The Weirdo Show That Gave Adam Sandler, Colin Quinn And Denis Leary Their Starts
Once upon a time, MTV only played music videos.
But see, here’s the problem. With MTV only playing songs, viewers treated it like the radio. Don’t like a song? Change the channel. If MTV didn’t want people constantly flipping the dial, it needed programming that held interest for at least 30 minutes. And if MTV was going to produce its own shows? Director Dana Calderwood knew what that meant:
“Let’s go with the cheapest thing possible.”
Lucky for MTV, its sister network Nickelodeon already had a proven solution. The kiddie network was getting great ratings with game show Double Dare -- and it was dang cheap to produce. Slime practically makes itself.
MTV’s solution was Remote Control, a parody of game shows that relied on comedy as much as competition. The questions were all based on pop culture from a time when only three TV channels existed, so everyone knew the same shows.
“Brady Bunch, Green Acres, all those shows are on a loop,” says show creator Joe Davola. “Every afternoon when you get home from school, you’re watching three, four shows and that's when you’re really picking up the minutiae.”
And when you put TV trivia into the smart-ass blender? You get questions like:
“Alice on The Brady Bunch settles up the grocery bill with Sam the butcher on the kitchen table. If Sam weighs 220 pounds how much force per inch will Alice experience?”
“Captured by a rival network, (Family Ties star) Tina Yothers bites down on a cyanide capsule rather than breaching her contract. Does she die in about 10 seconds, 10 minutes, or two hours?”
With witty host Ken Ober working the puppet strings, the show was freaking nuts -- and it launched the careers of a bunch of comedy stars, including:
Colin Quinn. The future SNL star confesses that he was hired because “I had a crazy gravelly voice and they thought it would be funny if I was the announcer.” It didn’t take long before Quinn was nearly fired for his “sh*it attitude.” Part of his job was reading advertising sponsor copy, which Quinn would do with obvious contempt in his voice.
Funny thing was, it worked. “(MTV was) getting complaints from the companies,” says Quinn. But “kids like nothing better than thinking somebody is saying, ‘Hey, f*** you.’”
Denis Leary. The unknown comic and recent college grad was cast as Quinn’s younger brother. “I was a broke, out-of-work actor and a barely working comedian, so the phone call was very welcome,” Leary says. “They said, ‘You’re gonna play Andy Warhol, Keith Richards, and Quinn’s brother.’ I was like, I don’t care who I’m playing. I needed the money.”
Adam Sandler. Quinn knew Sandler, still an NYU student, from the comedy clubs. He created weirdos like Stud Boy and other early iterations of SNL characters, quickly becoming a crowd favorite. “Sandler added to the sense (that it’s college kids’) show because he was one of them,” says writer Keith Kaczorek. “It’s like, ‘Here’s the funniest guy in your dorm.’”
But not everyone thought Adam was so hilarious. “I thought Sandler was an idiot,” says Kari Wuhrer, the show’s Gen X version of Vanna White. “An annoying, skinny twerp. And I thought, “Colin’s an amazing comedian, why’s he laughing at this guy?”
Kari Wuhrer. The 21-year-old, born-again Christian didn’t quite know what she was getting into, “wearing a sherbet-colored spandex tank top every day.” It wasn’t necessarily a great experience for the future queen of B-movies like Beast Master 2: Through The Portal of Time. “What was I? I was fluff. My career launched on fluff, and of course, it dissipated in the wind.”
Michael Ian Black, who would star on MTV 90s comedy show The State, was an unabashed fan. “Remote Control was a comedy show much more than a game show. It was an excuse to do jokes, he says. “Remote Control was deconstructing game shows in the way that David Letterman, in the early days, was deconstructing talk shows. It was kind of a meta exploration of the form. Now everything is so meta and self-referential, but back then, it wasn’t. There was nothing else like it on television.”
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Top image: MTV