attracted your attention."
First, yes, I'll admit that part of the reason I used that quote is to rub it in your face that I got to talk to Jonathan Katz. Suck it. But more importantly, he let me know that he stuck with Tom Snyder since the early '90s, and that overall team (meaning the entire core -- not just those two people) is what makes Explosion Bus! work. And it really, really does. At the 38-second mark in their trailer, I lost it hard enough to have to pause the video:
Now understand that I'm not simply telling you about this stuff just to be talking about it. I'm a huge "Fuck TV" advocate, and one of the reasons is that there's not enough genuinely good content out there to justify my cable bill. But there could be. It just takes finding things that you like and passing it along to as many people as possible (hence this article). If they don't like it, oh well. But if they do -- and they pass it around to even more people -- maybe there's a chance we could see some good, talented people get deserving shows like these on the air.
Otherwise, we're stuck with the bullshit we have right now. And I really don't want my kids growing up to be nostalgic about Dog With a Blog.