Remote Control (game show)

Remote Control (game show)

"Remote Control" is a TV game show that ran on MTV for five seasons from 1987 until 1990. It was MTV's first original non-musical program. New episodes were made for first-run syndication in 1989. Three contestants answered trivia questions on movies, music, and television, many of which were presented in skit format.


"Remote Control" was hosted by Ken Ober and featured Colin Quinn as the gravel-voiced announcer/sidekick. John Ten Eyck played several walk-on parts, joined in later seasons by Adam Sandler, Denis Leary, and Roger Kabler. Steve Treccase provided music; Marisol Massey (Season One), Kari Wührer (Seasons Two and Three), Alicia Coppola (Season Four) and Susan Ashley (Season Five) were the hostesses.


The show's premise was that Ober desperately wanted to be a game show host and set up his basement (at 72 Whooping Cough Lane) as a television studio. The opening theme song sketched the scenario out: "Kenny wasn't like the other kids (Remote Control) / TV mattered, nothing else did (Remote Control) / Girls said yes, but he said no (Remote Control) / Now he's got his own game show (Remote Control!)" Shows were sometimes interrupted by the disembodied voice of "Ken's mother," and the studio was indeed set up to resemble a basement, complete with a washer and dryer, cheesy bric-a-brac, and a giant PEZ dispenser that resembled Bob Eubanks.

The basement was a mainstay of the show throughout its run; however its cheesy decor was "rearranged" slightly every season. The contestants sat in leather recliners with seat belts (their purpose explained below), complete with retro kidney-shaped tables and scoreboards, facing host Ober and his retro-styled Zenith television. Behind Ober were autographed pictures of his idols, game show hosts such as Bob Barker, Monty Hall, and Tom Kennedy. Musician Steve Treccase set up his keyboard behind a cluttered bar, at which Quinn and the hostess usually sat for the duration of the show. More clutter could be found around and behind the audience, very frequently including props used in previous seasons. Finally, the contestants' chairs were placed in front of breakaway walls, through which they were pulled if they were eliminated.

Main game

Three contestants sitting in lounge chairs would select one of nine channels, each of which represented some topic having to do with pop culture. Sample channels used on the show were "The Bon Jovi Network", "Brady Physics", and "Dead or Canadian". Contestants answered a series of questions from those subjects to get points. There were three questions in each channel/subject.

Some of the other straight question categories included "Leave Out the Beaver," "Private Dicks," "Bad TV," "Celebrity Cellblock," "Babes and Assassins," "PhD-TV," "No Witness News," "Celebrity Flesh," and "Inside Tina Yothers." In season five, "Inside Tina Yothers" was changed to "Inside Joe Piscopo." Season five also saw the debut of "Brady Metaphysics," a philosophy-driven spinoff of the "Brady Physics" channel.


Points were scored as follows:
In each round, when a category was chosen, the point value went successively, so the only way to attain a higher point question was to have the lower point questions asked first.


Several categories were performance-driven, such as these:

*Fairy Pixie - Sheldon, the beleaguered Fairy Pixie, would read forlorn nursery rhymes about television shows.
*Celebrity Square - a cutrate version of the long-running "Hollywood Squares" game show. MTV could only afford one square instead of nine, but otherwise the rules were unchanged: contestants still had to get the X across, down, or diagonally.
*Beat the Bishop - this challenge forced contestants to complete a math problem within the time it took a man dressed as a Vatican bishop to race one lap around the studio. (Though depicted literally, the title of this channel is also a euphemism for masturbation. Later one-time variations of this channel included the similarly euphemistic "Beat the Bologna," as well as the straightforward religious spinoffs "Beat the Buddha" and "Race the Rabbi.")
*The Laughing Guy - a segment in which Ten Eyck played "Ken's cousin Flip", who dressed in nerdy attire and laughed the theme songs to various TV series, which the contestants had to then guess.
*The Anti-Flip - This channel worked the exact opposite as The Laughing Guy. Ten Eyck now played "Ken's evil cousin Skip", who was the exact opposite of Flip, dressed in drag and was a complete dullard; he would give the name of a TV show, and the contestant then had to laugh the theme song.
*Andy's Diary - in which a gurgling Denis Leary portrayed the Pop artist Andy Warhol.
*Stud Boy - a character who claimed to have had affairs with any number of famous women, and played by Adam Sandler. Contestants had to guess the woman that Stud Boy was describing.
*Trivia Delinquent - Stickpin Quinn, the Trivia Delinquent, another recurring Sandler character who was supposed to be Colin Quinn's cousin.
*Colin's Brother - played by Leary, which degenerated into an excuse for the two to pummel each other on-air.
*Survey Says - a "Family Feud" typed question with five correct answers to it was asked to the players.
*Casey's Big Poll - after Kari Wührer left the show, the premise of "Survey Says" was changed to make it a survey hosted by Ten Eyck imitating radio personality Casey Kasem, accompanied by a burly man in drag as "my lovely wife Jeannie". Otherwise, the rules remained the same.
*Match 'Em Up Real Good - a "Match Game"-type fill-in-the-blank statement is read, and if the contestant's answer matched that of Colin, Steve, or the hostess, they scored 10 points.
*Sing Along with Colin - in which sidekick Quinn would rasp the lyrics to a song and the contestant had to complete it. Sing Along was easily the most popular channel used on the show.
*Dead or Alive - Simply put, contestants were given the name of a celebrity and had to guess whether he or she was dead or alive. Variations of this game have included "Dead or Canadian" and "Dead, Alive or Indian Food".
*Mr. Baggy Pants - this character asked juvenille riddles that are common in joke books such as "Why did the guy throw his clock out the window?" The contestant had to provide the punchline, in this case "because he wanted to see time fly."
*Rolling Stoned - in which Leary would portray a strung out, drugged out Keith Richards.

Penalization channels

There were a handful of "negative" channels in which contestants would be penalized:
*Home Shopping Zone - where the unlucky contestant to choose that channel would see a video of a smarmily cheerful TV salesman (played by Craig Vandenburgh), "selling" some ridiculous product for a deduction of 10 points (20 points in the first season).
*Ranger Bob - a thick-headed park ranger (played by John Ten Eyck) would offer a "camping safety tip" for 10 points.
*Wheel of Torture (fourth and fifth seasons only) - The contestant could choose to lose 10 points, or submit to "Colin's torturous whims" and gain 10 points. If the contestant took the torture, the hostess would spin the Wheel of Torture (with sections including "Noogie", "Wet willie", and "Purple Nurple") and Quinn would administer the torture to the contestant. Some of the tortures were changed during the final season. Notably, the purple nurple was not administered to female contestants.
*Off the Air (pilot only) - In the pilot episodes, if a contestant selected it, he/she was immediately eliminated from further play. When the show went into production in December of 1987, the rule was dropped in favor of the rules explained below.

Off the Air

After round two, the TV went "Off the Air" (accompanied by a siren effect and the studio lights flashing on and off), and the contestant in last place at that moment was also thrown "Off the Air" and eliminated from the game. Eliminated contestants were removed immediately, chair and all (hence the seatbelts). The ejections were accomplished in a variety of ways.

The 2nd season was the first to feature 3 different kinds of eliminations. The player on the left side of the stage was sitting in front of a seemingly normal brick wall. If they lost, their chair was pulled backwards and upon hitting the wall a trap door would swing open to allow the player to be pulled backstage. The door was then shut to "trap" the player behind the wall. The player in the middle was in front of a doorway lined with blue wallpaper. If they lost, their chair would be pulled back and rip through the wallpaper. Because you could still see the player after they went through it, a black sheet was dropped down to keep them hidden them from view. The player on the right was in the infamous "flipper" chair. Their chair would be yanked upwards and backwards so that the stage floor was now the wall from the vantage point of the audience. So they would be strapped in their chair literally hanging almost upside down on the backstage side of the wall.

Seasons 3 and 4 had some minor modifications. The "flipper" chair was now on the left side of the stage. The middle chair was in front of a fake brick wall. This was similar to the setup from season 2 except when their chair hit the wall there was a breakaway section that would fall backwards allowing the chair to continue behind the stage. Just like in season 2, a black sheet was dropped down to conceal the player from view. The player on the right side was in front of a typical looking wall decorated with shelves, pictures, and a dartboard. When this player lost, their chair would be flung backwards, hitting the wall and spinning it around 180 degrees. The backside of the wall (now seen on stage) looked like the outside of a house, with siding and a garden hose (as to imply that the player had been ejected from The Basement to outside.)

In Spring Break episodes, players were in folding lawn chairs which were placed on platforms on the edge of a swimming pool. All 3 contestants were eliminated in the same manner if they went "Off The Air." The platform would sink forward slightly folding up the lawn chair a little bit (and making it more difficult for players to run away if they chickened out as they were not strapped in for safety purposes.) The hostess would then walk over to a lever in front of the contestant, wave bye-bye to them and pull the level which released the platform, sending the seated contestant tumbling backwards into the pool. This concept was dropped in later Spring Break episodes and replaced with the losers being thrown into the pool by stagehands. Male contestants were pushed into the pool, while female constants were generally picked up and tossed in.

Beginning in the Spring Break episodes before the second season, the audience would also sing a "goodbye song", typically "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," "Hit the Road Jack," or "Get Off My Show" (to the tune of "Get Off My Cloud"), while said player was being ejected. After a contestant was ejected, he/she would be tormented by stagehands playing various annoyances behind him/her while an unrealistic screaming sound effect played.

Lightning round

In seasons 2-4, the two remaining contestants competed in a 30 second speed round entitled "Think Real Fast". Typically, this was a fill-in-the-blank or spot-the-errant-word format. For example, Ober would read movie, TV show, or song titles that had one word replaced with a different word, and contestants had to come up with the correction. The high scorer moved on to the bonus round, while the runner-up was eliminated in a manner similar to the third place contestant.

In the fifth season, all three players played a different version of the lightning round called "This, That or the Other Thing," but it was not the last round in the game. All questions now had one of three answers that Ober would list before the round started. These were usually people or characters who shared a common name, for example: "Andy Taylor, Andy Warhol, or Andy Rooney." Contestants had 20 seconds to ring in and answer as many questions as possible; after this round, the TV immediately went "Off the Air" and the third place contestant was eliminated.

Final question (Season 5 only)

In the final season, the two remaining players bet any or all of their current score on one final question. Host Ober read a question, usually a math problem, and the players had 20 seconds to write down their answers while a strange act was performed. When time expired, the players' answers and wagers were checked; a correct answer awarded the wagered points to the contestant, while a wrong answer deducted said points.

The remaining player after all rounds won the game and advanced to the Grand Prize Round.

Grand prize round

MTV Version (first 4 seasons): The contestant was strapped to a Craftmatic Adjustable bed, in front of a large wall of TV sets playing music videos. The contestant had to identify the artist in each video, with a prize being awarded for every correct answer. Correctly identifying all nine artists within 30 seconds won the grand prize (which was usually a car or a trip to a beach resort).

Syndicated Version ("Wheel of Jeopardy"): The contestant was strapped to a carnival wheel surrounded by ten television monitors, and was asked ten further questions (usually about TV). For each question successfully answered, the contestant won a prize, and the corresponding screen would display "Grand Prize." After 10 questions, the wheel was stopped, and if the player's head landed on a screen that had "Grand Prize" displayed, he won the day's top prize. If the contestant correctly answered all ten questions, he or she would automatically win the grand prize without the wheel having to stop, as 100% of the monitors read "Grand Prize".

MTV Version (season 5): The "name the artist" round was modified to more resemble the syndicated bonus round. The player was strapped to a metal wheel placed at a 45 degree angle, with a single TV above and below it. The 9 videos were shown in succession, and the player had to guess all nine artists in 40 seconds to win the grand prize. (The metal wheel also replaced the carnival wheel in the syndicated version; because it was lighter than the carnival wheel, it also spun quite a bit faster, making it even harder for the contestant to concentrate.)


Celebrities from that time appeared on the show such as:
*Nipsey Russell - the "Poet Laureate of Television", who occasionally presented some of his poems;
*Bob Eubanks - sat by host Ober for the entire main game, and "coached" him on how to host a game show;
*"Weird Al" Yankovic - came into the basement as a category/channel. In addition, he also "tortured" that episode's two losing contestants as they were eliminated. (This was the only time that the backstage portion of the set behind the contestant area was shown.)
*LL Cool J - made a brief appearance in one skit, where Ober stormed off stage to discover the rapper and his brother goofing around.
*Jerry Mathers - appeared during the second half of a season three episode.

Celebrities that played the game:
*One episode featured Phil McConkey of the NFL's New York Giants playing against Sidney Green of the NBA's New York Knicks. The third player was the show's bit actor John Ten Eyck playing Steve Sax of Major League baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers. Ten Eyck intentionally gave foolish, incorrect answers as Sax, who had cancelled his scheduled appearance at the last minute.
*In the first syndicated season, "Remote Control" had a "World Class Athlete's Day" with pro athletes who lost out on championships in recent seasons. The three players were Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, New York Mets pitcher David Cone and New York Rangers defenseman Ron Greschner.
*LL Cool J, Julie Brown and "Weird Al" Yankovic played for charity during the second season.
*Heavy metal musicians "Dizzy" Dean Davidson of Britny Fox, Lorraine Lewis of Femme Fatale, and Anthrax's Charlie Benante played against each other in season three.
*Burnt out child stars Brandon Cruz, Butch Patrick, and Danny Bonaduce played in season three.
*Former Brady Bunch kids Barry Williams, Eve Plumb and Susan Olsen played in the first syndicated season. This episode led to a writing partnership between Williams and "Remote Control" head writer Chris Kreski, who co-authored the best-selling "Growing Up Brady" biography.
*The Red Hot Chili Peppers were contestants in the final MTV season.

ide notes

*In rare case of a tie for second place at the time the TV went Off the Air, no player was eliminated and all three contestants advanced to the next round. However, after the Lightning Round, both losing contestants would be eliminated simultaneously, which was often referred to as a "double yank". At least one "double yank" occurred even though there was no tie; in the episode with LL Cool J, Julie Brown and "Weird Al" Yankovic as contestants, all three celebrities played the lightning round, followed by a full "Off the Air" with LL and Brown being simultaneously pulled, and Yankovic (who was originally trailing) winning the game. Weird Al would have been pulled had there been an off the air.

*In the event of a tie after the second round, a final question was retrieved from a gigantic Bob Eubanks PEZ dispenser and asked to the players, with a correct answer winning the game. The giant candy dispenser was also used in the first syndicated season to determine who would have first control of the TV.

*On one episode, a "Triple Yank" occurred when none of the three contestants could guess any band in which Eric Clapton was a member, even after Ober gave them hints. With the approval of "Ken's mother", all three players were pulled "off the air", and three new contestants played Round 2 (with drawn-on nametags.)

*On at least one episode in 1989, the alarm that signaled the end of the "Think Real Fast" round was replaced by the "victory" bells from Double Dare. Nickelodeon is owned by Viacom which owns MTV. Some of the other sound effects during the game also came from Double Dare.

*Steve Treccase went on to provide music for "Video Power".

Foreign versions and attempts

* A version based in Puerto Rico, entitled "Control Remoto", was cancelled after 3 months on WAPA-TV because MTV threatened a lawsuit for copyright infringement.

* A British version of the show was co-produced by Action Time Productions and Granada Television and aired on Channel 4 from 1991 until 1994. It was hosted by Tony Wilson and featured comedian Phil Cornwell, with guest appearances by the character Frank Sidebottom.

*An Australian version aired on Network Ten in 1989 under the name "The Great TV Game Show". It was hosted by Russell Stubbs with Jane Holmes and the regular panellists were Russell Fletcher, Margie Nunn, Lynda Gibson & Michael Blair. The show failed to see out the year along with a number of Network Ten game shows that were launched at around the same time.

Video game

*In 1990, a video game based on Remote Control was licensed for multiple platforms, including the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Apple IIgs. The video games were published by Hi-Tech Expressions. [cite web|title="Remote Control" Release Date|publisher=GameFAQs|accessdate=2008-07-22|url=] The game remained quite similar to the show, although the NES version has no end game.


External links

* [ The Basement: An Online Salute to MTV Remote Control]
* [ A collection of Remote Control video clips from Kari Wührer Online]
* [ Xanfan's Remote Control Page]

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