"It's his basement! It's his rules! It's his game show!"Game Show
—Colin Quinn, introducing host Ken Ober.
about TV trivia that was MTV
's first venture out of music videos (and thus the very beginning of Network Decay
to some). The premise was that host Ken Ober grew up addicted to game shows and longed to host his own, so he set one up in his basement and bombarded contestants that dared to enter with questions about television, junk food, and threats to their well-being. The supporting cast was shockingly good for a low-budget cable show of the era and featured Adam Sandler
and Colin Quinn before they made it to Saturday Night Live
; Denis Leary
before he developed Rescue Me
; actresses Kari Wuhrer and Alicia Coppola, who have worked consistently in film and TV since then; and future TV writer Rick Rosner.
Contestants played by selecting one of nine channels on the "Big Zenith
", each of which represented a category; Ober would then ask questions related to that category for increasing amounts of points. Of course, some of the channels were less pleasant than others: "Ranger Bob
" and "Home Shopping Zone" took away points, and others such as "Wheel of Torture" and "Beat the Bishop
" required the contestant to complete (or endure) a challenge to earn the points.
Losers were ceremoniously thrown "Off the Air" and yanked through the back wall while still in their chairs
. This part was copied from the 1975 Musical Chairs
, albeit in a much more violent manner
The show originally aired from December 7, 1987 until December 13, 1991, with a concurrent syndicated version running for the 1989-90 season. Two episodes (one each from the first and last seasons) were aired by MTVnote
in tribute after Ober's death in late 2009.
- Big Win Sirens: Alternating burglar alarm sirens were used whenever the Bonus Round was won. Inverted if it was lost, as one of the two sirens was used as the time-up buzzer instead.
- Bonus Round: Two were done:
- On the MTV version, players had to identify artists in music videos while strapped onto a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed.
- On the syndicated version, players had to answer TV questions while being spun around on the "Wheel of Jeopardy!".
- Carried by the Host: The show's entire premise revolved around Ober and his obsession with TV.
- Confetti Drop: Bonus round winners were showered with confetti and streamers while still strapped to the bed or wheel.
- Consolation Prize: Losers got a "Television's Greatest Hits" CD and a Zenith remote control.
- Double the Points
- Eject The Loser: While not the first to use it, this is the show that made an art form of it. While losing contestants were originally just sent back through the breakaway wall, this soon expanded to different walls that reacted in various ways as well as one chair that flipped the contestant upwards and backwards out of the studio. The first contestant to go (via "Off the Air") was additionally taunted by Ober and Quinn while the audience sang a Crowd Song.
- Turned Up to Eleven with computer and video game adaptations of the game, which showed the contestants being blown up or struck by lightning (although this may be more due to the limitations of the software at that time, which might not have been capable of animating the actual ejections as seen on the show).
- Home Game: A board game, a PC version, and a video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
- Mystery Box: Integrated into the "Snack Break" in Season 1; "Let's Pick a Fridge" thereafter.
- Product Placement: Zenith, Craftmatic, and PEZ, just to name a few.
- Promotional Consideration
- Speed Round: "Think Real Fast" (also called the "Lightning Round"), with 10-point questions asked for 30 seconds. Changed in the final season to "This, That, or the Other Thing" and shortened to 20 seconds.
- Whammy: "Ranger Bob" and "Home Shopping Zone".
- Zonk: The product you were forced to "buy" with your points if you hit "Home Shopping Zone".
- In the first season, the contents of the two fridges that did not contain the Snack Break's bonus prize.
"It's his basement, it's his tropes, it's his game show":
- The Bully: Colin Quinn, if you were unfortunate enough to select the "Wheel of Torture" channel. You could either lose 10 points or have a wheel spun which dictated what method of schoolyard mischief Quinn would deal to you ("Purple Nurple", "Noogies", and "The Tape Arm", to name a few) and gain 10 points.
- Camera Abuse: Employed for "Off the Air" during Season 1. The camera would shake and "snow" would appear on the screen as the contestant was being ejected.
- Catch Phrase: Many.
- Cold Open: Used before some notable episodes.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The contestants' recliners.
- Crowd Song: "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye", "Hit the Road, Jack", or one of several others whenever someone went Off the Air.
- Deadpan Snarker: Both Ober and Quinn.
- Double Entendre: "Beat the Bishop", anyone?
- Early-Installment Weirdness:
- In the pilot episode only, a penalty space marked "Off The Air" eliminated the contestant landing on that category from further play. From the second episode onward, all contestants played two standard rounds, with the lowest-performing contestant eliminated thereafter.
- One early episode had all three contestants eliminated at the first commercial break due to "being completely clueless." (Although it's not clear if the three contestants were actors or if they legitimately performed poorly.)
- Expository Title Theme Tune: "Kenny wasn't like the other kids... Remote Control!"
- Ms. Fanservice: Kari. The other hostesses, to an extent.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar
- Half Hour Comedy
- Long Runner: It ran for four years, but the show claimed it had been around for much longer.
- Obvious Beta: The two "test" episodes, recorded on a different set than the series. The first "test" show had Off the Air as a category, eliminating whoever picked it right then and there.
- Parts Unknown: 72 Whooping Cough Lane.
- Point-and-Laugh Show
- Pungeon Master / So Unfunny It's Funny: Played for Laughs with "Mr. Baggy Pants".
- Played for Laughs several seasons later with the Christmas episode, where three joke contestants impersonating the "Wise Men" were kicked out and replaced with real contestants after Round 1.
- Reset Button: Employed in an early episode in which all three contestants were completely clueless; at the end of Round 1, Ober and his "mother" had all three of them yanked Off the Air simultaneously, and they were replaced with new players picked from the audience after the commercial break.
- Rule of Three: Three contestants.
- Scare Chord: Used in Season 1 (and shortly into the second), when at the beginning of Round 2 Ober said "The points are doubled...and so is the danger!"
- Shout-Out: Constantly, to Game Show Hosts, other shows, etc. Parodied on some episodes which were themed "salutes" to random objects.
- The Bob Eubanks head PEZ Dispenser.
- Signature Sound Effect: The "come and get it" signaling the Snack Break, and the bizarre air raid sirens signaling Off the Air.
- Special Guest: The Newlywed Game and Card Sharks host Bob Eubanks paid a visit to the show in Season 2, ostensibly to give Ken some pointers on how to host. The episode is especially hilarious for when one of the contestants began heckling Bob ("You got your own show - let Ken do his business here!"), and Bob responds in kind ("Don't let your mouth write a check your butt can't cash!") The Speed Round then consisted of one word from a TV show's title being replaced with "Whoopie", and the contestants having to supply the correct word.
- Stylistic Suck: The entire show, arguably, as the premise was that it was thrown together in Ober's basement. Especially played for laughs with "Sing Along with Colin" and the aforementioned Mr. Baggy Pants.
- Take That: A skit during a "best of" marathon shown the weekend before Season 4 began featured the incoming hostess thinking, upon hearing the show's description, that she was coming onto Couch Potatoes. Ober proceeded to tear into said show, accusing them (perhaps rightly so) of ripping his show off.
- Taking You with Me: The TV does this to the losing contestant when it goes Off the Air. Ober explained it this way on more than one occasion.
- Timed Mission: Here's a wall of nine TV sets, haphazardly oriented. Now identify the artists in the music videos. You have 30 seconds...
- Troperrific: It's only natural that a show about TV trivia with the world's biggest fanboy as host and parodies of nearly every game show in the book is going to fall under this category.
- Unexpectedly Obscure Answer: Played with in the "Public Television" category. When a player actually answered one of these questions correctly, he got a high-five from Ken and a round of wild cheering from the audience.