Game Show 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 Marisol Massey, Kari Wührer 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, 1990, 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.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- 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: Three were done, each involving getting a certain number of answers. Each answer won a prize, while getting all the answers also earned a grand prize:
- MTV (season 1): Nine monitors playing nine music videos, some sideways, upside down etc. The player had to identify the artists in 30 seconds while strapped onto a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed.
- Syndicated: Players were strapped to the "Wheel of Jeopardy!", surrounded by ten monitors. A category is presented, then ten questions are asked. Each correct answer lit a monitor; after all 10 questions were asked, the wheel was stopped and if the player's head landed on a lit monitor, or the player got all 10 right, they won.
- MTV (final season): The wheel was tilted at a 45-degree angle, and the player had to identify the artists in nine videos as they were shown on monitors at head and foot level.
- Carried by the Host: The show's entire premise revolved around Ober and his obsession with TV.
- Celebrity Edition: Occasionally done, with the most notable being a match between LL Cool J, comedienne Julie Brown, and "Weird Al" Yankovic. Al won in a runaway, and aced the Bonus Round to boot. (That episode also had a cameo from Molly Ringwald, who just happened to be in the audience watching.)
- 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, among other prizes.
- Covered in Gunge: Whenever it was "Snack Break" time, the contestants would hold up some bowls and try to catch the food dropped from above- it didn't really work.
- Double The Dollars: After the "Snack Break" concluded Round 1, the questions in Round 2 were worth 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). Not everyone had a sense of humor about it: in his appearance, LL Cool J positioned a grumpy-looking bodyguard directly behind his chair to avoid getting tossed.
- Expository Theme Tune: This little gem (which was dropped for the final season):Kenny wasn't like the other kids,
TV mattered, nothing else did!
Girls said yes, but he said no!
Now he's got his own game 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.
- The Announcer: Colin Quinn.
- Game Show Host: Ken Ober.
- Lovely Assistant: Marisol Massey, Kari Wührer, Alicia Coppola, and Susan Ashley.
- Studio Audience: Interacted with parts of gameplay, most notably during "Off the Air" segments.
- While most game shows didn't have live music in the studio, this one did, via keyboardist Steve Trecasse.
- 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: Several channels, when selected, penalized the contestant that picked them 10 points automatically:
- "Ranger Bob", a parody of kids' safety PSA commercials where a park ranger gave a ridiculous safety tip.
- "Home Shopping Zone", where the contestant was forced to "buy" some ridiculous product. Cost the contestant 20 points in the first season.
- "Fashion Zone", a later variant of Home Shopping Zone where a model would show off a hideous outfit.
- The product you were forced to "buy" with your points if you hit "Home Shopping Zone" or "Fashion 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.
- Catchphrase: 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.
- Disco Sucks!: In-universe; on multiple occasions, questions would mock the disco era and performers whose most popular hits were disco. The Bee Gees were by far the most popular target of ridicule, with many "disco sucks"-type questions suggesting their careers were "dead," even though in the late 1980s/early 1990s (when this show aired) the Brothers Gibb were still among the most popular touring acts and their albums still sold well.
- Double Entendre: "Beat the Bishop", anyone?
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- In the pilot episodes only, a penalty space marked "Off The Air" eliminated the contestant landing on that category from further play. From the first aired episode onward, all contestants played two standard rounds, with the lowest-performing contestant eliminated thereafter.
- The first season episodes in general were this: simpler set, a slightly-different Off the Air (and all three chairs were simply pulled back into the wall), no Speed Round, and often the category cards would be shown full-screen to the viewers, as opposed to just on the Big Zenith. The Big Zenith's indicator lights also didn't turn red to signify that channel was closed off.
- 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 Theme Tune: "Kenny wasn't like the other kids... Remote Control!"
- Half Hour Comedy
- Ms. Fanservice: Kari. The other hostesses, to an extent.
- 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 Woopingkof Lane (the spelling was indicated by a street sign laying around on the set).
- Point-and-Laugh Show
- Pungeon Master
- 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; (usually) three questions per channel.
- 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. For example, The Bob Eubanks head PEZ Dispenser. Parodied on some episodes which were themed "salutes" to random objects.
- 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...
- Transatlantic Equivalent: Had several foreign adaptations (including Britain and Australia), while Canada had the equivalent show Test Pattern which, as befitting MuchMusic content of the time was low-budget (yes, even lower-budget than this show was) but still tons of fun. (The most desired prize on Test Pattern? A two-slice toaster.)
- 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.