Film / Stay Tuned

Stay Tuned is a 1992 comedy starring John Ritter, Pam Dawber, Jeffrey Jones, and Eugene Levy. The plot revolves around Ritter's character Roy Knable, who is a couch potato, former fencer and plumbing supply salesman down on his luck. Dawber plays his neglected wife Helen, who after a fight throws one of Roy's old fencing trophies into the TV. This action prompts Jones in his role as Mr. Spike, to appear at their front door, with an offer to Roy for a new satellite dish system, filled with 666 channels of every program you can't get on the four big networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX).

Soon after installation, Roy and Helen are sucked into the satellite dish parked in the back yard and are blasted through a cornucopia of television and movie roles with a fatal twist. If they can survive for 24 hours they can leave, but if they die their souls become property of Mr. Spike. As the two trek through the various landscapes, they are pursued by Mr. Spike at some points in an effort to thwart their advance, while their kids figure out what's going on, and attempt to rescue them from the real world.

Not to be confused with the cult PC game Stay Tooned!.

This film contains examples of:

  • American Gothic Couple: In the animated segment.
  • Art Shift: In a live action movie oddly enough, the Looney Tunes-esque parody made and provided by none other than the legendary animator, Chuck Jones.
  • As Himself: Salt 'n' Pepa and DJ Spinderella in the music video.
  • Attractive Bent Species: Roy thinks Helen is "pretty sexy" for a mouse when they get stuck in a cartoon.
  • Big "NO!":
    • Roy Knable says it in the Star Trek spoof when Spike plays Worf and Data.
    • Invoked by Helen and their kids after Roy was seemingly shot by Spike near the end of the film.
  • Berserk Button: Do NOT mess with Helen's hair, or her husband to a lesser degree.
  • Black Comedy: Lots. The premise is that Hell routinely traps people in tv and tries to kill them off, and it's a comedy, after all. The Knables run into other contestants, several of whom die in comedic ways.
    • One of the blackest examples doesn't involve the main cast. Two old men are sitting around when one shouts that he's lost feeling in his arm, and the other says he can't see anything. They both die, and the title of the show pops up; Different Strokes.
  • By the Hair: A female wrestler does this to Helen, which triggers the above mentioned Berserk Button.
  • The Cameo: During the animated segment, Chuck Jones' face is on a stamp.
  • Camera Abuse: About as literally as you can get in the Wayne's World parody, when the camera hits Roy in the face on two Extreme Close-Up moments. Then comes the Eye Scream attempt.
  • Candid Camera Prank: One of the TV shows they enter is a parody of this type of show.
  • Cassandra Truth: Their son Darryl figures out that the two are in TV Land, but his sister Diane (initially) doesn't listen to him.
  • Chained to a Railway: This happens to Helen near the end of the movie.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Roy's fencing trophy/ability early in the movie.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mr. Spike as a network executive.
  • Covers Always Lie: That dog on the original poster? Not in the movie.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Murray Seidenbaum was all too happy to escape his depressing home life into the world of the TV, becoming a Film Noir crime lord by the time Roy and Helen meet him. The best part is that, if things get too hairy, he has his remote with him and can just change the channel.
  • Dated History: UWF was an acronym for "Underworld Wrestling Federation", which is the same parody as WWF was an acronym for "World Wrestling Federation"... before it changed its name to WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) 10 years after the film came out. Had the movie been filmed in the present day, UWF would have been "UWE" for "Underworld Wrestling Entertainment". Which would have been hilarious in hindsight.
  • Deal with the Devil: Roy accepting the new satellite dish, and later when Mr. Spike tells them they can leave after 24 hours.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The entire Roy Knable, Private Dick segment. At least he's not a Public Dick.
  • Don't Try This at Home: Helen stops to look at the camera and say this before she and Roy push a hair dryer into a bathtub in order to kill an evil robotic cat. Though she could be addressing the in-universe TV audience.
  • Electrified Bathtub: Roy and Helen try to defeat a robotic cat this way when stuck as cartoon mice.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: All the seemingly harmless shows are designed in some form or another to kill its human visitors.
  • Exact Words: Spike uses this to his advantage, when Roy and Helen survive the requisite twenty-four hours. The deal in the contract was that the undersigned would be let loose if they survived a whole day... but Helen didn't sign the satellite contract. Only Roy did, so he was the only one that Spike was obligated to release, while Helen, as a "trespasser", was SOL, forcing Roy to go back in and save her.
  • Exorcist Head: An exercise instructor does this in an exercise show called "The Exorcisist."
  • Eye Scream: Red-Hot-Poker-In-The-Eye Cam.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Roy and Helen can still die, despite being inside the TV.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Some of the stuff seen when the Knables' kids change channels- like buildings exploding, "AM Netherworld", and Frankenstein's Monster on stage.
  • Funny Background Event: One of the electronic notice boards in the Hell-Vision control room says stuff like "Remember, Tuesday is Saddam Hussein Appreciation Day" and "Remember, Just Say Yes".
  • Genre Savvy: "We're safe here, nobody ever dies in cartoons", "I've watched enough cartoons, how would an animated character handle this?" Both said by Roy during the section where they are animated mice.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: "This is one clever pussy."
  • Half-Hearted Henchman: Levy's character Crowley, especially after Spike "demotes" him into field work.
  • Handy Remote Control: The remote given to Roy, which allows him to change "channels", and also for the remote that Mr. Spike possesses, which allows them to finally escape.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Crowley.
  • Henpecked Husband: Murray Seidenbaum, a previous "customer", who was noted missing early on in the film. It's why he relishes the freedom that the TV offers him.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Near the end of the movie when Spike tries to avoid becoming dog chow, who should show up but Crowley, the same man he promoted to "field work"? Cue "Oh, Crap!" from Spike. Could potentially be a The Dog Bites Back situation, since Crowley definitely fits the description of abused lackey.
  • If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: Pierce does this after Crowley gets even with Spike.
    Pierce: (with his own remote in hand and sitting in Spike's chair) I call his parking space.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: When Seidenbaum gets gunned down by another gangster during the "Noir" sequence, he passes on his remote control to Roy and Helen, telling them they still have a chance to get out together, just before dying.
  • Improvised Weapon: After her Berserk Button gets pressed, Helen grabs a nearby microphone stand and knocks out the two wrestlers with it.
  • Instant Home Delivery: Genre Savvy Roy makes use of this trope during the "cartoon mouse" sequence.
  • It's Not Supposed to Win Oscars: Invoked. Pierce is disgusted by Godzilla just stomping on the Seidenbaums - because it has no subtext. Spike retorts that Satan isn't interested in anything deep, he just wants cheap entertainment.
  • Medium-Shift Gag: At one point Roy and Helen are in a cartoon as mice.
  • Mouse Hole: In the animated sequence, a mouse hole is a portal to the next channel.
  • Music Video: Features near the end with a cameo by then-popular Hip-Hop Girl Group Salt-N-Pepa.
  • Noticing the Fourth Wall: When they realize that they are inside TV land.
  • Off with His Head!: Almost attempted on Roy. Even worse is that he and Helen are in a show about The French Revolution, which is aptly named Off with His Head!
  • Oh, Crap!: Roy and Helen have a few of these when they come across things attempting to kill them. Most notably the RoboCat.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Crowley. He shows us by example when he, Roy, and Helen are attacked by wolves who lunge at Crowley and bite him, losing his leg in the process.
    Roy: Crowley!
    Crowley: [with reassurance] I'm already dead! Save her!
  • Papa Wolf: Extremely downplayed example. While Roy doesn't kick anyone's ass over it, he does express disgust towards Duane and Garf's fawning over his daughter, Diane (in a magazine).
    Garf: And your daughter's pompoms, they're delectable too, man.
    Roy: You creeps!
  • Parody: While the movie tends to play itself straight at the beginning and end, loads of them appear when Roy and Helen are 'in' the dish.
  • Parody Commercial: At one point there is a Yogi Beer commercial concerning beer for children. Not to mention the "Max Hell" cassette tapes, which blow the head of the listener clean off. Possibly related to, or at least suggested by, the Hamm's Beer commercials starting in the 1950s, which did feature a cartoon bear (not Yogi, though). The commercials were eventually discontinued (though not until at least the 1970s) due to the Animation Age Ghetto implications of appearing to market beer to children.
  • Parody Names: Most of the shows and movies have slightly tweaked names.
  • Playful Hacker: Darryl. At the beginning of the film, he hijacks broadcast signals to make some money with it. A line from a neighbor indicates he has done this before.
  • Pocket Protector: In a usual nod to Clint Eastwood. It costs Roy his remote but saves his life.
    Roy: (To Spike, who thinks he killed him) You missed, partner.
  • Pro Wrestling Is Real: Justified, given that each channel is essentially a more sadistic version of its Real Life counterpart. Roy assumes at first that it's all a show and no one gets hurt in wrestling...and gets a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Helen gives a small one to Roy when she fails to convince him to give up TV.
    Helen: Fine! Watch TV!
    Roy: Thanks, sweetheart. Could you move just to-?
    Helen: This is unbelievable! You couldn't listen to me for two minutes without that stupid television being on! When I married you, you were a doer. Now all you are is a watcher!
  • Rouge Angles of Satin:
    • "Eye...warship...satin?"
    • "Excrement!"
  • Satan: Mr. Spike, for the purposes of the story. He's actually more of a Senior Executive than the bona fide "Boss" of Hell, who's referred to in dialogue as Mr. Spike's boss.
  • Savage Wolves: Wolves attack Roy, Helen and Crowley.
  • Screwed by the Network: invoked In a very twisted sense when it becomes apparent Roy and Helen might survive the deal.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Loads of these too, considering the source material. The most obvious example is when Roy changes the channel onto the set of Three's Company.
    • Mrs. Seidenbaum getting stepped on by Godzilla is a reference to Bambi Meets Godzilla.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: When Roy finally beats Spike and makes his way back to Helen. However, he doesn't have time to untie her as the train barrels toward them.
    Helen: Roy, what do you do when you want the the TV to go away? You turn it...
    Both: OFF! (Roy hits the off button on the remote a second before the train plows into them.)
  • Subverted Kids Show: There's a segment where Roy and Helen try and evade a mechanical cat in the style of Looney Tunes (Chuck Jones himself did the animation). Also the parody commercial mentioned above.
  • That's All, Folks!: Roy says this to end the RoboCat cartoon segment before exiting through the door, in a nod to Porky Pig's line from Looney Tunes.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: "He's going to hit me with a train AND blow me up?!"
  • Trapped in TV Land: The main premise for most of the movie.
  • Up to Eleven: "Dynamite? He's going to hit me with a train AND blow me up???"
  • Verbal Backspace:
    Roy: Whoever left the gate open is grounded for a week.
    (neighbor's vicious dog jumps at them, gets beamed away by the satellite dish)
    Roy: Check that. Whoever left the gate open gets double their allowance.
  • You Have Failed Me: Spike to Crowley.