Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
UHF is a 1989 movie starring "Weird Al" Yankovic, written by Al and his manager Jay Levey (who directed). Al plays George Newman, a young man with an all-too-fertile imagination adrift in life. After getting fired from yet another job due to excessive daydreaming, he is appointed by his uncle Harvey as manager of Channel 62, a local UHF television station that Harvey won in a poker game.George and his friend Bob soon discover that U62 is a near-abandoned station with a staff of four, almost no reception to speak of, and nothing but stale reruns for programming. With optimistic enthusiasm, George tries to revitalize the station's schedule, but quickly realizes that the channel will soon go bankrupt; the local airwaves are dominated by Channel 8, a network affiliate VHF station whose owners are card carrying villainswith good publicity.Things change when a depressed George carelessly puts station janitor Stanley Spadowski in charge of the channel's early-morning kids' show; to everyone's surprise, Stanley's Cloud Cuckoolander antics become an instant hit across all demographics. Emboldened, George unleashes the full force of his creativity with a line of unique, oddball shows to fill out the rest of the schedule, with Stanley as their flagship superstar. These moves quickly catapult U62's ratings to #1 in town — which prompts Channel 8 head honcho R.J. Fletcher (played by sci-fi B-movie legend Kevin McCarthy) to take them down by any means necessary...Like Weird Al's music, the film focuses its comedy on oddball humor and satire, parody, and pastiche of pop culture. Released in 1989, at the height of Weird Al's popularity, the film was expected to be a summer blockbuster, but barely broke even at the box office (opening against the 1989 Batman movie, after all) and instead became a Cult Classic.
Trope examples include:
Aborted Arc: Raul's subplot got aborted due to Trinidad Silva's death during filming.
Abusive Parents: When R.J. Fletcher is introduced castigating an employee ruthlessly for not giving him the right type of pencil, it turns out that the employee is also his son!
Actionized Sequel: Parodied with the commercial for Gandhi 2, an actionized sequel to Gandhi of all things. In this version, Gandhi is a jet-setting vigilante who beats up hoodlums, drives a Ferrari, eats steak and... you know... isn't dead.
Affectionate Parody: The film is a parody of cheaply run UHF stations from the 70s and 80s. It also features a number of parodies of well-known shows and movies.
A-Team Firing: Taken to a ludicrous extreme in the Rambo sequence.
All There in the Manual: Bob and Teri's last names (Steckler and Campbell), and the names of two of Fletcher's thugs (Frankie, the head thug, and Eddie, the killer thug). (Teri previously had the last name Moore, and Pamela had the last name of Taylor.) All of this was provided by Al in the DVD commentary.
The quiet & corpulent camera guy was named "Burt Reynolds" (according to an early script, it was "Bert", with an "E"), and in earlier scripts, there was a guy, Roger Dickson ('The Bowl-O-Rama Casanova') who kept hitting on Teri when George wasn't around; Morris Beckman, Uncle Harvey's accountant; and Noodles MacIntosh had a dominatrix named Rock Sands for a girlfriend.
Almighty Janitor: Broken into two roles. Stanley lives for being a humble janitor even after becoming famous as a show host (and God help you if you try to take his mop from him). Philo's the somewhat spacey engineer of this run-down station who proves to be a damn sneaky bastard when needed, possibly a Mad Scientist, and definitely an alien.
They jump out of a storage closet that reads "SUPPLIES".
Though the joke would be lost on people not aware of jokes involving Asian accents, since as Al points out in the commentary, the setup for the joke got cut for time.
Aside Glance: Right at the end of the film, George and Teri seemingly spontaneously act out Gone with the Wind. Then when Teri says "Because tomorrow is another day!", George glances at the camera and says to the audience "I knew she was gonna say that".
Bait and Switch: "And take that ridiculous thing off!", the fake mustache, not the silly hat.
Big Bad: R.J. Fletcher serves as the primary one, while Big Louie serves as the BiggerBad.
Big Eater: The U-62 camera man is hinted to be this. He's a very large man (played by one of the guys in Weird Al's Fat video) who's seen eating a big sub sandwich while operating the camera during the "Joe Early" scene & guzzles an entire pot of coffee by himself (straight from the carafe, mind you) during the telethon. In fact, there is not a single shot of him where he's not holding some type of food or drink.
Big Win Sirens: Used in "Stanley Spadowski's Funhouse" when the kid finds a marble in a sandbox full of oatmeal. His prize? Getting blasted in the face with a fire hose.
Billing Displacement: Most posters and other promotional materials would give one the impression that Victoria Jackson's role is significantly greater than Michael Richards'.
Bland-Name Product: Neither station mentioned in the film are given proper call letters. Channel 8 is just "the network affiliate (for which network is never mentioned) downtown", and U62 is simply "a UHF station".
Bloodless Carnage: Spoofed in George's Rambo fantasy sequence, where he sweeps an automatic rifle along a line of Mooks on a hillside. A moment later, they bloodlessly collapse simultaneously. Also during the Conan the Barbarian spoof; Conan splits a patron bloodlessly in half.
Burger Fool: George and Bob work at start off the film working at Big Edna's Burger World, but they can't even hold down that job.
Dr Demento appears for a split second during a montage of Channel 62's shows, getting whipped cream sprayed into his mouth by Stanley (this was actually a portion of a larger scene that was cut, but was put in to provide Dr. D a cameo).
The Kipper Kids, a performance art duo, appear during the telethon doing a strange song-and-dance routine to the tune of 'The Umbrella Man' (though this scene was cut so heavily that in the actual film it seems like they are just making repetitive noises instead of singing a full song).
Emo Philips is the accident-prone high school shop teacher George interviews.
Computer Generated Images: The entire Beverly Hillbillies dream sequencenote Which features a parody of Money For Nothing by Dire Straits. Moreover, it's the song's official music video as well.
Consolation Backfire: The protagonist George discovers at one point that he is broke, can't pay the rent, and has just run his uncle's business into the ground, with no hope of being employed by anyone in the city (as he's already been fired from every business and his uncle will certainly not offer him another job after he's ruined his TV station). He recalls his girlfriend, saying, "Well, at least I have Teri..." Cue phone call from Teri calling to tell him that he is an insensitive creep for failing to show up at the birthday dinner he promised, and that she never wants to see him again.
Contrived Clumsiness: One of the jerkasses (in this case, his own son, Richard) from R. J. Fletcher's station trips the midget camera man, Noodles Macintosh for U62, and sarcastically chimes "Oopsie!" Later, Noodles enacts his revenge by doing the same thing to Richard, except this time, the trip ends in a mud puddle.
Corpsing: The kid who spits on George's nose is clearly trying as hard as he can not to laugh afterwards, even covering his mouth with his hand.
Crazy Homeless People: The coin-collecting bum who ends up saving the station. In an often-missed gag, his first appearance has him hitting up George for change; not as a handout, but because he wants to break a dollar.
DVD Commentary: One of the best ever. Largely consists of MST3K style riffing (and cameos from Emo Phillips, Michael Richards and Victoria Jackson (via phone for the latter). Al demostrates his very impressive memory by rattling off the exact dates and locations of several scenes.
Echoing Acoustics: Utilized when Philo introduces himself in "Secrets of the Universe".
R.J. Fletcher: This community means about as much to me as a festering bowl of dog snot! You think I care about the pea-brained yokels of this town?! If you took their combined IQ, and multiplied it by 100, you might have enough intelligence to tie your shoe, if you didn't drool all over yourself first! I can't stand those sniveling maggots! They make me want to puke! But, there is one good thing about broadcasting to a town full of mindless sheep: I always know I have them exactly where I want them!(maniacal laugh)"
Establishing Character Moment: Right before R.J. Fletcher's introduction, Pamela is worried when the station is mistakenly delivered a package meant for Channel 8, intending on taking the package there later and warning George when he offers to, knowing R.J.'s reputation. Cut to R.J. yelling at an employee... Over not using a number two pencil, and then we learn that the employee he was yelling at is his own son.
Excited Kids' Show Host: Stanley Spadowski proves to act like this all the time. Putting him in front of the camera was just lucky. Subverted beforehand in that George tried to fill this role and failed miserably.
When Richard Fletcher and the thug are at City Hall, the truck behind them is actually the satellite truck from the real-life channel 8 in Tulsa, KTUL, an ABC station; ironically, the channel 8 logo used in the film mirrors the one used by another ABC station in Dallas, WFAA since 1996.
If you look at the "Transmitter Status" screen in Philo's lab, one of the lines of text reads "Q36 Explosive Space Modulator"; that's the component that Marvin the Martian often needed, but lacked in the Looney Tunes cartoons when he tried to destroy the earth. You can see it best when Stanley is barricading the doors in Fletcher's office and Philo's engrossed in an experiment.
Gainax Ending: While the movie is zany enough, did anyone really expect Philo to be revealed to be an alien
The Gambling Addict: Uncle Harvey, who regularly plays the horses and poker - the latter got him the station, and the former nearly resulted in him selling it to R.J. Fletcher.
George Jetson Job Security: The janitor, Stanley Spadowski got fired from Channel 8 by R.J. Fletcher who accused him of throwing away some very important files. They were later discovered right where Fletcher had left them, but Stanley wasn't un-fired.
From Uncle Harvey saying "no way" about George becoming the manager of a TV station, to George and Teri on their way to the station for the first time.
Before that, George asks where Uncle Harvey is. His aunt responds he's at a very important last-minute business meeting. Cut to Uncle Harvey with some guys playing poker.
A package meant for Channel 8 (Fletcher's station & lair of doom) arrives at Channel 62 (George's UHF station) by accident. George offers to deliver it personally to Fletcher. Pamela warns "...he's not the nicest guy in the world." After George scoffs and says "You just have to know how to talk to those guys..." CUT TO Fletcher berating his son about a pencil (see Abusive Parents example above).
Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Because of Al's refusal to use vulgar words, the script is prone to liberal uses of "slime" and "scum" in place of heavier words, the heaviest insults being "weasel" and "pinhead."
Humiliation Conga: R.J. Fletcher. First his true beliefs about the community are revealed, making him the most hated man in the city; then he loses his contract because a random homeless person purchased enough stock to save U-62; gets his license revoked; gets called a "worthless slobbering pig" by Pamela, who overheard the revoke; gets kicked in the nuts by an old lady; learns the one coin he gave the already mentioned homeless person was what caused his downfall; and the homeless man was able to get the same watch Fletcher wanted. Weird Al states in the commentary that he put this in because he doesn't like it when a movie has a Karma Houdini.
I Ate WHAT?: George accidentally feeds dog biscuits to Bob during filming of a Product Placement segment during the kids' show. As Bob is in character as "Bobbo the Clown", he has to fake a smile even as he's grossed out by the taste of the "cookies" he's eating.
"That's right, Yappy's Dog Treats! Your dog will love that real liver and tuna taste...
Karma Houdini: Raul Hernandez. Would have been a case of Laser-Guided Karma, instead had his actor, Trinidad Silva, not been slain by a drunk hit-and-run driver before all of his scenes were filmed.
Kick the Dog: Fletcher gives a homeless man a penny, sarcastically saying "Don't spend it all in one place". This comes back to bite him, because the homeless man also had coin collecting skills, and the penny was a very valuable one.
Kitschy Local Commercial: There are a few of these, including the Spatula City ad ("we sell spatulas, and that's all!") and the ad for Crazy Eddie's Used Car Emporium.
Large Ham: Kevin McCarthy's performance is really hammy. Michael Richards also plays it up in a few scenes.
Laugh with Me: When R.J. Fletcher starts laughing, the two managers under him realize, after a short pause, that they'd better start forcing themselves to nervously laugh along with him.
Like Reality Unless Noted: The town. It's a normal city with normal people watching their normal Channel 8... but when you see the odd content being aired on Channel 62 and realize all these people and things must have been out there already before they got TV shows, it makes you wonder what anyone found weird or odd about George at the beginning of the movie.
Better yet, this is a world where getting blasted in the face with a fire hose is so awesomely fun that children will show up at a kid show just to be able to win the chance to experience it.
And, despite being oft censor-happy U.S. television (in regards to nudity & explicit sex), shows like Strip Solitaire & Bestiality Today can be aired on a non-cable network with no controversy or FCC fines.
Also, a weird Mad Scientist guy even if he's a space alien can make seriously radioactive material with stuff found around the house (a cut scene reveals that it involves Jello, an eggbeater & a microwave) and TEACH THIS to folks at home on his science show!
A weird guy in a grungy apartment can manage to have a show (which appears mysteriously) where he basically commits various acts of animal cruelty, manages to make it darkly hilarious and gets absolutely no public outrage or Animal Control visits.
A large, fat, very mean woman can toss two grown men 100 or so yards easily, karate students can crash though windows and fall 2 stories with no injury, and a very weird shop teacher treats a severed thumb and serious blood loss like a very mild annoyance.
Satan is a real flesh & blood person and appears on a trashy talk show.
Fridge Logic kicks in: Everybody wants to be on Stanley's show, because he's Crazy Awesome; the FCC probably was more concerned about Fletcher's corruption by the end of the movie; the "Satan" seen on Town Talk could have just been a guy dressed up; nobody probably watched Philo's show (or took it seriously enough to actually try and make plutonium at home); it's possible that Stanley or someone else hired Raul (in an earlier draft, he was supposed to bring the package in when George and Bob arrive at U-62, as a mailman, but due to Trinidad Silva's death, that had to be dropped); the adult content was clearly scheduled for the watershed; and the shop teacher probably wasn't in his right mind to begin with.
Loan Shark: Uncle Harvey owes $75,000 to an unseen shark, "Big Louie" who has a detachable cleaver for a hand.
Mad Scientist: Philo the station engineer and secretly a shape-shifting alien.
Major Injury Underreaction: The shop teacher on "Town Talk" who reacts with sheepish embarrassment when he chops his thumb off with a table saw.
Market-Based Title: Since the concept of UHF stations are not commonly known overseas, they asked Al for an alternate title. He suggested "The Vidiot", or "Vidiots". The film was then released in some countries, much to Al's chagrin, as "The Vidiot From UHF", succeeding only in transforming an incomprehensible title to a terrible one. The Latin-American Spanish dub is known as "Los Telelocos" ("The TV Crazies" in English)note Which seems to be a fairly common practice, with Caddyshack being renamed Los locos del Golf (The Golf Crazies), and Police Academy being renamed Locademia de Policia (Crazy Academy of Police). and the French one as "Télé Ringards" ("TV Nerds" in English).
Completely Different Title: It had quite a plethora of foreign language titles in general; In Hungary it was released as Az őrület hullámhosszán, loosely translated as Wavelength of Madness. In Finland it was titled Kaapelit irti!, or Cable, Go!. In Norway it was Lufta er for alle (Air for Everyone), the Greece release had the mouthful of a title Ο πιο κουφος σταθμος στην πολη (The Most Wacky Station in the City), and Germany added a subtitle of Sender mit beschränkter Hoffnung (Broadcast of Limited Hope).
Most Common Card Game: The bad guys guarding Stanley Spadowski spend their time playing jacks and making string figures. Al mentions in the commentary that there was also a scene of them playing Candyland which was cut (you can still see the board on the table).
Mr. Imagination: George; he tends to get fired a lot because of his constant daydreaming. He finally manages to put this trait to good use at U-62, with his various ideas for wacky, home-grown programming. Stanley is one to a lesser extent.
Nepotism: Implied with R. J. Fletcher's son, who occupies an executive position under his father despite his general incompetence, though R. J. still treats his son as nastily as the rest of his employees.
Parody Commercial: Contains a number of commercials for various U62 shows, including "Gandhi II", "Conan the Librarian", and "Wheel of Fish", as well as a few fake businesses, such as "Spatula City" and "Crazy Ernie's Used Car Emporium". The audio for some of these commercials was included on Weird Al's UHF CD.
Raiders of the Lost Parody: The opening scene. Weird Al in adventurer attire grabs the Oscar, sets off a booby trap, and runs away from a boulder that follows his every turn, past several famous world landmarks.
Reaction Shot: Being a goofy comedy, the film is filled with them, most notably from the heavyset cameraman who tends to react in horror to the things he's filming (and not without reason).
Red Right Hand: Although he's technically not the main villain, Big Louie is a spooky unseen loanshark/crime boss (similar to Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget) with a detachable meat-cleaver hand. Also, Evil Sounds Deep applies to him as well.
Shout-Out: And it justified all the references by having them all be from the station or from George's imagination.
George's show, "Uncle Nutzy's Clubhouse" takes its name from a skit in an issue of MAD.
Stanley's speech about running to a window and shouting "These floors are dirty as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" is a reference to the famous scene in Network. The whole concept of a station/network rising to instant unscripted prominence could be considered one, too.
Philo is named after Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of the television.
The final scene is a fantasy sequence with George and Teri as Rhett and Scarlett in "Gone with the Wind".
Stanley waves his mop like a Star Wars light saber, complete with the sound effects.
One of the unseen shows on U62's lineup is "The Volcano Worshippers Hour". The Volcano Worshippers were a made-up group Al created in high school just so he and his other friends on the yearbook committee could get an extra picture of themselves in the yearbook.
The "Money For Nothing" parody is all about The Beverly Hillbillies. It contains scenes from the show as well as parodies of the song video.
When George is threatened by Fletcher's henchmen while attempting to rescue Stanley: "Redrum! Redruuum!"
The Unseen: The only thing we see of Big Louie is is right hand, which turns out to be a prop hand. He later twists it off and puts a meat cleaver in its place.
They Just Didn't Care: Parodied In-Universe with Gandhi II, in which the original classic is given a cheesy action sequel that is directly opposes everything about the original film and Gandhi's way of life. Instead of a Hindu, ascetic, passive resistance icon, he's a steak-chomping, high-rolling, gun-toting, street vigilante with martial arts skills.
Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Although the station's location is never mentioned, it is clearly filmed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with several landmarks making appearances. There's an entire fan page listing these locations. Al lists off the addresses for many of the locations as they appear during his commentary track.
This troper just assumes it takes place in Tulsa; there's nowhere else it could be.