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MTV Remote Control Retrospective

Contributed by Darren Kane

remotelogo“Kenny wasn’t like the other kids…TV mattered, nothing else did…”

Via the ’80s stand-up comedy boom, college kids were getting the exact brand of humor they wanted; wry, sarcastic, ranty, self-aware, and what I call “smart stupid.” That is, sophomoric comedy infused with brains, elevating it to the “…that’s actually quite clever” category. On network TV, it was epitomized by Late Night with David Letterman, which was of course then residing at NBC’s 12:30 slot…

…by the late ’80s, MTV had evolved to the point were it was ready to produce original programming. Leading that initial wave of original MTV shows was Remote Control, the be-all, end-all of offbeat game shows; comedy-driven pop-culture trivia, college-age contestants, in the comfort of host Ken Ober’s “basement.”

In 2006, I started pulling together a Remote Control retrospective…I was (and still am) a huge fan of the show, and conducted interviews with RC’s co-creator Mike Dugan, head writer Mike Armstrong, and the three main on-air players of Colin Quinn, Kari Wührer, and Ken Ober. And man, did they come back to me with great material.

The feature was originally intended for a print comedy magazine, which…well, it went away, as has been the case for so many print pubs during the digital age. So, the Remote Control interviews then sat on my hard drive for close to four years. Then, this past October I took another look at the material, and thought it’d be a shame for this stuff not to see the light of day; I’d find some online venue to post it…

…then as I re-started working on the piece, the very sad and unexpected happened in mid-November: Ken Ober passed away, at his home in Santa Monica. He was 52.

Out of respect, I let the piece sit again for a bit. Then recently took another look, and came to the same previous conclusion; it’d be a shame for this stuff not to see the light of day. So, as a fan of ’80s comedy, MTV, and Ken Ober, here is the MTV Remote Control Retrospective from the 2006 interviews, as a tribute to a (now classic) game show and its host…


Dugan: I have to give a lot of credit to MTV’s Doug Herzog for the show. The mid-80′s were heady times at MTV. We were all young, horny, and single.

Doug knew he could exploit this, so he invited a dozen of us guys and girls to a soundproofed motel room in a questionable section of town. By the end of the weekend we had all really bonded. (Co-creator) Joe Davola said something about playing some kind of TV trivia game while sitting in a Kraft-Matic adjustable bed.

Colin: I landed the gig only because I had a distinctive voice from three packs a day. I was doing stand-up comedy and Dugan and Joe came to see me.

Armstrong: Writer and character actor John Ten Eyck and I actually got the job together because we knew Doug Herzog. Perhaps we really were talented, but I still think we were hired because we had gone to college with Doug.

My first thought upon arriving at MTV and seeing all the young women was, “What a bad time to have a girlfriend.” My second thought was, “How can I get rid of her.” My third thought was, “What if I get rid of her and I still can’t get laid.” My fourth thought was, “Better leave well enough alone.”

Colin: Mike Armstrong was a typical Canadian in that he was a funny writer and a great guy, but a boring and awful personality on the surface.

Ken Ober at the Remote Control podium.

Ken Ober at the Remote Control podium.

Armstrong: Finding the right host was the most memorable part of the job for me. We had some people show up who were absolutely dreadful. I guess we had all been fans of game shows, but we really didn’t appreciate that hosting one isn’t something that anybody can do.

Ken: I was working as a stand-up comic in New York City. They really liked me so after a million auditions it came down to me and Danny Bonaduce.

Armstrong: Ken Ober, of course, was perfect because he had this great combination of comedic ability and a slightly disrespectful attitude towards the whole strange pageant. Watching him, you were never quite sure that he wanted to be there, which I think is the most natural and honest reaction to hosting a game show a human being can have.


Colin (warming up his voice) with Kari.

Colin (warming up his voice) with Kari.

Kari: Well, at the time of the “audition” for the coveted hostess role, I was a born again Christian attending an all-girls Catholic college on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

I was a bit concerned with the material, I mean, these guys weren’t exactly altar boys, and I didn’t want to be employed as an object, but I was nonetheless intrigued. And I needed the money. Not that MTV ever paid anyone in cash. I mean it was more swag and connections that kept us fed. But I still felt the pull of the Devil, and sure enough, he got his claws into me on my 21st birthday.

Colin and Ken threw all kinds of fastballs my way and I was ready with the goods. Even if I didn’t have any breasts…yet, I had God on my side.

Ken: No matter what Kari says, she walked into that room and was so stunning that it took five full minutes for all of our brains to process her. She had the job while she was getting dressed that morning at her apartment.



Ken at the Remote Control "pick a channel" control board.

Armstrong: My favorite category was “Brady Physics,” in which we would set up a really obscene scenario involving those lovable Brady Brunch characters and use it to ask a math question. Something like, “If Marcia has a twelve hundred pound horse suspended six feet over her bed and the rope breaks, how much force will she experience.” Or, “If Alice is settling the grocery bill with the delivery boy on top of the kitchen table…” Some of the questions were so funny that I would wake up laughing in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, they were never the ones that I had written.

Dugan: A classic example of censors actually helping the show: We originally wanted to do category called “Roll the Pope”, in which a guy would come out dressed as the Pope and run through an audience who’d been instructed to mug him. The lawyers were afraid the Pope would sue. But we could use a bishop if we wanted, because there are hundreds of bishops, so no one bishop could prove we were defaming him. Jokingly we fired back, “Can we call it ‘Beat the Bishop?’” and they said fine. Thus was born a game whose title was a clear reference to jerking off.

Of course “Inside Tina Yothers” was filthy, too. Like I said, we were all really horny, all the time.

Ken: There was one category I can’t remember what it was called…but it had unanswerable questions. Like advanced theoretic physics and molecular shit. One day a kid answered the question. He was the only one to ever get one right in that category. He had had the question on a Physics final two weeks earlier.

Kari: I really loved “Sing Along With Colin.” It annoyed everyone so much when I would jump in and try to steal his spotlight. I don’t know what I was thinking, but Colin only hit me once. And I kinda liked it.


Adam Sandler as "Stud Boy."

Adam Sandler as "Stud Boy."

Colin: My favorite characters were “Stud Boy,” “Bossy Boy,” and my “brother” who would fight me, played by Denis Leary.

Armstrong: Coming up with the characters was the most fun. John Ten Eyck’s characters were all inspired by bits he would do around the office either to crack us up or annoy people in the elevators. He would laugh to the tune of songs on the way to lunch. Hence, “The Laughing Guy” was born. He also liked to make fart noises and I seem to recall working that into the show somehow, but I might be wrong. Putting his bizarre talents to use was especially gratifying for me because I had known him for many years. It was as though we had finally stumbled into a receptacle for all of his weird bits.

(Interview continues, just click below!)

Continue reading MTV Remote Control Retrospective

VF / NM Fan Interview: Tony Wolf

Tony is a former Spider-Man for Marvel Comics live character appearances!

Tony is a former Spider-Man for Marvel Comics live character appearances!

Tony Wolf is an actor, voice-over artist, and illustrator in New York City. He co-hosts a pop-culture podcast (theactionroom.com) and will be drawing an upcoming webcomic written by Flash Gordon and Casper writer Brendan Deneen. Tony talks in-depth about his introduction to comics during the Bronze Age, and then his nostalgia for really getting into collecting during the Copper Age…

Tony: My mother would get me some digest comics to keep me occupied while she drove me all around town with her on various shopping trips, running errands, etc. I remember lots of little Archie digests and a few of the early ‘70s DC Comics digests where they reprinted old All-Star Comics, Justice Society stuff, and one digest in particular which reprinted a bunch of DC’s Super Friends comic books (which contained both Super Friends stories and some ‘60s and ‘70s Justice League stories).

I also remember some Legion of Super-Heroes digests from way back then, as well as some reprints of classic Joe Kubert Hawkman stories. This was when I was anywhere from 5 to 10 years-old, I think. I loved these books and devoured ‘em. I also remember getting those odd reprints of the first thirty or so issues of Ditko’s Spider-Man (I say “odd” because they were digest-sized, but yet much more shaped like a regular small paperback book than the typical “square” digest format). Those first Spider-Man stories were a revelation.

DC's oversized Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, from 1978.

DC's oversized Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, from 1978.

I remember Marvel’s over-sized books. I had a bunch of those before I got into real comics collecting — I remember Herb Trimpe Hulk stories being reprinted in those, DC “Heroes vs. Villains” collection (complete with classic cover of all the heroes lined up on the left side and villains on the right), and I think I had the Superman / Muhammad Ali treasury edition too.

I also was an artist as a kid, and was constantly drawing comic book and cartoon characters, just drawing non-stop. My older brother was a talented artist and I may have started emulating him a bit. But all these little reprints and digests were before I went real hardcore into comics.

Another thing that contributed to my interest in comics and superheroes was the endless stream of (new and rerun) cartoons available to a kid in the mid to late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Bugs Bunny, Mighty Mouse, Speed Racer, Courageous Cat & Minute Mouse(!), Popeye, the Plastic Man cartoon, Herculoids, Thundarr the Barbarian, the Tarzan cartoon, Robotech, Star Blazers (LOVED that show intensely), Super Friends (which later became Super Powers), those old Filmation Aquaman, The Atom, Hawkman and Flash cartoons (instrumental in introducing kids to DC’s B- and C-list characters), the wonderful and bizarre Ralph Bakshi Spider-Man cartoons made in the late ‘60s, and the Marvel cartoons that were those overly simplistic Jack Kirby drawings which had an arm or leg move here or there (jokingly referred to here as “the first motion comics”).

Super Friends was instrumental in introducing kids to DC's "B and C List" heroes and villains.

Cartoons like Super Friends were instrumental in introducing kids to DC's "B and C List" heroes and villains.

Also, the great Hanna-Barbera Fantastic Four cartoons — which featured pretty literal retellings of early Lee / Kirby FF stories, like Dr. Doom in the pirate era, something like Kang in ancient Egypt, if I recall correctly, etc. The early ‘80s FF cartoon with Herbie the Robot in lieu of the Human Torch was also fun.

I think any kid who was remotely into fun genre entertainment like I’ve listed above would also have been into the Godzilla movies, which played over and over in local NYC and Long Island TV stations. Add to that anything remotely sci-fi or monster-related.

And then, of course, the phenomenon that hit countless young kids in 1977 — a little thing called “Star Wars”. Although not (initially) a comic book, of course, the adventure / pulp / comic sensibility was undeniable, and any child who was into that sort of stuff was going to fall in love with Star Wars.

Continue reading VF / NM Fan Interview: Tony Wolf

VF / NM Industry Interview: Carl Potts

First issue of the second Alien legion series, from 1987. Cover by Larry Stroman and Frank Cirroco.

First issue of the second Alien Legion series, from 1987. Cover by Larry Stroman and Frank Cirocco.

Carl Potts is most known to comic fans for Alien Legion, as well as his creative and editorial work on dozens of prominent Marvel and Epic titles during the ’80s and ’90s. We interviewed him about working in the industry (focusing on the Copper Age of Comics), and the future of Alien Legion

Carl: I began freelancing for Marvel in the summer of ’75, mostly doing splash pages and pin-ups for the British reprint department. I joined the Marvel editorial staff in early ’83, replacing Al Milgrom who was leaving to go freelance. I was promoted to Exec. Editor in ’89. I was one of the five Editors-in-Chief during the period of Sept. ’94 to Jan. ’96 when editorial was divided into six groups. I left in 1996 and became Creative Director at an online gaming company in Boulder, CO.

VF / NM: Was there a real energy at Marvel during the “Copper Age” era of ’84 – ’91…that it was a real growth time of the industry, with both major comic companies (and some independents) really raising the bar?

Carl: I imagine that everyone who has ever worked at Marvel feels that their period at the company was special, including those who are there now. That said, the ‘80s to early ‘90s was indeed extra special for a number of reasons.

Except for the latter part of the Shooter period, the corporate culture, and the culture in the editorial department in particular, was very positive. We worked in a fun but productive environment. Most of us grew up as comics fans, loved our work and tried to turn out great comics. With rare exceptions, most of those on the editorial staff got along well with each other and many of us socialized after hours. There were some exceptional personalities during that time including Mark Gruenwald and Archie Goodwin.

Before the company was sold to Ron Perelman, Marvel’s executive ranks included many intelligent and good people including Jim Galton and Mike Hobson. Because they were not writers, artists or editors, most fans didn’t know these people existed — but they were the people who ran the company and made it possible for the editors and freelancers to do their thing.

During that ‘80s to mid ‘90s period, the comics market consistently grew, ignoring the ups and downs of the rest of the economy. New genres, concepts and formats were being tried. New companies sprang up, further diversifying the field.

The package design aesthetics of comics, graphic novels and collections began to evolve in the early ‘80s, getting more sophisticated. In the early ‘90s, digital production techniques slowly began to appear.

VF / NM: Can you talk a little about working with Mike Mignola in the mid-’80s…Rocket Raccoon, Alpha Flight, etc.?

Carl: Mike and I were both from the East Bay area (near Oakland, CA). Vincent Perez was my “anatomy for artists” teacher at UC Berkeley. Several years after I took Vincent’s class, he taught Mike at the Calif. College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. A few years before I joined Marvel’s editorial staff, I ran into Vincent at a convention in San Francisco and he introduced me to Mike.

Soon after we met, Mike moved to NY and broke into comics as an inker.

1985's Rocket Raccoon, Mike Mignola's first series assignment as a penciller.

1985's Rocket Raccoon, Mike Mignola's first series assignment as a penciller.

When I became an editor, Mike had just penciled his first story, a Sub-Mariner job for Marvel Fanfare. We renewed our acquaintance and I assigned him his first series as a penciller, Rocket Raccoon. Writer Bill Mantlo was a fan of Mike’s drawing and originally suggested Mike for the job. Unfortunately, the manufacturing department picked Rocket Raccoon to be the first book printed with the “Flexography” process. All of Mike’s beautiful stark black areas were turned to washed out greys while the colors were garish. I felt very bad for Mike. After that, I assigned Mike to the Hulk, Alpha Flight and other projects where he continued to hone his skills.

When I took over the Epic imprint, one of the first projects I put together was a Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series that Howard Chaykin wrote (adapting Fritz Lieber’s stories) and Mike penciled. Al Williamson did the inks. It was a beautiful project, a real labor of love that was finally collected a few years ago by Dark Horse.

Mike was always a pleasure to work with. He was sometimes lacking (needlessly) in self confidence about his artistic skills.

(Interview continues, just click below!)

Continue reading VF / NM Industry Interview: Carl Potts