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Film / Stay Tuned

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"Our parents are trapped in television!"
Darryl Knable

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.

On August 6, 2020, it was reported that Morgan Creek and AMC would be developing a television series based on the film. It will be written by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing of Fear the Walking Dead fame.

Not to be confused with the cult PC game Stay Tooned! in which the opposite happens: TV denizens invade real world.

This film contains examples of:

  • 11th-Hour Superpower: One of Roy's Fencing Epees are beamed in near the end, so he can duel Spike.
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Acting for Two: In-Universe. Spike plays the evil villain in the Star Trek: The Next Generation spoof along with appearing as Worf and Data.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: Do NOT mess with Helen's hair, or her husband to a lesser degree.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bottomless Magazines: In the Noir sequence, a mobster attacks a nightclub with a pair of Tommy Guns that go on for at least a minute.
  • By the Hair: A female wrestler does this to Helen, which triggers the above mentioned Berserk Button.
  • The Cameo:
  • 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.
  • Car Fu: The trailer for Driving Over Miss Daisy shows Miss Daisy's driver run over her with her car. Then he puts it in reverse and runs over her again. Then he puts it back in drive and runs over her yet again.
  • Cassandra Truth: Their son Darryl figures out that the two are in TV Land, but his sister Diane (initially) doesn't listen to him.
  • Casting Gag:
  • 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.
    • A more minor example, but a tagline in the same poster says, "The Knables signed up for a cable system that's out of this world," even though Hell Vision is a satellite system, not cable.
  • 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.
  • Deadly Game: Constituted by the "Pit" of "You Can't Win".
  • 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.
  • Disguised in Drag: Overlaps with Dragged into Drag. When Roy swaps channels into the French Revolution sequence, he discovers that he has been dressed as a woman to avoid being arrested and executed by revolutionaries.
  • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Everyone engages in the same studio politics in Hell Vision as Hollywood, with Spike constantly looking over his shoulder at hungry subordinates.
  • Electrified Bathtub: Roy and Helen try to defeat a robotic cat this way when stuck as cartoon mice. As they ouch the hairdryer into the tub, Helen pauses to tell the Audience "Kids, Don't Try This at Home!"
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: "Duane's Underworld" is basically Wayne's World WITH ZOMBIES!
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: All the seemingly harmless shows are designed in some form or another to kill their human visitors.
  • Exact Words:
    • The answer to the question "Which Knable has been seeing a former lover?" is the both of them — each other.
    • 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 in the "Duane's Underworld" segment.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Whenever someone in Hell Vision goes to another channel, their appearance (hair, clothing, etc.) changes to match whatever show they're currently on.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • At the beginning of the film, Roy can be seen watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon (one animated by Chuck Jones) while he shaves.note  Later on while Roy and Helen are in Hell Vision, they end up in a cartoon where they become mice, which is animated by, you guessed it, Chuck Jones.
    • Additionally, a little bit later on, he's seen watching The Maltese Falcon while reciting lines from it. Later on, he ends up in a black-and-white detective movie. He even namedrops the film.
    • A pair of Fencing Epees on a plaque aren't the usual decor of an average Suburban household. This is because Roy was co-captain of his school's Fencing Team, and he ends up in a duel with Spike.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Roy and Helen can still die, despite being inside the TV. Probably because they're behind the fourth wall, rather than observing through it.
  • 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.
  • Giant Foot of Stomping: Murray Seidenbaum's wife, Sarah, dies in Hell Vision by getting crushed by the foot of a Not Zilla.
    Spike: It's the Seidenbaums vs. the Gigantic Stinking-Footed Lizard! (Mrs. Seidenbaum gets crushed) Ooh! Sayanora, Mrs. Seidenbaum.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Spike works for Satan after all, using Hell Vision to give the fallen angel entertainment.
  • 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 starts out asan ass-kissing subordinate to Spike, but after Spike banishes him for pissing him off, he helps the Knables survive Hell Vision and later gets revenge on Spike .
  • 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.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Every gangster in Seidenbaum's club (including two armed house band members) can't shoot one man dual-wielding Tommy guns standing in an wide open area of the entranceway. Instead, it is Roy who successfully kills the assailant with one shot from his pistol while looking away after lining up his gun.
  • Improvised Weapon: After her Berserk Button gets pressed, Helen grabs a nearby microphone stand and knocks out the two wrestlers with it.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "Eye, Warship, Satin!" Then again, what'd you expect from a pair of Wayne's World-mimicking zombies.
  • Inner Monologue: Roy gets one in the Film Noir sequence, which allows us to hear his thoughts as he tries to figure where he is.
  • Instant Costume Change: Changing channels results in their appearances changing to fit the setting of the sequence they're a part of.
  • Instant Home Delivery: Genre Savvy Roy makes use of this trope during the "cartoon mouse" sequence.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Subverted in the Noir sequence where Roy storms in the nightclub, punches a guy, and winces in pain after the fact.
  • 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.
  • Klingon Promotion:
    Pierce: I call his parking space.
  • Loophole Abuse: A villainous example. The Knables manage to survive the 24-hours on Hell TV which should enable them to go back home. Spike is furious at first until a executive points out that only Roy signed the cable contract and Helen is considered an "illegal" entry. So Spike sends Roy back while taking Helen hostage, forcing Roy to return to the TV dimension to save her.
  • Madness Mantra: Helen dreads the possibility of never seeing Darryl and Diane again...all while Darryl is watching.
    Helen: I am not a mouse. I am not a mouse. I'm Helen Knable. I have an MBA! I live at 1532 Blue Jay Court. (pulls out a picture of Darryl and Diane, who are also mousified) I have two beautiful children...who I may...never see again!
    Darryl: Mom?
  • 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.
  • Mundane Solution: Ultimately after Spike is defeated, Roy gets back to the western channel where Helen is tied to a carriage full of dynamite on a train tracks. Just as a train starts to come in, Roy doesn't have time to untie her so they end up taking a gambit on a common solution to TV. It works.
    Helen: Roy, what do you do when you want television to go away? You turn it...
    Both: ...OFF!
    (Roy hits the button just as the train collides with the carriage)
  • Music Video: Features near the end with a cameo by then-popular Hip-Hop Girl Group Salt-N-Pepa.
  • Nothing Up My Sleeve: Spike carries his personal remote control on a rig that makes it pop out of from under his sleeve, and twists it around which makes Spike look like he's doing some Gun Twirling when he brings it out.
  • Noticing the Fourth Wall: When they realize that they are inside TV land.
  • Not Quite Saved Enough: Roy and Helen pop out of the dish to their kids, to find Rivets, the neighbor's Angry Guard Dog, in their backyard. But the dish quickly zaps Rivets away, where it is ultimately implied to kill Spike.
  • Number of the Beast: Hell Vision has 666 channels. In addition, the number shows up a number of times on the various channels, including on Spike's hockey jersey, the license plate on the car in the "Driving Over Miss Daisy" segment, and on the locomotive heading towards Helen.
  • 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!
  • Outlandish Device Setting: Roy Knable finds himself bouncing between channels trying to rescue his wife and escape Spike all at once. He finds himself on a ship that is an obvious parody of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Spike orders the crew to "set phasers to 'Torture'."
    Roy: (closing his eyes and pressing buttons) Holy Shatner!
  • 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.
  • Painting the Medium: During the music video, a background dancer presses Mute on the remote and the music cuts out, with the other background dancers complaining before the sound is restored.
  • 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.
  • Product Displacement: The 2019 Blu-Ray and digital releases edit out the Warner Bros. logo, going straight to the Morgan Creek logo.note 
  • Product Placement: At one point in the film, Darryl pulls out a box of Dunkin' Donuts and later on name-drops RadioShack when talking about the dish.
    Darryl: Obviously, we're dealing with something of a supernatural nature here, Diane. I mean, this thing, it did not come from RadioShack.
  • "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!
    Helen: This is unbelievable! You couldn't do it, could you?! 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!
  • Recycled In Space: The climax of Shocker... FOR KIDS!
  • 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.
    • The showdown between Roy and Spike is a reference to A Fistful of Dollars, with Roy's remote taking the place of the steel plate.
  • 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.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: The Robo-Cat is persistent, armed to the teeth and has significant self-repair function? Let's see how it fares against Robo-Dog. It reacts accordingly.
  • Take That!: Doubles as a minor bit of Self-Deprecation: What is Roy's immediate reaction to learning he's in an episode of Three's Company?
  • 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: "Dynamite?! He's going to hit me with a train AND blow me up?!"
  • Tongue-Out Insult: During the animation segment, Roy sticks his tongue out at his wife, Helen. She grabs his tongue and pulls his whole body through his mouth in an impressive display of Cartoon Physics.
  • Trapped in TV Land: The main premise for most of the movie.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: As Nathan Rabin, the writer of the Rotten Tomatoes editorial puts it:
    Nathan Rabin: Roy isn’t a fragile dreamer who hides from the world inside a comforting cocoon of television. He's just an insensitive schmuck who watches TV because he's got nothing else going on.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: Happens twice in the movie.
    • The first one is an In-Universe example. When Darryl is watching TV and happens upon the cartoon where his parents are. The two are arguing, with Helen threatening to leave. When Roy scoffs at this threat, Helen says this, which tips Darryl off:
      Helen: (speaking in an angry tone) I am warning you, Roy!
      Darryl: "Roy?"
    • The second one occurs when the Knables manage to survive their 24 hours. While Spike is initially livid, Ms. Ducker, Hell Vision's contract specialist, discovers a snag in the contract, which Spike uses to his advantage:
      Ducker: As I suspected, there was a protest filed on the Knable case. A verbal contract binds only those parties personally making the agreement. Therefore, the contract can only be for one took two.
  • Wham Shot: Two In-Universe examples:
    • While watching a 50's sitcom on TV, Darryl notices the main character riding a bike that looks exactly like his, not long after losing it to the satellite dish. This is the first tip-off to him that something is up about the new TV.
    • Tying in with the first Wham Line above, Helen pulls out a of a mousified Darryl and Diane. This convinces Darryl that his parents are in the TV.
  • Wheel of Decisions: "You Can't Win" uses one, whose three sections all read "Door 1".
  • X Meets Y: Three Men and Rosemary's Baby is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. With a side of The Exorcist.
  • You Can't Kill What's Already Dead: Crowley loses fingers, an arm, and a leg. He explains to Roy and Helen that since he's already dead, it's no issue for him.


Video Example(s):


"Where have you been?!"

This is John Ritter saying that Three's Company was hell...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / ExtremeCloseUp

Media sources: