Remembering Remote Control and Ken Ober

(The following is cross-posted from DougMorris.net with additional personal notes.)

For better or for worse — and many in the here and now would argue the latter — the game show Remote Control helped blaze the trial for non-music video programming on MTV.

Debuting 22 years ago today, the premise was simple. College-aged contestants would compete in a battle to answer pop culture questions based mostly, but not entirely, on classic and then-current TV. The top-scorer of the day would then play a bonus round identifying the bands and artists depicted in a series of music videos.

By the admission of the network’s own VJ’s (for those of you born well after 1987, they were the equivalent of your friendly neighborhood radio station’s air personalities or DJ’s), MTV was the least likely channel viewers would ever find a game show. But Remote Control was so much more than just a game show. It had a bit of a late-night comedy sketch element to it.

The host’s mythical “basement” would occasionally be visited by such characters as “The Stud Boy”, who claimed to have many affairs with many famous women. There would also be occasional visits by the fictional “brother” of the show’s announcer Colin Quinn; it wouldn’t take long for the two “siblings” to get involved in a mock fight.

“The Stud Boy” you know now as Adam Sandler. Years later, Sandler would reappear on the network to accept an MTV movie award along with Bob Barker, who retired from the long-running game show The Price is Right more than two years ago, for their “best fight scene” performances in Happy Gilmore. Quinn’s “brother” you know now as the star of Rescue Me, Denis Leary; the series and star are personal favorites of my brother, Geof. Quinn himself has gone on to a successful comedy career, including a stint on Saturday Night Live.

And let’s not forget the lovely co-hostesses throughout the years of Remote Control. For example, Marisol Massey and Alicia Coppola would go on to acting careers; the first stop for each was a soap opera (Massey on the long since defunct Loving; Coppola on Another World, which closed up shop a decade ago). But my personal favorite — Kari Wuhrer. The first syllable of her first name sounds like “car” and the second like the letter “E” — but the host would infamously and intentionally mispronounce her name as “Carrie”, as in the landmark Stephen King character. Wuhrer has since become a successful actress in her own right; she was part of the cast of the sci-fi series Sliders, one of my dad’s favorite shows, for two years.

They and just about everyone else connected with Remote Control have the host, Ken Ober, to thank for helping launch their careers in the entertainment world. But this 22nd anniversary of Remote Control‘s debut broadcast is bittersweet. On the off chance you’re not aware, Ober, 52, died at his home in southern California last month.

Post-Remote, I kind of felt bad for Ober. While seemingly everyone else around him hit the big time, Ober didn’t enjoy quite as much success. After Remote ended, Ober was in the cast of the short-lived 1990 TV series Parenthood, based on the movie with the same title from the year earlier.

Ober later resumed to host game shows that certainly didn’t have the lasting legacy Remote had. Ober hosted the sports quiz Perfect Match, an updated version of the comedy game Make Me Laugh and the criminally short-lived word game Smush — which, oddly enough, helped bring Lisa Dergan into national consciousness.

What proved to be Ober’s final contributions to the entertainment world were behind the scenes. He served as a producer of the Comedy Central series Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn (as the title implies, there was a professional reunion) and the CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine.

According to the lyrics of the theme to Remote Control, “Kenny wasn’t like the other kids. TV mattered, nothing else did.” How accurate they were to real life we may never truly know. But this is for certain. Ken Ober left us much too soon.

So the next time you pick up a remote control device of your own and change the channel to watch a rerun of Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch or some other piece of classic television, think of Ken Ober.

For more on Ken Ober and Remote Control

\ A tribute by Kurt Loder

\ A Wall Street Journal front page article from 1989

\ A comprehensive fan site of Remote Control

\ The YouTube channel of Chris Iller, who was part of the staff of Remote Control when they taped Spring Break specials and one complete season in Florida

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